Time to Live
On June 29, 1979, I was praying in my office in Novato, CA. As I knelt beside the couch, I heard a voice in my heart say, “I’m going to take you home.”
I got off my knees and sat down on the couch. I was really upset. “Lord, are you telling me that I'm going to die? I have two little boys who need me. Kristina is pregnant. She and our new baby will need me. We have no life insurance if something happens to me. Isn’t the ministry of our church important?”
I tried to pray again, but I was too disturbed to continue. The next day as I stood on a curb, a car made a turn near me. I jumped back in fear. Normally that would not have been a big deal, but I was really anxious.
On Sunday morning, I arrived early for our worship services at the Boy’s Club. I was alone in the room where we met for pre-service prayer. I started thinking about my experience on Friday, and I started crying. I tried to collect myself as our leaders came into the room. As we prayed together, a Bible story came to my mind. The Lord sent Isaiah to tell King Hezekiah that he was going to die (II Kings 20). Hezekiah started crying and asking God for mercy. Then the Lord changed his mind. Hezekiah was promised another fifteen years of life. I asked the Lord for mercy as well. I calmed down as our worship service began.
Two days later, Kristina and I drove up to the mountains for a fishing trip. We had left Matthew and Philip with my brother John and his wife. It was our first vacation away from them. We had borrowed a Volkswagen camper van from a friend. The van stalled on our first day away. I enlisted some campers to help me push the van while Kristina sat in the driver’s seat and popped the clutch. We tried three times to start it. On the final push, when the van started, I was hit with a violent headache. Within minutes I was sick to my stomach. I told Kristina to take me to the nearest hospital. I thought I was dying.
Kristina found an emergency medical clinic. The doctor gave me a spinal tap and found blood in my spinal fluid. I was having a brain hemorrhage. They called for an air ambulance and flew me back to Novato. An ambulance took me from the airport to Marin General Hospital. The doctors told Kristina that they didn’t know if I was going to live or die. A week later, I was released. God had shown mercy on me.
In July of 1994, I was totally depleted. I had been in Alaska ministering to two pastor’s families whose sons had been killed in a car accident. Then I had back-to-back stressful trips to California, Hawaii, and the Grand Canyon. Then our next-door neighbor, Daniel Murrow, our son Philip’s dear friend, had a drowning accident in Bellingham, Washington. We flew to be with the Murrow family. Daniel fought for his life for many days before he died. It reminded me of being in the hospital two years earlier when our son Matthew drowned.
Several of us were staying in a large room at a Christian camp in Bellingham. I lay down and tried to fall asleep after a few nights there. I could hear fireworks going off in the distance. My heart suddenly started racing as if I was running a 100-yard dash that wouldn’t end. I thought I was having a heart attack. I started thinking about the fireworks. It was the Fourth of July. The last time I thought I was going to die was on the Fourth of July in 1979. I did the math. That was exactly fifteen years earlier. I thought my time was up, just like Hezekiah.
I woke Philip, who was sleeping in a bed across the room.
“Phil, I think I’m going to die. I just wanted to say good-bye to you.”
“Dad, you’re crazy. You’re not going to die. Go back to sleep!”
Phil was right. I wasn’t dying, at least not yet. But I wasn’t crazy. Some experiences in life are hard to figure out. It’s easy to misinterpret what the Spirit is saying when it comes to timing. We’ll see everything clearly when we meet the Lord face to face. Until then, we love and serve God by faith, with all the wisdom we have.
I’m not alive, or blessed, because of perfect faith. I’m alive, and saved, by the grace of God. We may not have the opportunity to say good-bye to those we love before we die. But we demonstrate our faith, and our love, by the way we live. We don’t have to fear death. Jesus died for us, and rose again, so we can have eternal life.