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“I will speak of your goodness, all day long I will speak of your salvation.” Psalm 71:1
I have been publicly preaching and teaching the Word for almost twenty years. Speaking the Gospel is my profession, my calling, my daily life. But one day I woke up with no voice. I had been intubated. I was on a ventilator. I had undergone a tracheostomy. I was connected to a life support machine known as ECMO. While the world moved on, I was still in a hospital bed for over six weeks fighting for my life. I was mostly sedated and unconscious through most of my battle with Covid pneumonia.
When I finally “came to” and was semi-alert, the first thing I realized was that my voice was gone. I couldn’t really talk. I also couldn’t move a muscle. Literally. I could not roll over in bed and I could barely lift up my arms. I’ve had to learn how to do everything all over again. Stand up. Sit down. Brush my teeth. Use a spoon. Write. Type. Climb the stairs. There was a hole in my heart.
But what bothered me the most was that there was a hole in my throat, from the tracheostomy. Daily I was reminded of this new reality when it was cleaned and bandaged – no matter how hard I tried to forget. Even when I finally went home my superhuman wife Jaki continued to care for the wound. Talk about being married for “better or worse.”
In time, no voice has turned into a whisper, and with more time the whisper has turned into a hoarse voice. As of this writing, I am still more or less at that point. The medical folks say in time my voice will hopefully come back. But in those dark moments of the night, literally and figuratively, when I’m all alone, I wonder if it will ever truly come back.
So while I was still in bed, this familiar verse always came to mind: “Be still and know that I am God.” (Psalm 46:10) I have had a lot of time to be still and think during my hospitalization and convalescence. I couldn’t do much else and I’m still limited. Being left with your thoughts can be a tortuous time, I can assure you of this fact! But it can also be a blessing, I can equally assure you of this fact. In the end, I want to reassure you that it was more of a blessing than a curse. I also want to remind you of what you already know from the Word. The goodness of God even in bad times! The goodness of God even in ICU.
If anyone ever told you while you were in ICU to “rest up,” they have never been in ICU. Every hour it seems someone comes into the room poking and prodding you. Taking medicines, taking x-rays, taking vitals. So, during the night I was often awake left to wrestle with God like Jacob. I never got angry with God. I never asked, “Why me?” But I wrestled with God over many things. One was my voice. Or lack thereof.
But back to the time left alone with God to think. One question was my voice in general, but more specifically what made a pastor’s voice unique? What makes the pastor’s voice different from other voices? Here is the answer. “The only thing a pastor has to say is what God has to say.” This is a quote from Dr. Steven Lawson, Teaching Fellow for Ligonier Ministries.
Point? The Word of God is different in a unique way. It’s the reason why the pastor preaches in a pulpit, wears an alb, and dresses in a clerical collar. Signifying that this Word proclaimed is no mere word of man, but He speaks the Word of God.
The bottom line between human language and a divine message? You and I can only describe things with our words. God’s word actually makes things. It has power. I can tell you not to worry. But in the end, that doesn’t mean much. When Jesus says, “Cast all your cares on me for I care for you,” He actually makes that happen. Recall the Creation story! When God spoke His Word He did not just describe light but created light. When God spoke He didn’t just report about the water below and the sky above, He placed the fish and stars in their ordained place and space. When God spoke it wasn’t just a chronicle of the earth, He filled the world with a creation fearfully and wonderfully made – including you. God’s Word does what it says. It transforms us and makes us saints from sinners. It renews, restores, and reconciles. It resurrects! On the last day, Jesus will stand over your grave and speak a word of Life. You and all those in Christ will be made new again! This is what makes the Word of God so special. It creates! Life from death. It makes certain defeat, undeniable triumph. It makes our lowly bodies to be like His resurrected body. In my toughest hours of uncertainty this was my hope. God can make all things new! His living Word I have preached with a loud voice for almost two decades, but only when I was silenced in ICU did I really begin to understand this promise of how the Word actually works and what makes this Word so special. Speaking on our own we can only describe, when God speaks He can create beauty.
I found it ironic one day when I was in the hospital, that while I looked at myself in the mirror, that the hole from the trach – now a scar – is in the exact same place where the white tab of the clerical collar rests on my neck. It was never my frail voice. It is never your voice. It was and is and will always be the voice of the Living God who created and makes new again. This is what we proclaim as witnesses. New beginnings. Either new beginnings for a gracious season here in this life for a few more fleeting moments, or the eternal beginning for life everlasting.
When you look in the mirror at yourself at home and look at the pastor preaching the Word in your church home – remember something special is happening – God is alive and active and making you a new creation! To God be the glory!
Senior Pastor, Lutheran Church of Vestavia Hills, www.vestavialutheran.org
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