Obedience in Sickness and Health
An Extract of a Sermon Given in 1991
A Medical Synopsis
With full-time employment (and commuting), a family, editing magazines, publishing pamplets, pastoral responsibilities, missionary work, administration, etc., it seems as though no day is long enough to accomplish even the smallest fraction of the things the Lord wants of me! Nevertheless I fully believe the maxim that where there is a will, there will always be a way, with the help of God.
The last year has been especially tough for me health-wise as I am not physically the strongest of people. (It used to be said of me in a Church I once belonged to that when in the shower I had to dance around in order to get wet!). Often I will cry out in despair: "O Lord, if only I had a body as energetic as my spirit!" Perhaps one day, but for now I must make do with my limitations.
As a small boy I was quite sickly and nearly died of pneumonia but thereafter did not stare death in the face again until I was much older. Not until I came to England from the tropics did I succumb to a whole series of illnesses and spent more time in the school sanatorium than at school. The English climate never particularly agreed with me, not I with it, and especially not the dampness. Influenza, colds, and gastro-enteritis became almost a way of life. I know, though, that all of these greatly strengthened me.
The stresses of leaving the Mormon Church caused by all the opposition and persecution of my family added another dimension to my poor health and I got a disease of the muscle-bone joint called calcific tendonitis. My whole right arm became paralysed and caused the most excruciating pain. For several years I yearned to be able to sleep on my right side and to pick up my children. The physiotherapy was most unpleasant and involved having packs of ice placed on my shoulder. And the medication I had to take caused severe stomach problems for me. Those were years of sleepless nights but I always believed that someone God would heal me. I also used to suffer what was called catalepsy which was the sudden stopping of my heart at night. Those were frightening times for often I feared that I would never wake up and die in my sleep. I managed a technique of grunting in my sleep so that my wife would know what was happening and could give me a sharp thump. This always got the heart starting again though I would awaken breathless and feeling that I would explode! I invariably got cataleptic attacks when I slept on my back or stomach so I had to sleep on my side -- but I couldn't sleep on my side because of the tendonitis in my shoulders. It was a Catch-22 nightmare!
The adultery of my first wife and her leaving me and taking the children with her heaped on the stress even more. I shall never know how I survived that, save by the grace of God. But it has left me with a permanent heart-condition and low blood pressure. When I arrived in Norway I was still plagued by my tendonitis though it wasn't too bad. Excited by a bargain of green hymn-books in a local flea-market, I heaved a heavy crate of books back to my flat and inflamed my shoulders even more. In England I was offered surgery and cortisone injections but was told my shoulder would be permanently weakened and I had no guarantee the condition wouldn't return. As then, nobody knows the cause of the disease.
A Thorn in the Side
I have always been an active person and dislike idleness and so these illnesses have sorly tried my faith and my patience. After about a year in Norway I finally came to accept my illnesses and to praise the Lord for them. I "forgot" about my tendonitis and simply did what I could. When typing and writing set my right shoulder off, I would simply ignore it and get on with the work. The Cosmic Principle, which I wrote almost continuously, was written in agony after I was about half way through. But I shall never regret doing the job. In the end I accepted the tendonitis as a "thorn in the side" to keep me humble and stopped asking the Lord to take it away. Once I had done that, a miracle occured. It just disappeared of itself. Though I can't lift anything particularly heavy I am no longer afflicted by the pain. And though there are certain positions I can't sleep in, I at least sleep now, and praise the Lord for it! Today I still thank Him even though I have been free for over two years.
Another handicap I labour under is sinusitis, inherited from my mother (my mother has been sick most of my life but my father has had perfect health until old age). I've often wondered what it's like to breathe through two nostrils! Headaches have been another companion since I was young and are easily triggered off by a lack of sleep. I'm one of those creatures that needs eight hours sleep...or else! And once they come, I can't get rid of them, and bad ones take three or four days of get rid of. If I am addicted to anything in this life it is Paracetamol which has literally been a "saviour" to me. I have tried other non-chemical remedies and despite the best intentions in the world I have never been able to make them succeed. Travelling easily sets these headaches off. But somehow I manage to survive.
In the last year my heart has got quite bad. I would typically get attacks three or four times a year which were quite horrible. The feeling is impossible to describe for when an attack comes it feels as though a steam-roller is riding over my chest and at the same time I am about to explode from within. In a bad attack, half of my body gets paralysed. They can be quite frightening, especially when they last a long time. It's at times like these that I wonder if death is about to greet me. They are, of course, stress-induced. In the last year they have been more regular and are occuring 2-3 times a week, though not usually so intensely. Now I have to listen to my heart very carefully and respond to the signals. I can "feel" the pressure all the time. Living in the country in a pollution-free environment seems to be helping though I shall be happier when the Church finally comes out of its present "tribulation" and can devote its energies to missionary endeavour again. The burning has been quite severe and a stress on many, not just myself.
Being aware of one's own mortality is good because I believe it keeps you humble. Knowing that you could be taken at any moment helps you get your priorities in order. Our individual suffering, whether medical or spiritual (or both), may seem little when compared against others', but when seen within our own individual life's context, are literally mountains to overcome. That is why we have been admonished in the revelations not to "compare" with others too much.
Theologies of Illness
I do not believe, as some Christians teach, that bad health is always necessarily because of sin. There is one large church in Oslo that teaches that if you are not healthy and wealthy that you haven't been properly converted. That such is a pernicious heresey does not need underlining by me. That illness can be caused by sin noone denies. For myself, I am aware of most of the causes of my own problems. Some are genetic (from my mother) and others are the result of stress. I know I have a tendency to do too much and my family is constantly rebuking me for that but it is not easy to discipline yourself when your spirit feels a hundred times as active as your body. Of one thing I am confident, though, and it is that in the resurrection I will be able to do a thousand times more than I am doing here! Until then, however, there are other virtues to be learned, not least of which is patience and common sense.
I have learned also that obedience brings not necessarily good health but the strength and power to live with poor health and be productive in the Lord. These problems -- these obstacles -- are great teachers, for they enable you to be resourseful and teach you to be wise. Whilst it is true that the body is a Temple of the Holy Spirit, and whilst yes, we must give it the best care we can, we must also be willing to lay it down in sacrifice for our friends, as Jesus did at Calvary. Herein is another of those many Gospel paradoxes -- on the one hand, we are to be careful in preserving our body, and on the other, we must be willing to lay it down. The solution to the paradox, like so many others, is a balance.
The Blessing of Sickness
I hope that if you have health problems you will be encouraged to use such disadvantages to your, and others', profit. Difficulties are often given to us for our salvation, as Paul acknowledged. I would love to be 100% healthy, be an active sportsman, and do many more physical things. And one day, I know, I will be able to. But in the meantime I accept my lot, trying to take a common sense line whilst at the same time seeking avenues to realise God's will in my life always. I don't pretend this is easy but it is certain fulfilling in the spiritual sense and it does build up your character. Learning to make difficult choices on our own and to deal with personal handicaps by turning them to advantage for self and the Kingdom is surely one of the greatest challenges the saints must face. Our inspiration comes, as it always does, in the Cross, where we see one lonely man overcoming not just physical and spiritual sickness, but death itself. If the Son of God could overcome the greatest enemy of all -- death -- and if He can empower us as He promises us He will if we are obedient to Him, then what need we fear? All things, as Paul said, then become possible in Christ. And praise the Lord for that!
So long as we are obedient, the Lord will prosper us, no matter what it is we are doing. He will give us all the physical and spiritual resources we need to accomplish the tasks He has set us. As the revelations so clearly tell us, the Lord never gives us a task to do without preparing the way to accomplish it.
I conclude, therefore, by admonishing you to be true, faithful, and obedient to the commandments of the Lord Jesus Christ, and would suggest to you, as the scriptures teach, that this obedience is one of the greatest ways we can manifest our love to Him and to each other. Let us pray for each other that we may overcome our several personal difficulties, that we may have the strength of body and spirit to accomplish all that the Lord has set for us to do. Amen.
This page was created on 6 July 1998
Last updated on 6 July 1998
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