“You don’t look like what you’ve been through!” people say. And they ask, “How did you get through that?” In answer, I would be dishonest if I didn’t admit that I have had moments of anger, questioning, and deep hurt over what happened. But then I consider the truth I’ve learned, that out of our pain, out of tragedies we have lived, our God is constantly at work to serve His highest purpose, the salvation of many.
Beep! Beep! Beep! Beep!
My heart raced, pounding as if it would jump right out of my body. Pain gripped me mercilessly, holding me prisoner, powerless. What in the world is happening to me? I thought as the room swarmed with white coats and green scrubs. What was all of the fuss about? Feeling confused, I watched them scurry like determined ants. Wait a minute; this is about me!
I sensed the panic in the room, swelling by the second. The expression on their faces, all directed at me, confirmed my worst nightmare–it’s a fatal emergency. Fright overwhelmed me, and I looked at my husband, Shawn. Appearing just as alarmed, Shawn gazed at me, seemingly helpless to change the unfolding scene. Something was terribly wrong. Sweeping into the room with haste, the doctor explained, “We have to reset her heart. Where’s the husband?” Like a student in class, Shawn raised his hand, “Right here!” With his attention directed at Shawn, the doctor urged, “OK, it’s your job to keep her here.”
Holding my hand with both intense tenderness and strength, Shawn fixed his eyes on mine and started talking. I can’t remember what he said, but our conversation rose above the dread-filled air in the room. In that moment it was just me and my husband of only 11⁄2 years. Still newlyweds, deeply in love. My room buzzed with what seemed like the entire staff from the floor. This was my ground zero.
I had seen reactions like this before, about 15 years earlier. Filled with new graduate excitement and youthful vigor, I embarked upon my first career, in full-time professional physical therapy, working on acute care and in the intensive-care units. It wouldn’t be long before I would observe, and, in some cases, act out as a physical therapist, what I had read about in textbooks. And I would witness the pace and focus of medicine's servants in a patient's room, all with one mission in mind—saving life.
Now I was the patient. The physician announced, “Tricia, this will probably hurt; it won’t feel good.” He was about to reset my heart’s rhythm, and they had to act quickly. Unbeknownst to me, my heart was threatening to race me right out of existence.
Shawn continued his conversation with me, seeming to ignore the crowd of worried medical professionals. Like lovers in the park, we kept talking, until, suddenly, he was alone, in what he describes as the single most frightening moment of his life—the moment that his wife’s life seemed to slip out of his hands. I felt nothing; heard nothing; sensed nothing; said nothing. But my heart slowed to a near halt and was then slowly brought back.
Death is a thief. One instant you’re here— breathing, hearing, talking, smelling, feeling. their hour will come” (Eccl. 9:12, NIV). Thankfully, my God brought me back.
But how in the world did I get here? Months of abdominal pain diagnosed as ovarian torsion; a diagnostic pelvic laparoscopy because of persistent discomfort; and now having my heart rest by panic-stricken nurses and doctors?
Just a year prior I had married a wonderful man, was officially commissioned as a pastor in the gospel ministry, and nearly to the date, preached at our denomination's annual Pastoral Leadership and Evangelism Council (PELC). The Holy Spirit moved among us mightily; 120 pastors and leaders felt compelled to gather immediately afterward for a moving and protracted prayer session.1 I could never know that after such a year of blessing I would be fighting for my life.
It had all started with the onset of sudden abdominal pain months earlier. Terror gripped me as I nearly fainted on the cold bathroom floor. I was home alone and frightened by what had come as suddenly as a tsunami. I reached for my phone: “Babe, I think I am going to have to go to the hospital.” Hanging up, I dialed 9-1-1. “Hello, what’s your emergency?” The voice on the other end sounded calm and distant. I explained the best I could, wondering all the while if I was over-reacting, yet certain I needed immediate medical attention. I felt so scared, frightened by the severity of the pain. I’ve never experienced pain like this before, I thought. “Please, I’m in pain. I need help.”
Having nearly passed out, I knew something was terribly wrong. I had never experienced such symptoms. I’d incurred sports injuries from my athletic days, but had never had pain like this, nor nearly fainted because of it. As a physical therapy student, I was definitely not a fainter, not at the sight of blood, when watching heart surgeries performed, knees replaced, or working on cadavers.
The paramedics arrived, assessed, and took me to the hospital. The pain continued. As I watched, hospital workers frantically dashed from room to room, to nursing station, and again from room to room in the ER. I knew that only God would be able to help me. I know that humans have a level of understanding in pathology. But I also know that we can go down the wrong diagnostic path without God’s guidance. Lying there in the hallway on a bed, I prayed, holding my hand over my throbbing abdomen. After numerous tests and assessments, they sent me home with a probable diagnosis, ovarian torsion, and a prognosis of recovery within a week.
I continued to follow up with my gynecologist (OB/GYN), who assured me that this malaise would resolve within a few days. It did not. Instead, the pain grew worse. Multiple visits to my doctor, numerous diagnostic imaging tests, provided no reasonable answer. I kept pushing through—working, traveling, attending meetings; hurting. Until my OB/GYN determined to take a look inside by way of diagnostic pelvic laparoscopy, moving, reasonably, from least to more invasive procedures. After months of pain, I agreed. Such pain should not be ignored. It is the body’s way of letting us know that something needs attention. Unaddressed pain can yield disaster.
Procedure scheduled, we arrived on time to sign the necessary paperwork. The morning of November 29, 2017, seemed like any other day. They completed the simple probe without any reasonable findings to account for the level of agony I had been experiencing over the previous months. With instructions and prescriptions in hand, Shawn took me home to recover over the next few days. Unbeknownst to us, that would be the last “normal” day we would enjoy that year. We walked into the outpatient diagnostic facility with no clue that this would be the beginning of the greatest test of our faith, our marriage, and our life.
God be praised, I not only survived, but, by His grace, discovered triumph. I came to appreciate what I preach in the most direct way possible, personal experience. Now a great truth controls my thinking. It is the knowledge that what I experience can make me a greater blessing. Paul has told us of God, “the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God” (2 Cor. 1:3, 4, NIV). Now I can. And I can stand with my unnamed sister from two millennia ago, who lived in pain until Jesus healed her and insisted that she tell her story, which, I’m told, “is Heaven’s chosen agency for revealing Christ to the world. We are to acknowledge His grace as made known through the holy men of old; but that which will be most effectual is the testimony of our own experience. We are witnesses for God as we reveal in ourselves the working of a power that is divine. . . . God desires that our praise shall ascend to Him, marked by our own individuality. These precious acknowledgments to the praise of the glory of His grace, when supported by a Christlike life, have an irresistible power that works for the salvation of souls.”2
It is with this faith that I write and share my story. I know that someone who has faced or is currently in a sudden “storm,” difficulty, or adverse circumstance, someone who needs both encouragement and salvation, will find it through my story.
1 See https://www.adventistreview.org/church-news/story-holy-spirit-disrupts-adventist-pastors’-meeting
2 Ellen G. White, The Desire of Ages (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1898, 1940), p. 347.
Tricia Payne pastors in the Lake Region Conference of Seventh-day Adventists. This article is based on material from her book, The Fight for My Life: What I Discovered as I Triumphed Through Tragedy.
At times a Christian leader is challenged to do what has never been done before; instances when they are called upon to develop and direct such plans as have never before been attempted; tasked to “go where no man has gone before,” to undertake assignments personally impossible and humanly unreasonable.
They shared three years of Jesus’ life. They experienced the devastation of His death, the joy of His resurrection, and the comfort of His 40-day intensive thereafter. Classes done for the day, they considered their final assignment: Do the impossible; go make disciples of all nations; go teach them everything I taught you.
It’s still impossible today: for the single seminarian not yet recovered from Greek, Hebrew, and Aramaic, now hurled into a multichurch district with one congregation dying, another dead, the third riven with cliques of strife, and a collective history of five previous pastors all documented as “unsuccessful.” Or the conscientious first elder confronted by the spiritual lethargy, multiple personalities, mania, schizophrenia,and other unaddressed psychological dislocations that bless the fellow saints of his congregation. Or your neighbor the Christian nurse, forever facing the demands of irritated prima donna surgeons. Or the blue collar journeyman trying to keep a clean mouth and mind in the midst of the vile rivers of language that flow all around him and threaten to overflow him. Or the conscientious freshman coed so earnestly desiring mental sanity and sexual purity in the midst of what seems an ocean of frats and sisters and intoxication and hazing.
Yes, but the Lord has a way of commanding and expecting the inconceivable: staying faithful to a cheat who seems determined to destroy his family and sink the marriage boat; staying clean when you know that inside your firm’s accounting operation there is dedication to sustaining some vast financial fraud; being compassionate to the cruel, caring to the chauvinistic, calm with the combative, constant with the capricious: loving much because you’ve been forgiven much—though friends and loved ones cannot understand the insanity of your love. You love as you do because you’ve heard the voice—the voice of the Lord who reached you first, doing the improbable in and for you, and now commanding and expecting you to do the impossible.
In your fervor for obeying Jesus’ “Go!” command you almost missed another word of His final instructions to His disciples. Luke lays it out: “Behold, I send the promise of my Father upon you: but tarry ye in the city of Jerusalem, until ye be endued with power from on high” (Luke 24:49). Again, Jesus “being assembled together with them, commanded them that they should not depart from Jerusalem, but wait for the promise of the Father, which, saith he, ye have heard of me” (Acts 1:4).
Jesus’ final order to His followers was not simply “Go!” It was also “Wait!” And it was a plural “Wait!” “All of you: wait!” Delivered in the tone of a general commanding his soldiers, Jesus ordered: “Wait.”
They waited, . . . coming together to each other, and all, together, closer and closer to God.
Where? “In Jerusalem.”
What for? “For the promise of the Father.”
And who must wait? “All of you, wait together!”
There must be no leaving, departures, or separations from one another. All must unite in waiting—and in the very place that seemed adverse to them; the place that opposed Him and was hostile to them. “Wait!” He ordered, in an uncomfortable place where He would redefine their experience and their most recent memory of the populace in this place. They needed to wait so they could do things right, once He had fixed them.
The “Wait!” command has nothing to do with inertia or stasis. It is a wait of expectation, not for just a transient moment, but until the promised gift arrives. It is the command to keep on waiting, discomfort notwithstanding; threats of the place notwithstanding. The Lord who commands and expects the impossible has given the command: “Wait!”
Yes. Wait. Sara failed to wait, and surrendered her husband to the arms and legs of a younger woman, only to find herself a desperate housewife with baby mama drama.
Moses failed to wait, and ended up in exile. Samson failed to wait, and ended up blind, eyes gouged out. David failed to wait for God’s voice, and spoke the lie that led to the slaughter of a whole city of priests (see 1 Sam. 21:1-7; 22:1-19).
The prodigal’s failure to wait has given us the ultimate story of being in the pits.
We wait together. In the words of Aristotle: “Patience is bitter, but its fruit is sweet.”
Ask Israel about waiting: they’ll point you to Jericho, where seven patient days of doing the same thing over and over—together—brought the walls down. Ask beauty queen Esther: she’ll tell you of three days of fasting together that stopped a genocide. Waiting may be boring, but it’s pregnant with life if we’re waiting on the Lord and by His instructions. Job pledged to long waiting, “till my change come” (Job 14:14).
Ask even of secular history, and learn its lessons on the blessedness of waiting: generations of Black slaves in America dreamed of change, and were waiting for it when it came, when centuries of cruelty and exploitation endured, brought December 6, 1865, and the abolition of slavery.
Ask God-inspired activists for justice and learn how they worked and waited until change came and the Civil Rights Act of 1964 became the law of America. Ask Blacks and Whites in America to recall one more momentous change, January 20, 2009, when what had seemed impossible became possible, as a Black man became president of the United States and moved his family into the White House.
Yes, waiting can be daunting and boring. But “they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; they shall walk, and not faint” (Isa. 40:31).
In obedience to Christ’s command His disciples waited together in Jerusalem for the promise of the Father. They did not wait in idleness, but “were continually in the temple, praising and blessing God” (Luke 24:53). They “met together to present their requests to the Father in the name of Jesus.They knew that they had a Representative in heaven, an Advocate at the throne of God.”2 They waited, humbling their hearts; they waited, in true confession and repentance; waited, reconciling; and waited, confessing; they waited, worshipping; they waited together, fervently praying for fitness to function right in leading sinners to Christ. They waited, putting away all their separating differences, abandoning all desire for supremacy, coming together to each other, and closer and closer to God.
They knew they needed more than what they had. Waiting would make the difference; waiting until they were baptized with the Holy Spirit: “For John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now” (Acts 1:5, NASB).3 John fully submerged you in water, but if you will wait, you will soon be fully submerged into the Holy Spirit. Skin may be impermeable to water, but you will be permeated with the Holy Spirit penetrating every membrane, transforming every cell.
People craving personal performance enhancement have traveled illicit paths in their search for glory: Ben Johnson, Marion Jones—Olympic sprinters; Lance Armstrong, Floyd Landis, cyclists.
But Jesus’ promise for performance enhancement is neither an over-the-counter drug nor a physician’s prescription. Nor is it simply a recipe for lasting longer or finishing faster. Jesus’ gift of the Holy Spirit comprehends and transcends any
simple physical human accomplishment. The Spirit brings physical strength, emotional stability, and spiritual power, imparting new abilities and functionalities to its recipient. Did you say you needed more? Well, here is where you get it—in Spirit power: price already paid, guaranteed delivery, better than Amazon! But wait for it. Wait for the power.
For you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes. It’s power of a different sort than that which Jesus mentioned in Acts 1:6, 7: that “power” (Greek, exousia) refers to authority, the Father’s exclusive prerogatives; this one (Greek, dunamis) means “dynamite”!
For the mission Jesus calls us to requires dynamite power: dynamite power to reach and win the heart of communities long underserved, underprivileged, and plagued with gun violence, promiscuity, and drug addiction; dynamite power to reach sophisticated, post-Christian, postmodern post-absolutists whose idea of human generosity is a political correctness that absents the name of Christ from Christmas; dynamite power to reach people for whom greatness is tied up with notions of ethnic superiority.
Luke put it this way: “And, behold, I send the promise of my Father upon you: but tarry ye in the city of Jerusalem, until ye be endued with power [Greek, dunamis] from on high” (Luke 24:49).
In the movie series Mission Impossible agents receive special gadgets and weapons to combat the enemy: a special camera pen, a rocket, a wall climbing suction device—whatever it is that equips them for the mission. Jesus’ words tell us that His disciples have yet to be fitted with the arsenal needed.
This mission requires dynamite power. We find ourselves hitting our head against the proverbial wall: why? Our blood pressure is up: why? We crave spiritual victory over vices that we resist but cannot quite shake: why? Worse yet, we hate ourselves for secret sins that are more pattern than exception: why?
Jesus’ answer is that we need more than we have. And we need to wait for it! “For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty through God to the pulling down [and dismantling] of strong holds” (2 Cor. 10:4).
Once we’ve been saturated, clothed, empowered, we go—according to the qualification of Jesus’ adverb “therefore.” “Go therefore,” He says. The disciples’ advance, proclamation, and soul winning would thrive exclusively on the grounds of the Spirit’s empowerment. Undereducated cowardice would hardly represent Jesus. They would soon find themselves burnt out, worn out, stretched out, and, of necessity, fazed out. Hence Jesus comes and speaks to them, saying, “All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore” (Matt. 28:18, 19). His words make the difference that matters. We go, now, with His authority, ever aware that the final say in our effort will be Jesus’ word. He will have the final say; speak the last word.
Others, misguided others, sometimes conceive of themselves in the Jesus role—having the last word. But neither parent nor mentor, employer nor administrator, determines whom God may or may not call. No board or committee has the final say in any of our lives. Jesus does. The power and authority and dynamite are all His. His jurisdiction embraces heaven and earth: from Africa to Australia; from North America to South America; from Triangulum to Antarctica; from the Milky Way to Andromeda, Centaurus A to Bode’s and beyond.
Power—all power—belongs to Jesus, the One who bled a fountain to wash away our sins; who laid down His life, then took it up again, because by the surrender of His perfect innocence for our perfect perversity, He conquered the devil and won the keys to death, hell, and the grave. At His departure He left us the promise that guarantees that power. For it all belongs to Him, guaranteed to you if you’ll wait. So: believing His promise, grounding yourself in Him, and, looking forward to victory, wait for it!
Tricia Payne pastors the Tabernacle of Hope and Muncie Philadelphia congregations in the Lake Region Conference of Seventh-day Adventists.