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Testimonium

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“I will lift up mine eyes unto the pills…” –Malcolm Muggeridge 1962

Anyone who is familiar with the Book of Psalms understands what Muggeridge was implying in his commentary on our dependence upon medicine. The reference is to Psalm 121 in which the Psalmist recorded a song of assents sung by Israel’s pilgrims while climbing the hills to Jerusalem to attend the festivals. These hills are steep and the paths which the ancient pilgrims would have taken were rocky and slippery. Looking up at the dangers lying ahead of them, it is speculated that the pilgrims would begin their journey with this Psalm:

I lift mine eyes up to the hills. From whence cometh my help? My help cometh from the LORD , which made heaven and earth. He will not suffer thy foot to be moved.

The rhetorical question is, “who will come to my rescue?”. This answer is sung back to the  questioner in an affirmation that that God alone will keep their feet from slipping.

When Muggeridge alluded to this passage he was criticising our culture for our reliance upon pills to save us from our afflictions rather than upon God. While not intrinsically evil, these things have the potential to become evil when we allow them to take God’s rightful place as the one who rescues us from our troubles.

A few months ago while in the morning worship service at church, we sang a song which exalts God to his rightful place as our deliverer. This song quickly become one of my favorites because it speaks of God being my strength and my deliverer- two things which I desperately need. I was meditating on the words as we sang when something terrible happened. I realized that while I was singing about  God being my very present help in time of need, my actions weren’t really matching up to my words very well. My mind started recalling time after time in which I needed to be rescued from the pain of my disease, but I didn’t even give God an opportunity to do that for me. Sure, I had drawn close to God through my suffering, but I only allowed him to deliver me from the emotional side of pain and from the mental loneliness which accompanies it. I realized at that moment that God never intended for me to separate the mental from the physical suffering. If I were truly allowing God to be my shelter and my deliverer, then I would allow him to deliver me from my physical needs as well as my emotional needs. Yes, Christ meets me in the loneliness of my suffering, but he also wants to meet me in the anguish of my physical pain. I couldn’t sing the rest of the song. I sat down and buried my face in my hands, feeling like an exposed hypocrite with nowhere to hide.

After church that day, for the first time, I purposefully skipped my afternoon dosage of baclofen. It was pretty rough and the evening prayer service was difficult, but I had started my journey up the mountain to Jerusalem and was looking up at God to be the one from whence my help cometh.

The next morning I left for a week long business trip.  I took my medications with me because I knew that my body would have a very difficult time transitioning  from the cool Oregon weather to the heat and humidity of the Florida skies. I had already been in a good amount of pain from decreasing my normal dosage and the pain was only getting worse. I continued to take my medication, but at a lower dosage than prescribed. After the first day I was really feeling like a hypocrite. I felt like I was picking and choosing which parts of God’s character I was going to allow myself to know. Yes, Christ can comfort my soul because he is our divine brother in our suffering-but he can also comfort my body because he is my divine deliverer and sustainer. He not only offers his friendship through the pain, he offers physical deliverance from it. To grant him one and not the other would be much like allowing my wife to be my lover but not my companion (foolish). A god who I can customize like a new car is a designer god fashioned into my own image- he is in idol and is not god at all. Knowing God means accepting all of him in all of his goodness. In an act of  foolish faith, I tossed my meds into the nearest dumpster and went to meet with God in the silence of my hotel room. I no longer had a choice- I must now face the rest of the week without pills. I had no choice but to put my faith in God as my deliverer.

Back at the hotel room, I spent some time praying and meditating on the Psalms. I had notified some faithful friends back home and Jami that I was in a great deal of pain and needed their prayers. I didn’t tell them the entire story, but I knew that I could count on them to pray for me. What I discovered through this experience is that God will meet me in my suffering. Through the prayers of my friends back home, and by the grace of God, my symptoms were relieved the very next day. The most amazing thing to me is that the relief that I received was not any less than the relief that I received from taking my medication. Perhaps it is nothing more than a placebo effect, but I don’t think that it is. I was fully expecting to be in pain the rest of the week. I did not think that God would take the pain away, but that he would give me the grace needed to endure the pain. The power of a placebo is in being entirely convinced of its effectual properties. While I was fully convinced that God would give me endurance, I did not suspect for a moment that he would grant relief. That was a gift.

When I shared my experience with my friend, he told me (with the good insight which I have come to expect from him) that my decision to not use medication puts a burden on other people to pray for me. He didn’t say this as if putting this burden on others is a bad thing. He called it a privilege that he and others have to help carry my burden. He saw it as an opportunity for the church to step up and be the church. So it is with both selfishness and grace that I ask for your prayers. Overall, my pain has increased, but without being on medication I am finding that I am able to think more clearly. My mind is no longer asleep and I have regained some clarity in my thoughts and mental processes. More importantly, I am starting to allow myself to know God in ways which I had previously denied.

I will bless the Lord forever
I will trust Him at all times
He has delivered me from all fear
He has set my feet upon a rock
I will not be moved
And I’ll say of the Lord

You are my shield, my strength
My portion, deliverer
My shelter, strong tower
My very present help in time of need

Whom have I in heaven but You
There’s none I desire beside You
You have made me glad
And I’ll say of the Lord

You are my shield, my strength
My portion, deliverer
My shelter, strong tower
My very present help in time of need

5 thoughts on “Testimonium

  1. Aaron yor friend John is right! The burden of praying for you is nothing compared to the joy that I receive in lifting you before the Lord. I will gladly go before our God for you and I do a lot! I don’t know how I would handle suffering if I had a disease like that but you have given me a lot to think about. I think you are right when you say that God wants us to know all of him. It takes faith to trust him instead of medicine because we can see medicine.

  2. I don’t know about this bro. It sounds kinda cultish if you ask me. Like thsoe crazy people who only believe in faith healing. Why not just pop the pill and see a doctor? I’m just sayin’, take care of yoursel buddy!

    • @Serena, Thanks for the prayers. @Anthro, There isn’t a treatment to cure PLS and there isn’t a treatment to slow down the progression. At best, the meds can ease the pain and spasticity. If this were a fatal disease it would be different because we would be talking about prolonging my life so the kids and Jami could have me around longer. However, the fact is, God did not give me a fatal disease and that tells me that he still has work for me to do. As a pragmatic matter, I can function with and without the meds. If I don’t take them, I have more pain but if I do then I have more brain fog and drowsiness. So pragmatically speaking, it’s a wash whether I take them or not. However, this is not about which option is more pragmatic- it is about which option will allow me to know God more. So the question becomes, just like the Psalmist asked, “from whence cometh my help”? Do I put my trust in God to be my deliverer or do I immediately run to the pills in order to numb the pain. If I chose to do that, then I am not allowing myself to draw near to God in my suffering and am ignoring what he may be trying to teach me.

  3. OK that sounds cool but your forgetting that god is the one who gave u the disease in the first place. Hes got u totally fooled. First he tortures you, then he gets u to think that the only relief that you have is wrong so u go to him and tell him how great he is for torturing you hoping that by flattering him he will stop torturing you? Man I used to think u were smarter than me but even I can see that hes messin’ with your mind. Its like when my brother used to hit me and keep hurting me until I told him how wonderful he was then he’d stop. Finally I stopped telling me how great he was and he no longer got his jollies from torturing me and left me alone. See that’s how u need to handle him Just ignore him, stop worshipping him and he’ll find some other servant to pick on. Yeah! That’s all from the book of Anthro 3:16. Just doin’ my part bro. Powered by nothing but my love for you!

    • Anthro,

      How you view suffering depends on your perspective. I don’t claim to know if God sent this disease to me or merely allowed it, but either way he could have prevented it if he wanted to. The fact that he didn’t tells me that for some reason unknown to me, he wants me to go through this.

      That said, I don’t see this as God torturing me at all. Sometimes we have to go through pain in order to be healed. If you have cancer, you expect the surgeon who operates on you to make some painful incisions in your body. Nobody blames a surgeon for cutting a hole into their body because they trust the reputation of the surgeon and know that he is ridding their body of something far worse. So why would we blame God for the pain in our lives if it is for the purpose of ridding our souls of something far worse?

      You see, the problem is that too many people believe that suffering is the great evil in this world. The truth is, the great evil in this world is our lack of conformity to God’s character, and it is our suffering which exposes our lack of conformity more than anything else. When I feel the pains of my disease, I am reminded that something is terribly wrong with this world. It causes me to turn my affections to the cross of Christ because “he was wounded for our transgressions and bruised for our iniquities”.

      Suffering is only evil if this world is all there is. If it is true that eternal life and immortality lies beyond this world, then suffering is nothing more than a surgeon’s scalpel cutting out that which is perishable in order to prepare us for the imperishable.

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