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In His Time
Elizabeth had long since resigned herself to the fact that she would
never hear the patter of little feet in the parsonage where she and her
husband, Zechariah lived. Elizabeth was barren. Barren--the very word elicits
thoughts of sand blowing across a desert wasteland.
Zechariah was in the sanctuary carrying out his priestly duties, when
God interrupted him. Gabriel, the angel that stands in the very presence
of God, left his coveted place to stand in the presence of God's priest.
Shocked by the angelic sight, Zechariah became frightened. Like many worshipers
today, Zechariah wasn't expecting to hear a word from the Lord while he
was doing his religious duty.
Gabriel had some good news: But the angel said to him, "Do
not be afraid, Zacharias, for your petition has been heard, and your wife
Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will give him the name John."
"Thy prayer has been heard"--what
prayer! Zechariah hadn't done any praying for a child in years. He'd forgotten
about the prayer, but God hadn't. In his perfect timing, God answered a
young man's prayer when he was too old to believe anymore and gave his
wife a son, when she was too old to conceive anymore.
How could a religious man
be surprised to find a word from God in the sanctuary? Why would a priest
doubt that God could answer his stale prayer?
Even spiritual men have moments
when their faith flickers. Let me explain what I mean by that.
When the angel of the Lord
told him he would have a son, Zechariah doubted the prophecy. It is
impossible, Zechariah thought, for an old man and a barren woman
to have a son. After 50 + years of disappointment, perhaps I'd doubt
too. How about you?
After he expressed his doubt,
Zechariah was speechless.
Literally, Zechariah was
now, since you didn't believe what I said, you won't be able to speak until
the child is born. For my words will certainly come true at the proper
time." (Luke 1:20 NLT)
I don't know what constitutes
the greater miracle, an elderly woman having a baby or preacher being quiet
for nine months. Though I have no experience having a baby, I did have
a time in my life when I couldn't speak. It was a humbling experience.
During a surgery to remove
my cancerous thyroid, my doctor tapped on my recurrent laryngeal nerve,
thinking it was fatty tissue. The assistant surgeon assured the doctor
it was not the nerve and advised he cut it. Twice he asked for an instrument
to sever the structure, but when he tried, his hand froze. "Because I tapped
on the nerve," the doctor explained to me, "it no longer transmits the
signal from the brain to the vocal cord," The result was a paralyzed vocal
"But doctor," I said, "I'm
a preacher, what do I do without a voice?"
I stared into my Doctor's
eyes. "Will my voice come back?" He blinked and looked away. "I don't know,
maybe, since I didn't cut the nerve, normal function could return in a
few months, or it could be permanent."
In that moment, faced with
an impossible situation, my theology and this bizarre reality rammed together,
full force, in a head on collision. In that moment I had more questions
than answers. Will I ever preach again? How will I earn a living? What
about my family? WHERE ARE YOU GOD?
Like Zachariah, I doubted.
That night I lay in bed as
a thick silence surrounded me. "God, I'm over here," I prayed. "Are you
watching? Why are You doing this to me? Why don't You heal me?"
God's people were good to
me. The church supported me and preachers from our denomination's headquarters
in Albuquerque filled my pulpit as I waited for my healing.
My wife and my mother were
my greatest encouragers throughout the ordeal, they pumped me with hope
and calmed me when I had soul seizures. I worried about paying the bills,
the welfare of the church and my future. Susan never worried. "Everything
is going to be fine," she'd say. "God will take care of us." Her strength
buttressed my crumbling faith. "God will heal you," my mother said, "He
wouldn't call you to preach without supplying you a voice." These words
were my lifeline, I held to them like a drowning man.
Clearly, God's hand kept
the surgeon from cutting the nerve and I fully expected to get my voice
back. Every morning when I awoke, I said "I love you, Susan." When the
words came out in a whisper instead of a normal voice, I swallowed and
thought, tomorrow--tomorrow will be the day. My miracle will
Tomorrow never came. I was
confused the day I checked into the hospital for additional surgery to
correct the problem. God where are You and why didn't You heal me?
Immediately after the surgery,
my voice was strong, but after the swelling went down, I was left with
a course, breathy voice that projected slightly above a whisper. With every
day it got weaker--and I grew more confused. Though the congregation encouraged
me, I knew I was no longer a good preacher. My voice was too weak.
The disability had its accompanying
trials. Drive-through windows were the absolute worst. On one occasion,
the operator mocked my breathy whisper when he took my order. His immaturity
brought out my own, I wanted to squash him like a bug.
The only time I cried through
the ordeal happened about a month after I lost my voice. I stood, next
to the guest preacher as we began to sing. "I love you Lord, and I lift
my voice. . ." Of course, I didn't try to sing-it hurt too bad to force
the wind. I just mouthed the words. But when I got to the word "voice,"
I began to cry. "What good am I to you Lord," I prayed. "I can't even worship
with Your people."
Occasionally, I got a chuckle
out of my disability. I wrote the name of a person I wanted to visit on
my note pad and showed it to hospital volunteer to get a room number. The
kind woman slanted her head and asked, "Can you hear me?" Of course I could
hear, but I couldn't speak to tell her, I had to write "yes" on the pad.
Notice that Zechariah's friends
did the same thing when Elizabeth followed the Angel's instructions to
name her baby "John."
they exclaimed. "There is no one in all your family by that name." 
So they asked the baby's father, communicating to him by making gestures.
 He motioned for a writing tablet, and to everyone's surprise he wrote,
"His name is John!"  Instantly Zechariah could speak again, and he
began praising God. (Luke
Did he praise God because
he could speak, or did he speak because he could praise God? This isn't
a "chicken or egg" type of question. Think about it. A man communicating
with a pencil and tablet doesn't even try to speak. Apparently, his praise
erupted and burst through a cold heart and sealed lips and flowed to the
Glory of God.
Like Zechariah, my voice
is back. After a third surgery, I have a near-normal voice and usually
have a strong preaching voice. Though I thanked God for giving Dr. Netterville
the skill to heal me, I still wondered why God didn't intervene. That is
until a comment the doctor made during a checkup. "Your nerve is transmitting
enough signal that the vocal cord is staying healthy--not enough that it
can ever move again, but enough to give a rich sound when supported by
the silicone implant." "Dr. Neterville," I asked, "what would my voice
sound like if the surgeon had cut the nerve instead of tap it?" I heard
his voice and God's at the same time. He said, "Your voice would have always
sounded hoarse," and God said, "See, you got your miracle after all."
This side of my miracle,
I view life a little differently. I praise God that though my faith may
flicker from time to time, it never fails! Zachariah probably had the same
thought when he bounced his new born baby on his knee.
In this season of faith,
and hope and love will you trust in God for the miracle you need, and have
the patience to wait for His answer?