As my husband pushed me to the elevator in my wheelchair, both of us were quietly reflecting on what the neurosurgeon had said. The doctor had closely examined my MRIs and told us that my spinal problems had advanced past the point where therapy or injections would help. The only option left for me was two spinal surgeries, starting with one to the neck and cervical spine to remove the damaged discs that were pressing on the nerves and spinal column, then later a second on the lumbar spine. He said the neck surgery only had a 75% success rate, but to do nothing could result in me being paralyzed.
This news was overwhelming, but as believers in Jesus Christ our first thought was that we needed to pray about this. God already knew if the surgery to my neck would relieve my pain and other symptoms or make them worse. I was suddenly in a place where clearly hearing God’s voice was crucial. So that day, we started praying.
I usually have no problem understanding God’s will when there is a specific Scripture that applies to my situation, but this was different. I’ve read the Bible several times, and I’m confident there is no verse that directly addresses whether or not I was to have surgery. In a situation such as this, I needed to remember some important points I’ve learned about hearing God’s voice. I recalled that John 10 says Jesus is the Good Shepherd, and that those who have accepted His death on the Cross as payment for their sins are His sheep. According to John 10:27, “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.” Being one of Jesus’ sheep is the only qualification given in this passage for hearing God’s voice. I know I meet that qualification.
I also know the main way God speaks to us today is through His Word and the confirmation of the Holy Spirit. There are two Greek words for Word, logos and rhema. Logos refers to the written Word of God, contained in the sixty-six books of the Bible. Anyone, Christian or not, can read the logos. Rhema means the spoken Word of God, and is a message spoken to an individual, often as an answer to prayer. A rhema word may come directly from the written Word of God, with the Holy Spirit applying it to a specific situation. Or a rhema word may come as an impression the Holy Spirit makes upon our spirit. Rhema words must line up with the logos – if they contradict Scripture in any way, they are not from God.
In this situation, we needed a rhema word from God, a specific word that would direct us concerning the surgery. We needed to “hear God’s voice.” And we did, but not overnight.
- First, we felt God was telling us to get a second opinion, by discussing the surgery with my primary physician. She had great confidence in the neurosurgeon I had seen, but first she wanted to order some tests to rule out other possible causes of my symptoms. I had the tests done, and nothing new showed up.
- Over the next month, as I continued reading Scripture daily, one passage after another seemed to point toward having the surgery. My husband and I still weren’t sure, but we were definitely leaning in that direction.
- Then, we sensed God telling us to have the pastors of our church pray for my healing, according to James 5:14-15, “Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up. If they have sinned, they will be forgiven.”
- I called the church and set this up, and several of our elders (pastors) prayed for me. Nothing happened outwardly, but I had an inner knowing that God was going to heal my neck in the way He chose. One of our pastors said this to me almost word by word during the prayer time. And while I wasn’t 100% sure, I felt God was giving me the go-ahead to schedule the surgery.
- Finally, we met with my primary physician and she cleared me for surgery. Each step along the way, I had a growing peace and confidence that God did want me to have the neck surgery, and my husband agreed. So the day after this appointment, I began the process of scheduling my surgery. The neurosurgeon told us the day of our appointment that this process of getting insurance approval and scheduling with the hospital takes around a month, so I’m now expecting a phone call any day giving me the date.
God doesn’t usually speak aloud so we can hear His voice with our physical ears. But God lives within us, in the form of the Holy Spirit. He is able to open our spiritual ears and to reveal to us the will of God. When He does this, our response is to be obedience. I can’t say I’m looking forward to my upcoming surgery, but I am looking forward to the results of it. One of the Scriptures the Holy Spirit has used to encourage me is Hebrews 12:1b-2, “Therefore… let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” If Jesus endured the pain of the cross by looking ahead to the joy set before Him, I’m confident I can endure the pain of this fairly routine surgery by looking forward to the joy ahead!