It has been a little over one year since my heart attack (March 21, 2017). Without warning, I fell to the kitchen floor unconscious. I remember nothing that happened thereafter until five days later, when I found myself in a hospital room. I asked what happened, and someone said, “You died three times.” My heart had stopped and had been resuscitated on three separate occasions.
I would like to be able to say that, in that moment, I said something spiritual; instead, I responded, “I am just like Buck!” Everyone just stared blankly, until I explained myself: “I am just like Buck. You know, the weasel on Ice Age who said, ‘I died, but then I lived!’” Then everyone laughed.
During my hospital stay, the pain in my ribs was intense due to the cardiac resuscitation. To add to that, the damaged neuroreceptors in my brain (from a lack of oxygen) made me feel like my skin was on fire. The smallest movements resulted in intense pain. Due to a loss of my short-term memory, I nearly drove my wife crazy by asking the same questions over and over. She started occasionally calling me “Dory” and “Rain Man.”
As the days passed, I had plenty of time for reflection: “If I had died (or ‘stayed dead’) what would have been my regrets? What would I have changed? What should I change now that God has extended my life?”
The first thing is love. I regretted that I had not loved more. I am not writing about mere sentimentality or a misguided love that hinders one from speaking the truth. I am referring to a Christ-like servant-love for my family, brothers and sisters in Christ, and the unbelieving world—even my enemies. In this one thing, all the commandments of God are fulfilled; however, it is an impossible task apart from a mind renewed in the Word and filled with the Holy Spirit. Isn’t it strange? I did not regret that I preached too little on the streets or that I spent too little time in my study. I regretted that I had played too few board games with my nine-year-old daughter (she loves board games).
The second thing is intercessory prayer. I have heard many an old preacher say that no minister on his deathbed regrets that he prayed too much—only that he prayed too little. Studying has never been a difficult task for me. The day after my return from the hospital, I studied and wrote for several hours; indeed, I have spent most of this last year alone in my study. In fact, it requires more discipline for me personally to deny myself the joy of studying than it does to force myself to study. God’s excellencies provoke the regenerated heart to draw near to Him and think much of Him. In contrast, intercessory prayer is work for me. More pointedly, it is war—war with my flesh, with the clock, with the devil. How my flesh hates intercessory prayer, fastings, and night watches! How many times my flesh has won out over my better understanding, drawing me back to bed or to the table or even to my study! Yes, my flesh will choose even Bible study over intercessory prayer! But it is in the prayer closet and in the night watches that darkness is beaten back, that Christ gains ground in the heart, that souls are redeemed, and that battles are won. The prayers of God’s saints ascend from the earth like a faint and feeble cry. But when the incense of heaven is added to them, they return to earth with the power of thunder, lightning, and earthquakes (Revelation 8:3-5). Why then do I not rush to the closet, to the night vigil, to the times of separation? May God help me and you spend our days on the earth in believing, persevering, and prevailing intercessory prayer!
The third and last thing I will mention is focus. I started my ministry in the city, mountains, and jungles of my beloved Peru—traveling from town to town, preaching on the street, and training pastors and evangelists who never had the opportunity to study in a Bible institute. These were men far more worthy than myself, who toiled and suffered, and accomplished so much with so little; men who labored in poverty, suffering, and anonymity. These men are the reason that HeartCry exists. They have always owned my heart above all other matters of ministry, and it is to them that I have purposed to return. How many times in a conference setting in North America have I sat on the platform with a multitude of teachers far more instructed than I will ever be? How many times have I asked myself, “Why am I here surrounded by so many outstanding teachers instead of in some remote jungle or mountain range where there are so few, if any?" Please pray for me and the HeartCry staff that we might “burn” and “burn out” for the unreached and for those who labor with so little.
I still plan to preach in some conferences and churches in the United States, but (Lord willing) I will give the greater part of the rest of my life to directing HeartCry, preaching where Christ is not named, and training and writing material for the pastors and evangelists in those places.