Walking, leaping, and praising God

 March 6, 2008

I am home now in Arizona, and feel very much like the lame man healed by Peter (Act 3:1-10). While I am not yet leaping (much to the relief of many, I am sure), I am definitely walking without pain for the first time in 15 years. I thought perhaps, as a tribute of gratitude to the many who have prayed and given for this result, that I would give a short overview of my journey among the lame.

 Gene with Dr.  BoseOn the Road to Recovery!

 Gene with Dr.  Bose                      On the Road to Recovery!               

Truth proclaimed outside our hospital window!

   Truth proclaimed outside our hospital in Chennai


The mark of Jacob

“Just as he crossed over Penuel the sun rose on him, and he limped on his hip.” Gen 32:31

I first noticed pain in my left hip in 1993. At the time I was still running long distances on a daily basis. Having come up under the “old school” training of my father, my response was to “train through the pain”. At the time, I only had pain occasionally during or after running. Over the next five years this developed into stiffness around the left hip.

It was during a teaching tour in Kazakhstan that I first realized how much my flexibility had been affected. Kazakhs traditionally sit on carpets on the floor. This is how the churches and Bible study groups met. I found I could not longer sit cross-legged, I had to extend the left leg out in front. The student’s nick-named me “Jacob”, who was crippled after his wrestling bout with the Lord (Gen 32:24-32).
At the time I had no inkling how much that story would become a focus in the days ahead.

By 2002 the pain and disability were making it difficult to continue running. At the time we were living in Western Australia. Nan and I were running regularly and at least once a week would run along forest trails, on an out and back course that made a 26 mile circuit. I visited an orthopedic therapist, who recommended a sports injury specialist. Within ten minutes of my entrance to his office, I was diagnosed with advanced osteo-arthritis of the hip. I was told I would need a hip replacement. Needless to say, my running was essentially over, and I left knowing that God had designed that hip to go so far, and that He would see me through whatever was ahead.

Hip replacement postponed

The lot is cast into the lap, but it’s every decision is from the Lord.” Pro 16:33

For a while I was able to replace running with fast walking of several miles. Gradually, even this was too much. I finally resolved to pay a visit to the surgeon recommended to me by the sports injury specialist. His recommendation was a total hip replacement. I was put on a list awaiting the opening for the surgery. In one sense I was resigned to the surgery. But I had a nagging unease, so I visited our family doctor in Australia, a delightful Scot named Dr. McQuaid. His recommendation was to wait as long as possible, as improvements were being made almost month by month in hip replacement technology. I determined to take his advice.

It was around this time I began to wonder why they didn’t just re-surface the joint, instead of cutting the entire bone structure away. I remember telling Nan that one day this would be the cutting edge treatment. Meanwhile, as the arthritis intensified its attack, I began to have to walk often with a cane. At this time I was still trekking the 15 hour trail into Numba village, in Papua New Guinea, for the Bible Institute course there.

As late as September of 07 I made the most grueling journey to date along with Logan Carnell, who by this time had become my “Timothy in training”. It required a 40 mile trek across the deserts of western Zambia. The hip problem was compounded by severe sciatica pain, which made standing an agony of pain. But I was convinced that “God never calls but that He will supply”, and indeed He did.


Greater works

“Most assuredly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, The works that I do he will do also; and greater works Than these he will do, because I go to My Father.” Joh 14:12

Throughout the entire time of my growing disability, a very difficult thing to my active nature, I was convinced that God had a purpose in what I was going through. And increasingly, the story of Jacob came back to my mind. Jacob had wrestled with the Lord, attempting to bend the Divine will to Jacob’s ways. It was by being crippled that he learned to “walk humbly with his God” (Mic.6:8). There was no doubt in my mind that I needed to be humbled, and that this was one tool God might use for such a purpose. Through years of ministry I have learned, both by observation and personal experience, that before we can become useful vessels (2 Ti.2:21), we need to be broken and re-molded according to His will (Jer.18:1-4).

I had boasted that I could walk out my door and run 50 miles on any given day. My self-reliance and self-assurance affected many areas of my ministry as well. I was much in need of learning my own frailty, as well as the injurious effects on others my arrogance produced.  As my crippling increased, there were some who reminded me of those boasts. Others would mock the difficulty I had in doing even simple tasks, always in the form of a friendly joke. I began to learn how difficult life is for so many people who are injured or impaired in some way. Even the simplest task became a burdensome labor. Every time I saw someone in a wheelchair, I would give thanks for my crippled hip, and pray for the grace of God to comfort that person and draw them to Himself through faith in Christ.

By the time I was having trouble getting around my own home, I heard of a new surgical technique called “The Birmingham Method”. I was amazed and pleased to hear it was “hip resurfacing”. God led my brother-in-law, Monty Watkins, into contact with a man who recommended he have me look into it. Within six months I had researched it, found that it could be done in India for a fraction of the U.S. cost, and sent my X-rays to Dr. Bose at Apollo Specialty Hospital in Chennai, India. Then God began to raise up many who prayed and gave to make the surgery possible. It is here that we see the “greater works”. This passage (Joh 14:12) has caused many problems to believers through the ages. I would like to suggest what I believe to be the accurate interpretation.

First, the “greater works” are in the spiritual realm. It is greater to give eternal life through the Gospel, than to raise someone from the dead. It is greater to heal a crippled soul through God’s word, than to heal a crippled limb. What we do, as servants of Jesus Christ, for eternity, surpasses anything that is limited to time alone.

Furthermore, there is a “greater” aspect in doing what we do out of our own weakness. Jesus was God in the flesh. For Him to heal the sick, raise the dead, make the lame walk, give sight to the blind, was child’s play (so to speak). Peter, Paul, and the Apostles were endowed with the power of Christ to do the works He had done, as proof of their Apostolic standing (2Co 12:12). We do not have that power (contrary to the false claims of many). What we do have is simple faith.

Jesus said to Thomas (Joh 20:29) that there was a greater blessing for those who believed without having seen the things he had seen. This requires a greater faith, a faith that walks without the benefit of sight (2Co 5:7). It is one thing to see a man of great strength do a mighty act. How much greater a feat when done by a child? It may be one thing for a doctor, with all the modern technology available, to perform an appendectomy. But I once read of a man in a remote setting, performing it on himself, without the benefit of anesthesia of any kind. This is a greater work! And so it is when believers, in the simplicity of faith, pray and give in the simple belief that God will use their offerings to achieve what Christ on earth could accomplish with a word.

Today, due to the “greater faith” and “greater works” of many fellow-believers, I am able to walk without pain. Many were amazed at my decision to go to India for the surgery. I must say that the skill, patience, compassion, and care given me by Dr. Bose, the nursing staff, and the physical therapy team was superb. I might add that Dr. Bose was actually involved in the development of this re-surfacing technique. I am grateful to all who have participated in my “healing”. I am as thrilled as that man healed by Peter at the temple gate so many years ago. To me, who had become resigned to a future of increasing disability, it is nothing short of a miracle of God’s grace. Will you now join me in praying that this grace will not be in vain, but that my life from this point on might be a thank-offering in service to Christ, for the mighty things He has done for me?

“You have turned for me my mourning into dancing; You have put off my sackcloth and clothed me with
Gladness, to the end that my glory may sing praise to You and not be silent. O Lord my God, I will give thanks To You forever.” Psa 30:11-12

Stand Firm!

Gene Cunningham