It was a busy Tuesday morning and I almost forgot that I promised a friend that I would go pray with her dad that day. Russ’ health was fading fast as complications from a long journey with Parkinson’s was coming to end. I jumped into my truck and headed to the home of this dying man. As I sped through the church drive, a sobering thought hit me. “I’m rushing through my day to go pray over a dying man. I have spent no time in thought or prayer preparing my heart to enter this sacred moment in a man’s life.” I stopped the truck and confessed my lack of attention for this man’s situation. I asked God to slow my heart, my mind and pace. I prayed, “God, I don’t want to wing it! I need your grace. I need your Word.”
As I pulled into the driveway, an idea came to mind. “I need to bring this man a cross!” I backed out the drive and retraced my route back to my computer bag I had left at my office. I carry a couple handmade wooden crosses in my bag that were specifically designed for situations just like this. Let me explain.
I have a dear friend. His name is Trent and he’s a man in his late 70s. Over the years, God has called him and his wife into a unique prayer ministry. It’s a prayer ministry for people they will probably never meet this side of heaven. Trent has a work shop in his garage and here he cuts, sands, stains and polishes crosses. These crosses are specifically cut to have soft, rounded edges and they are all the perfect size to gently and comfortably fit into someone’s hand. A small, simple and detachable card is placed with the cross reminding the recipient of some of Jesus’ comforting words. It also informs the receiver that the extensive sanding and polishing of each cross provides Trent and his wife the time to pray for those who give these crosses and for those who receive them. When I first met Trent, he brought me a box filled with these crosses. He offered them for me to give away to anyone that God leads me to pray with.
I entered the home of this dying man with cross in hand. I was greeted warmly by his wife and daughter as they showed me to his room. Russ was struggling, every breath labored. His time to leave this life was getting close. I showed his wife the cross and explained to her what it was and who provided it. She took the cross and placed it in his contracted, tension-filled hand. You could see him squeeze the cross and though he couldn’t speak, it seemed he liked the cross in his hand. I prayed over Russ and his family. We cried some and chatted about the hope we as believers have in the middle of the most difficult times in life. His wife commented on how good it was to be a Christian on days like these.
That night, Russ’ daughter called to inform me that her dad had just passed. She said, “Phil, you need to know that he clung to that cross until his dying breath.” As I put down my phone, my mind went back to those hurried moments, rushing through my day and through a church parking lot to go wing a prayer for a dying man. I became very grateful for a God who not only loves me but also this precious family enough to slow me down before he put me into a very sacred moment. I became very grateful forTrent who prays in faith for people he’ll never meet. But most importantly, I renewed my gratitude for the power of the cross, not just that little handmade cross in Russ’s hand but the Cross that Jesus willingly wore so that we could have life, so that we could have hope.
- Phil Niekerk