VII. The Burning Experience
It was four o'clock of a bitterly cold November morning when the telephone rang and an excited voice told me that the Norwood Hotel was burning and the guests were fleeing into the street in their night clothes to escape the flames.
Leonard Ravenhill, the English evangelist, and his prayer helper, Tom Haire, who were engaged in evangelistic meetings in our local church, were stopping at the Norwood. My informant could tell me nothing about these men. He only knew that some guests had died in the fire and others had been badly injured.
In a few minutes one of the elders of the church picked me up and together we raced over the icy streets to the scene of the fire. The police and firemen had the area blocked off. The basement of the First Nazarene Church, located within one block of the hotel, had been converted into a first-aid station and the less seriously injured victims of the fire were being cared for there. A hurried search among the shivering and frightened persons who had gathered in the church basement failed to discover either Ravenhill or Haire. The excited guests could not tell us anything about them, but some thought that the two men had been among the victims who had jumped from the hotel windows.
The next logical place to look was St. Bernard Hospital, a few blocks away. There the scene was one of confusion. We stopped one of the hurrying sisters and inquired whether two Protestant evangelists had been admitted to the hospital in the last few minutes. The sister replied that she did not know. "But," she added, "as I helped to bring in one elderly man who had been hurt in the fire, he patted my cheek and asked me if I loved Jesus." We did not need to ask further. We had found Tom.
Both Mr. Ravenhill and Mr. Haire had been seriously injured by the long jump to the pavement from the third story window of the hotel. Both had broken bones in many parts of their bodies, Tom suffered deep burns on one hand and Ravenhill received internal injuries.
Nothing else within the sphere of my own experience has demonstrated so beautifully the real quality of present-day Christians as did the hotel accident suffered by the two evangelists. The news wires carried the story to every part of the United States and Canada and finally to England and Ireland. Immediately telegrams and long distance calls began to flood in to my office from far parts of the continent. Churches wrote to offer assistance; Christian nurses and doctors volunteered their aid; visitors came in great numbers and prayer went up like incense from coast to coast. The two men hovered for a while between life and death and then slowly began to get well. Whatever cynical unbelief may say, there are many persons who believe that the multitude of intercessions made for others were returning on the heads of God's servants. For everyone who says, "Why did this happen to praying men?" there are others who exclaim, "How could mortal man come through all this and still live?" By every natural evidence they should have died. That they are alive today is due to the kindness of God and the determined prayers of God's people.
The weeks spent in St. Bernard Hospital revealed the workings of God in many ways. Since this sketch concerns Mr. Haire I shall focus attention upon him mainly, though it should be said also that some of the experiences of Evangelist Ravenhill were not less wonderful.
It was not long before the news had spread through the hospital that a Protestant "saint" had come among them. Nurses, doctors, supervisors and "sisters" of various kinds came to see Tom for themselves. Some of them admitted that they had not been aware that such men as Tom were still to be found running loose. Though their teachings forbade them to believe that Tom was a real Christian, their yearning hearts were better and more charitable than their dogmas, and they soon accepted him not as a Christian only but as a superior saint who could teach them the things of the Spirit.
Among those who visited Tom was a distinguished professor of philosophy at Notre Dame University. He came not to try to convert Tom but to hear from his mouth the wonders of a life of prayer and worship. In the course of his conversations he admitted that he was very much dissatisfied with the kind of Christian being produced within the Catholic fold. "They come to me and confess their sins," he said, "and then go back and do the same things again. I do not believe in that kind of religion. When a man comes to Christ he should come with John the Baptist repentance." This may sound trite to the average evangelical, but coming from a highly placed prelate of the Roman Church it is little less than astounding. And the whole experience suggests that there may be many others enmeshed in the toils of Romanism who would look our way if we presented more examples of true godliness to catch their attention.
Tom's experience in the hospital was not without humorous incidents, though Tom was extremely careful never to give offense to the Catholic personnel. One Friday he suddenly developed an appetite for meat and called a nurse to him. "I say, suster," he began, "I crave a wee piece o' roast chucken. D'ye suppose ye cud get me some?" The nurse said no. It was Friday, and besides, chicken was not served to patients in that hospital. That was final. But Tom persisted. "But, suster. Ye don't know who I am! Tomorrah the British consul is comin' to see me. And besides that, look at the green light above me bed, put there in honor of auld Ireland. Now do I get some chucken?" Tom's blue eyes were twinkling. The consul's visit was scarcely to be in honor of Tom, and the green light above the bed surely had no remote relation to Tom's birthplace. The nurse left the room shaking her head doubtfully. After a while she reappeared all smiles, and on a tray she carried a plate laden with roast chicken. Tom ate the meal with relish. He undoubtedly enjoyed it, but more than all he enjoyed the fact that he had gotten roast chicken in a Catholic hospital on Friday.
One day as a supervisor was in his room, Tom suddenly asked her to pray for him. She promised she would go immediately to the chapel and say a prayer for him. But that would not do. "No," Tom insisted, "I want you to pray for me now. Right here." The surprised sister scrambled around in her voluminous bag and came up with a prayer book out of which she read a prayer. Then to be sure she would not leave, Tom grabbed her hand and hung on. "Now, suster, I'll pray for you." Then he launched into one of his tender, impassioned prayers while the sister stood reverently with bowed head. When he was through there was awe in her voice as she said, "That wasn't a memorized prayer, was it, Tom? That came right out of your heart. The Holy Ghost must have given you that." Until the day breaks and the shadows flee away it will not be revealed how much was accomplished through the suffering man of God by such faithful witnessing among persons who for all their blindness are at least reverent and serious-minded.
When the men were recovered sufficiently to be moved, a United States Army ambulance plane flew them to New York where they were the guests of the army for one day. Then they were flown overseas to their respective homes in England and Ireland.
In a few months, much improved physically, Tom came back to the United States. When all financial matters had been adjusted and the time was ripe to settle his accounts, Tom called on his doctor to pay the bill. The doctor looked him over and waited to hear what he would say. He had been told that he could expect a request for a discount. He was definitely not prepared for what he was to hear.
"Now, Doctor," Tom began, "I want to settle up with you. I understand that you expect me to ask for a discount on my bill on the grounds that I am a Christian worker. But, Doctor, I shall do nothing of the kind. You see, I am connected with the Deity and I run my business on the same principles as God runs His. God never asks for discounts. His method is to give full measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over. And I want to do the same. Here is a signed check made out to you. Only the amount is left blank. Now you take it, write in any amount you please and it will be honored. And I'd rather you made it too much than too little."
This was more than the Catholic surgeon could stand. He broke down and wept, threw his arms around Tom and kissed him like a son. "I have never seen a Christian like you before in all my life, Tom. Here, hand me the check." Then he deducted $250 from the total bill and wrote in the reduced amount.
While Tom was going through the long siege of suffering after his accident he was forced for the first time in years to give up his habit of praying three nights each week. He missed having these long seasons of intercession, but he did not let it bother him nor did he allow himself to get under bondage because he could not pray as before. God knew that His servant would be back at his regular habit as soon as he could, and Tom knew that He knew and understood. Between friends there are some things that can be taken for granted.
One day not long ago Tom came shuffling into the church, his face shining a bit more than usual and his voice full of excitement like a boy that had just received a sled or a pony for his birthday. The reason for his new joy was that God had enabled him to go back to his old habit of all-night prayer again! He feels so much "butter," he says, that he can stay up all night now without any trouble.
But Tom will probably never again be able to kneel before God as he had been doing for fifty years. The crushed pelvis and the broken back are "butter," it is true, but they will not permit him to bend very much at best. He must now do his praying sitting up for the most part, though when he is by himself he often stretches full length on the floor as he goes over his long prayer lists or worships the Lord in the beauty of holiness. I have come upon him sometimes lying prone before the Lord quietly wrestling against the evil one whom he calls "Seten." And so completely free is he that when he is interrupted in prayer by the unexpected entrance of a friend, he simply breaks off his praying, scrambles to his feet and enters into a relaxed and delightful conversation about anything that the visitor may have on his mind. Tom will talk about anything, but he is never so keen nor so original as when talking about the goodness of God and the power of prayer.
The doctors have told Tom that his accident has probably prolonged his life many years by forcing a long rest just at the period in his life when his heart stood in need of it. Of course such a matter is in the hand of God and any prediction of longevity would be altogether rash and foolhardy. But one thing is sure: whether he stays among us for many years or slips off to heaven tomorrow is not of any consequence to Tom. He has lived so long on the portico of heaven that he will feel quite at home when the Father comes out and invites him inside.
From THE PRAYING PLUMBER OF LISBURN - A Sketch of God's Dealings with Thomas Haire by A. W. TOZER. Published in 1954 in The Alliance Weekly magazine. It has been explicitly authorized by the Alliance Life editors to be made available free online. The only stipulations are: 1) The work may only be made available for FREE. 2) The following citation must appear: Originally published in the Alliance Weekly (now Alliance Life) January 6, 13, and 20, 1954. Used by permission. Creative Commons license: Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0.
Insights of the past for the present
Plumber of Lisburn - A.W. Tozer
ON THE BOOK SHELF
May your insights be worthy.