By: The Rt. Rev. Chris Warner, Diocese of the Mid-Atlantic
In 1993, just a few weeks into our marriage, my wife, Catherine, told me she was pregnant. We were both shocked, because that was not our plan. In fact, our plan was to wait until we’d grown up a little bit and were more established. But suddenly we were faced with a life-altering reality that we didn’t intentionally seek, but we did ultimately choose.
I remember the initial feelings of shock and fear. We were both 23 years old, and suddenly I was a father, she was a mother, and we were not ready.
Deuteronomy 30:19 says, “Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live, loving the Lord your God, obeying His voice, and holding fast to Him, for He is your life and length of days.” I remember reading that scripture over and over, as the news of this impending reality was dawning upon me. I prayed, “Lord, I long to obey Your voice more than anything else in the world, and in accordance with Your Word, I believe You, Lord. We love You, Lord, and we will do what You say.”
Now, at the time, we were going to a very small Anglican church where the people loved Jesus, knew the Lord intimately and powerfully, and could really pray. And I remember that after we announced the pregnancy that somebody handed me a book by Francis and Judith MacNutt called Praying for your Unborn Child. It’s one of the best books I have ever received. As I read it, I began to see the importance of praying for this developing baby in the womb. Now, I had never even thought about doing such a thing. I’d only really engaged with being a father for a very short time, and I had never actually held a baby. What did I know? It was revolutionary to me to think, “Oh, I can engage with this child these nine months, throughout fetal development.” And of course, the medical sciences have shown what the scripture has told us all along—that, yes, there is engagement in the womb. Psalm 139 says, “You, God, formed my inward parts. You knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise You, for I am fearfully and I am wonderfully made. My frame was not hidden from You when I was being made in secret. Your eyes saw my unformed substance. In Your book were written every one of those days, the days that were formed for me when as yet they were none of them.”
It struck me that I could prayerfully ask for God’s blessing over this child even before birth, and that God, according to Scripture, was already at work in her life. A child’s biological development occurs while the soul of the person is formed, while, as the Psalmist wrote, the unformed substance develops, which is the Hebrew word for “embryo”. As the embryo developed, God was already active in my child’s life. Job 33:4 says, “The spirit of God has made me, and the breath of the Almighty gives me life.”
So, as I prayed for that child, asking God to work in her life, I was joining with God in what He was already doing. I prayed each day for her. Before I went to work in the morning and just before bed in the evening, I would get close to Catherine’s stomach, and I would put my hands on her tummy. I would put my lips up to her belly, and I would say, “Hey, baby.” Now, I don’t know why I felt it necessary to put my hands and lips up close, but again, I was kind of clueless. But I prayed this day in and day out: “You are loved and you are wanted, and I bless you. And the Father, God Almighty, has known you from before the foundation of the world.” I remember the very first time when she popped me in the mouth. It was a tap, tap. And for the next few months, it was like a game we played each day. As I would get close and pray my blessing over her, she would tap, tap me on the mouth. She was engaging and responding to me. But that also makes sense, doesn’t it? Because in the Scripture lesson we heard in Luke 1, as Mary, pregnant with Jesus, the son of God, goes to meet her cousin, Elizabeth, pregnant with John the Baptist, we hear these words:
“Mary entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the baby leaped in her womb and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit, and she exclaimed with a loud voice, ’Blessed are you among women and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For behold, when the sound of your greeting came to my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy.’”
When they met, John, still in the womb of his mother, leaped for joy. Now, we live in a culture that says the unborn are not alive. They are not deemed to be people until they can live outside of the womb. And yet we see John expressing all the qualities of personhood. He experienced cognition and emotion and perceived the spirit of God. John recognized Jesus, the son of God. Even in the womb, John already was beginning to live into his prophetic call from God, for which he was chosen before the foundation of the world. As the forerunner to the Messiah, he was commissioned to announce the Christ, and his joy came because he was already living into his purpose. So, he leaped in the womb.
And I saw the same kind of engagement in my children with me, their father, even in the womb. When my daughter, Anna, was born, it was a difficult delivery. And of course, I had the worst job of all. I had to stand there. It was all I was qualified for, but it was the worst one of all. As they whisked her off to get medical care, I found myself simply praying and asking for God’s mercy over her life. Eventually, my exhausted wife fell asleep, and I had nothing to do, so I went to make phone calls, to get coffee, and to pray in the chapel for my new child, my newly arrived daughter.
As I was walking back to the room, I could hear her, as there weren’t any other babies born in that hospital that morning. She was fussing and crying. And when I walked into the room, I spoke, and she settled right down, because she knew her father’s voice. We already had a relationship before the day of her birth. It had already been developing for months.
People wonder when life begins. It begins in the womb, at conception, and it is intended by God to extend until natural death. And why until natural death? Well, because we don’t know when the day of salvation will come for each person. We must not cut life off prematurely – either before birth or before natural death . As a pastor, I had the great joy of baptizing a man who was almost 90 years old. Some people would say he was no longer able to contribute anything. In some cultures, they might say, “Good for nothing. We should offer him euthanasia.” But that man came to faith, knew life in Jesus Christ, and now is alive forevermore. Thanks be to God. The Gospel was working in his life, and it came at exactly the right time.
We must champion the reality, the truth, that life is precious. We must boldly and kindly and forthrightly declare at all times, “Life is sacred. And to God every life matters.” We must work to bring about the end of abortion, of euthanasia, and we must advocate for adoption. We must. I’ve got to tell you, some of my favorite people in the world, some of the most incredibly intelligent and creative people, had unmarried mothers who had the courage to give birth and place them with adoptive families. And I can tell you some of the greatest joy I’ve seen as a pastor occurred in the lives of families who themselves could not have children but who received a baby from another. It’s beautiful and such a picture of our adoption by grace in God through Jesus Christ.
Finally, I just want to touch on this from our epistle lesson in Romans 12. The apostle Paul says, “I appeal to you, therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God.” What’s he talking about? He’s talking about everything that came before chapter 12, where Paul is laying out the gospel and describing the problems, we all have—our selfishness, our sinfulness, our tendency to rebel from God and to go our own way. But God through His Son Jesus Christ, and through His life and death and resurrection, offers new life, forgiveness of sin, and cleansing and healing to all who turn to him in repentance and faith. In view of this mercy, we are called to commitment: “Present your body as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.”
He’s talking about the surrender of our lives, so that no matter who we are or what we’ve done, there is no place too far from the grace and mercy of God. And I say to you who hear this—God’s grace is enough, because the cross of Jesus Christ is powerful. He is mighty to save, and His forgiveness is for all who know their need of it. There is new life for those who seek it in Christ. And so Paul says, “Offer yourselves.” And I would say to you today, whether you come here with a past or a present that you’re ashamed of, or whether you come unaware of what the future holds for you, offer yourselves to God today. Offer yourselves again to God today as a living sacrifice, for this is holy. This is acceptable in God’s sight.
Let us pray.
Oh, Lord, come with cleansing power. Come, Lord, with convicting grace. Come, Lord, with truth, for You desire truth in our inward parts. Lord, unless You show us the truth, we will not see. Unless You give new life to our culture, we will not see. Please, Lord, forgive, heal, and create new hearts in individuals, in churches, and in our nation. We pray this, Lord, in Jesus’ name. Amen.