"Setting the Gospel to Music"
I'D STILL SERVE HIM TODAY
JESUS HEARS, HE CARES, HE CAN
By Ray Lewis
New Year’s Day, 1970, was anything but a happy occasion. I stood in the pediatric ward of Sparks Hospital in Ft. Smith, Arkansas, numbed by what I was hearing the doctor say. “Your child has cancer.”
At his suggestion, we immediately took our nine-year old son, Monty Ray, to St. Jude’s Children Research Hospital in Memphis.
No sooner had Monty been admitted and routine tests completed than the attending physician took me aside for more chilling news. Their diagnosis had confirmed that indeed it was cancer -- Hodgkin’s Disease - and that it was in its final stages. As gently as he could, the doctor assured me that my son would not live thirty days.
Monty was a Down’s Syndrome child, and as such had fought with multiple aliments and infections throughout his young life. I suppose we were as “accustomed” as one gets to sickness, but nothing prepared us for this.
We prayed, our church prayed, friends and churches where we had sung over the years joined us in prayer for Monty. Thirty days later when we were supposed to be attending his funeral, he was released as an “outpatient” and we were attending a concert with the Happy Goodman Family, The Rambos, and Rosie Rozell and the Searchers at Ellis Auditorium in Memphis. Howard Goodman brought us backstage because the doctors didn’t want Monty out front in the crowd because of his immune system being so weak. This was the most spiritual concert I can ever recall attending. The glory of God hung like a mist over the place. Howard, Vestal and Dottie, along with many of the other singers, came over and prayed for Monty during the concert.
Time rolled on. Weeks turned into months. Every other week, we would make the 600 mile round trip between Ft. Smith and Memphis for Monty’s treatment. He would get better, then get worse. The cancer would go into remission, then he would have a reaction to the medication. His liver began to fail due to all the blood transfusions.
It finally became apparent that we were going to have to move closer to the hospital. As soon as I found employment in Memphis, I moved the family there. During all this, we still continued our singing ministry as best we could.
Thirty days after our move to Memphis, my job - along with several other positions - was terminated. I'll never forget the feeling of helplessness that engulfed me. I was a Country boy in the biggest city I'd ever been in - knew no one, and had no friends there. From one day to the next, I didn't know if my son would be alive when I got home.
It has been 33 years ago but I still recall with vivid clarity standing in the corner of Third and Monroe in downtown Memphis. On this desolate street corner, I would hear the most powerful message I had ever heard. It was a dark, sinister message preached by Satan himself. He started his discourse by saying, "Ray Lewis, you're a fool! Look at what God has done to you. You have crisscrossed the Country preaching and singing. You've told people Jesus would meet their need and now just look at your need. Where is He? You've lost your job, your home, your car is a wreck, and, not only did He give you a retarded child, now He's allowed that child to have cancer. Ray Lewis, you are a fool! God does not love you!"
I stood there weeping. It certainly seemed everything Satan had just said was true. But before the echo of his riling accusations had faded, the Lord began to speak to my heart in such a real and tender way, unlike anything I had ever felt or heard before. Instead of trials, He reminded me of blessings. He reminded me that it had now been over a year and I still had my child. I cannot describe the waves of glory that began to flood my soul on that desolate street corner as God became so very real to me. My distress and despondency turned into praise. I suppose on that day I came as close as one could come to feeling what Job felt after he had lost everything and was yet able to say, “Though God slay me, yet will I trust Him.” “YES!” I echoed. “I will trust you, Lord! Take my son, take my home, take all that I have, I will still trust you. It is such a privilege to know you and know that I belong to you, and to know regardless of the circumstances that you love me, too.”
As my soul worshipped, like a song already written, the words to two songs , “I’d Still Want To Serve Him”, and “Jesus Hear, He Cares, He Can” fell from Heaven into my heart. I only copied them down:
If there were no hope beyond earthly shadows,
And all things eternal disappeared.
If God should ordain that Heaven must vanish
And there’d be no mansions up there,
If Christ should never appear in the clouds
To catch His children away.
If each holy promise were cancelled,
I’d still count it a privilege to serve Him today.
For I was as nothing when Jesus touched me,
Heartache and sorrow filled my house of clay
But He gave me joy the world can’t destroy,
Gave meaning to a life that had fell by the way..
So if I looked forward and saw no reward,
No hope beyond death and the grave,
He’s already given my soul enough Heaven
That I’d count it a privilege to serve Him today.
A few months later, Country singer Connie Smith heard the song and recorded it. Of all the songs the Lord has allowed me to write over the years, none has ever, nor will ever, touch the place in my heart that this one has. On that bleak street corner, I realized what we have in Jesus Christ. I have never forgotten it. It was my testimony half a lifetime ago and remains so today. (Another song, “Jesus Hears, He Cares, He Can” was birthed that same day on that same corner. Ironically, it, too, was recorded by Connie Smith a few years later, as well as by Bluegrass artist, The Larry Stevenson Band.)
On a personal note, Monty went to Heaven on May 18, 1971. My experience, if I may call it such, on the corner of Third and Monroe, helped me through the sorrow and loss. Then in 1999, it once again ministered to my heart and gave me grace and strength when my youngest son lost his life in an automobile accident. Michael was eighteen. I eagerly await our reunion over there.
©2008 Lewis & Lewis