“Put on your sunglasses,” Aaron says as we shoulder our packs outside the teahouse. He points to the blue sky and the blazing sun. “With the way the sun is shining on this snow up here, without sunglasses you’ll go blind before too long.”
“Are you serious, Aaron?” I ask.
“Yeah, it’s called snow blindness, sort of like sunburn in your eyes. And just like sunburn, by the time you notice the symptoms, it’s too late. You can get blind spots or go completely blind for a day or two . . . or permanently.”
With the others, I slip the shades over my eyes as we start walking down the trail. I use the word trail loosely, because it feels more like we are making our own path through the snow. But it’s magnificent. We are surrounded on all sides by snow-covered peaks.
The mountain on our right is about twenty-seven thousand feet. To provide some perspective, we’re hiking at around thirteen thousand feet, which is slightly lower than the height of Pikes Peak in Colorado. So right next to us, we’re looking at a mountain that is like Pikes Peak stacked on top of another Pikes Peak!
After hiking up and down several small rises, in about five hundred yards we come upon a village with only a few homes. As we enter the village, a man steps out of his house. He’s wearing a tattered beige shirt and a torn brown jacket with holes that no doubt prevent it from fulfilling its purpose. His jet-black hair, gray beard, and rough bronze skin look like they’ve not been washed for weeks. But none of these attributes are what sticks out about this man. I notice that he’s missing an eye.
Aaron greets him in the local language, and the man, extremely soft spoken, mumbles a response, looking down with his one eye.
“What’s your name?” Aaron asks as he motions for Nabin to translate. Though Aaron knows much of the local language, Nabin is originally from these villages and is also proficient in English, making communication much smoother and more accurate.
The man looks up. And as I look into his eyes, I can see into his skull.
“Kamal,” he responds, covering the hole in his face with a cotton-like swab.
After a few minutes of small talk with Nabin translating, Aaron says to Kamal, “Can I ask what happened to your eye?”
Again looking down, Kamal answers, “A couple months ago, it became infected. At first, it itched and watered. I didn’t think much about it, but then it got worse. I felt a sharp pain in my head. It didn’t stop for many days. Finally, my eye fell out.”
Aaron asks more questions, and Kamal shares how his cheek is caving in and his hearing is failing. As we listen, we realize what’s happening. With no medicine available nearby, Kamal has an infection that is quickly overtaking his entire head, and may even end his life.
Aaron shifts the conversation in a more spiritual direction and asks, “Have you ever heard of Jesus?”
Kamal looks back, confused. “No, who’s that? I’ve never heard that name.” It’s like Kamal is being asked about a man he’s never met who lives in a nearby village.
Aaron begins to tell the story of Jesus, but Kamal seems confused about the relevance of a man who lived two thousand years ago. When Aaron finishes, Kamal just looks down and quietly says, “I need help for my eye.”
Aaron has been part of starting a clinic farther down the mountain, and he tells Kamal he will work to get him some help.
“May I pray for you?” Aaron asks Kamal.
Though still obviously confused, Kamal answers yes.
Standing up to our knees in the snow, shivering from the cold, we gather around Kamal and pray for God to help him—in the name of Jesus.
Praying in Faith
But even our prayers feel empty. At least to me. I know it shouldn’t, because I know prayer matters. What could be more valuable than talking to God on Kamal’s behalf? But that’s just it—even as we say amen, I can’t escape a lack of faith in my heart that the words we just said are going to make too much of a difference.
Praying sure felt like the right thing to do, but as we prayed, I wasn’t really praying with actual faith that God would miraculously heal Kamal on the spot. And honestly, I’m not sure I had that much faith that things were ever going to change for Kamal. It’s a pretty empty feeling to pray for someone when deep down inside you’re not actually believing it’s going to matter.
Surely that’s not the way prayer is supposed to work. I teach all the time that this isn’t the way prayer works. So why do I have these doubts in the hiddenness of my own mind and heart?
Discouraged at this moment by my empty-feeling faith, I’m encouraged by a totally different picture I see in Aaron. As we walk away, he tells us more about the clinic they have set up farther down the trail. There, Aaron says, Kamal will have the opportunity to get medical help while also hearing more about Jesus. In other words, I see in Aaron a picture of someone who believes what he just prayed—that we just spoke to the one true God, who has all the power in the universe to help Kamal. Aaron believes this so much that he is at God’s disposal to be the means by which his prayers are answered.
I want to pray in faith like that—not just talk about praying that way.
Leaving Kamal’s village, the trail narrows significantly. No longer on a plateau, we now trek along a mountainside. It’s startling to look to your left and see a steep drop into a deep canyon. If you slip now, it will be a long fall and you won’t live to tell about it.
In these mountains, on a trail like this, it’s impossible to walk next to another hiker. When walking single file, concentrating on your steps, meaningful conversation with anyone else is out of the question, so I find myself alone with my thoughts. As I reflect on what we just witnessed in the village, as well as on what Aaron said as we were leaving, I realize this was the perfect living definition of “urgent spiritual and physical need.” Physically, Kamal is approaching death with seemingly no help in sight, and spiritually, up until twenty minutes ago, he had never even heard the name of the only one with the power to save him from sin and death.
I find myself thinking, Are physical and spiritual needs equally urgent? What is Kamal’s most urgent need?
Surely you could make a case that Kamal’s most pressing need is medical care. What he needs most right now is not a story about Jesus but help from a doctor. Yet someone else might say that hearing about Jesus is absolutely Kamal’s most urgent need. After all, the mission of the church is to make disciples, not meet physical needs, right? In that moment on that trail, it seems to me that both needs are urgent and we can’t ignore either of them. If we ignore both, then maybe we’re the ones who are blind.
David Platt is the author of three New York Times bestsellers, including Radical. He is lead pastor at McLean Bible Church in metro Washington, DC, the former president of the IMB (International Mission Board), and founder of Radical Inc., a global ministry that serves churches in accomplishing the mission of Christ. Platt received his master of divinity (MDiv), master of theology (ThM), and doctor of philosophy (PhD) from New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.
Excerpted from Something Needs to Change: A Call to Make Your Life Count in a World of Urgent Need. Copyright © 2019 by David Platt. To be published by Multnomah, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC, on September 17.