DALLAS, Texas–After three sleepless nights of sitting alone in the dark “stewing” over injuries due to a near-fatal motorcycle accident, Southern Baptists of Texas Convention President George Harris picked up a large-print Bible commentary. With a magnifying glass he read Psalm 116:15: “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints.”
Harris realized that his Nov. 23 motorcycle accident, temporarily leaving him without sight and the ability to speak, was strikingly similar to the near-death experience King David endured urging him to pen a song of “thanksgiving for deliverance from death” found in Psalm 116.
At a recent SBTC Executive Board meeting, Harris, who recently retired from the pastorate of Castle Hills First Baptist Church in San Antonio, shared his testimony and results of his accident.
During a ride through the hill country in South Texas, Harris saw the taillights of other cyclists in front of him blink on. In what he describes as “reflex,” he stepped on his brake, failing to use his hand brake as well.
“Before I knew it I’d lost it,” Harris recounted. “Life becomes meaningful when you see your bike crossing the guard rail, and you aren’t on it. I had enough sense to know I wasn’t going to ride that motorcycle to its end, so I let it go. But the minute I hit the ground, I catapulted in the air and came down on my face.”
Harris suffered 84 broken bones in his face with the roof of his mouth breaking in four different places. His teeth were pushed back, his eyes were pushed down into his head and his skull was fractured. Other than injuries to his face, Harris sustained no other injuries. He noted that even his jacket went unscathed.
Harris spent 17 days in the hospital and another eight weeks at home recovering from the accident and numerous reconstructive surgeries to implant 11 facial plates.
Although he stood before the board without a scar on his face, Harris said the weeks following his release from the hospital would bear the fruit of much pain and confusion.
“At home, I wrestled with the tracheotomy, and I had difficulty breathing. I couldn’t speak and couldn’t see because my eyes were damaged. For eight weeks I slept in a recliner” Harris said, adding that he was “perplexed with God.”
“One night I couldn’t sleep, and I was having a talk with the Lord. I said ‘Lord I don’t see where Rom. 8:28 has anything to do with this,” he said referring to the verse which states, “All things work together for good.”
“’Lord, this is the way I feel, allow me to say this. Either I don’t love you or you have something you really want to show me in all this.’ I was angry. I couldn’t sleep, talk, eat. That night I sat there and stewed with the Lord,” he said. “The next night the same thing. I hated nights, because it seemed every night was a month long.”
It was on the third night that Harris finally heard an answer from God. Reading Psalm 116, he saw God working in the life of David in a similar situation.
“I love the Lord, because he has heard my voice and my supplications. Because he has inclined his ear to me, therefore I will call upon him as long as I live.” Psalm 116:1-2:
Harris said he realized the Lord heard and answered his internal cries for help during the aftermath of the accident by sending two men. One man traveling with the church group was a policeman from San Antonio.
“He knew I was in critical condition and put pressure on my face and neck to hold the bleeding down,” he said, adding that the off-duty officer called an ambulance as well. “That guy took one look at me and knew I needed to be air-vaced. That young policeman probably kept me from bleeding to death.”
While en route to the hospital via a helicopter, Harris said a young doctor knew Harris would probably not survive unless an emergency tracheotomy was performed.
“God again heard my cry. He took an old practice that many of the doctors didn’t know about. He pried my mouth open and crammed [the trache] down my throat, and he performed a tracheotomy on my throat in the hall,” Harris said. “I came to the realization that the Lord loved me, and I was going to call upon him the rest of my life.”
“The Lord preserves the simple; I was brought low, and he saved me. Return to your rest, O my soul, for the Lord has dealt bountifully with you.” Psalm 116:6-7
After experiencing the mercy and grace of God referred to verses 3 and 4, Harris said he recognized that “God had to bring us down to a lowness before we can ever rise to what he wants us to do.”
“We are nothing without him. We need to quit relying upon our degrees, finances, and talents. It’s only when we become so low that he is able to reveal to us his attributes – his graciousness, faithfulness, mercy,” he said.
Harris also noted that in verse 12 David is unsure of how to respond to such mercy and grace.
“In the final outcome, David says ‘I’ll take up the cup of salvation.’” Harris noted. “Salvation is not just forgiveness of sin – it is preservation from our difficulties.
Along with the sovereign had of God, Harris also expressed appreciation to his wife, Lynda, who also sustained him with loving care at home.
“Did you know there is a difference between taking a vow and paying a vow?” He asked, referring to verse 14 which states “I will pay my vows to the Lord.”
“For about eight weeks she paid those vows, listening to me cough, cleaning my trache, rushing me to the hospital. That was the ‘for worse’ part of the vow,” he said. “The psalmist says ‘I’ll pay my vow.’ He has come through the death experience.
“Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints. O Lord, truly I am your servant.” Psalm 116:15-16a
Harris said that even while he was in flight to the hospital he felt the presence of God.
“I never felt fear, even when two guys said ‘We’re going to lose him.’ I sensed the presence of God,” he said, adding that the presence of God would prepare him for the dark nights ahead during his recovery phase in which Harris would “discover what I had preached and heard about and talked about. I’m not interested in going to somebody’s church for cultural performance of religion where there is not power or presence of [God.]”
Although Harris has regained his eyesight and ability to speak, the months following the accident rendered him unable to fulfill many speaking engagements.
“I’d been very busy. I haven’t had an open date from June to Nov. and had 18 engagements that I had to cancel, but God laid this on my heart and I am no longer open to taking engagement.” he said. “I’d rather sit in the dark, blind and mute and meeting with [God] than to go through the motions of playing church. The ritual of going through church had left my soul empty. Those nights, instead of being angry with God, I experienced something in 50 years of ministry I hadn’t experienced—the power of prayer and the sweetness of being still.”