By Femi Aribisala
In February 1996, I was on a research trip to OPEC headquarters in Vienna, Austria. It was bitterly cold. Once I finish my work for the day, I would quickly withdraw to the warm sanctuary of my hotel room and spend quality time with the Lord.
In the middle of one such fellowship, the Lord caused a deep sleep to fall on me. Then he gave me a dream. In the dream, I was at a funeral and there were lots of people, but I could not tell who was being buried. So, I started pushing people aside in order to find out who it was.
When I got to the front, laid out in the coffin was my “guardian:” T.S.B. Aribisala. I shouted: “No. But it is his birthday!” Then I woke up.
Not unto death
I concluded the devil was trying to take my old man’s life. 25th of June, 1996 would be his eightieth birthday, and we had been saving in order to have a big thanksgiving party for him. This called for serious prayers; referred to in Pentecostal circles as “spiritual warfare.”
I stared down the devil in my room and took complete authority: “You cannot take his life,” I insisted. “You cannot steal our joy.” I then asked God to take absolute control. After a while, I felt some release, convinced that whatever the plans of the devil might have been, I had scuttled them with the advantage of inside information provided by the grace of God.
I really did not give the matter much thought thereafter. Jesus says: “Whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.” (Mark 11:24). Paul amplifies this further: “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6-7).
However, on 10th June, 1996, I got a distress phone-call from my brother Biodun, the medical doctor. “The old man is very sick,” he said matter-of-factly, “you better go and see him because I don’t think he is going to make it.”
I smiled knowingly to myself. “That is the advantage of walking with God,” I thought. “We often have privileged inside information.” I re-assured Biodun nothing would happen to T.S.B. Nevertheless, I resolved to go to Ibadan to see him.
The next day, the Lord woke me up with a scripture. He said: “This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” (John 11:4).
I was overjoyed on hearing this. I spent the early hours of the morning dancing and praising God. It was raining cats and dogs that morning. So, I told the Lord I was not even going to Ibadan that day, given the weather condition. I went the next day on Wednesday.
When I got to Ibadan, T.S.B. was already much recovered. He was still bedridden but was sitting up and was having something to eat.
I spent the entire day with him. I brought up the big birthday party we were planning for him. My mother maintained that, under the circumstances, the birthday party should be cancelled. But I would have none of that. “The birthday party will not be cancelled,” I insisted. “The devil doesn’t want us to have it, which is why this phony sickness came about. For that very reason, we are going to have it.
I left Ibadan in good spirits that day and returned to Lagos.
On Saturday, 15th June 1996, I received an “inner witness” of the Holy Spirit to go to Ibadan. It took me a while to respond to it. Ibadan is 100 kilometres away from Lagos, so it is not a trip easily made on the spur of the moment.
When I finally got there, my sister-in-law met me at the door. “Papa is gone,” she said. I did not quite understand her. I thought maybe he had gone out. Then I discovered that he passed away that very day.
“But it is his birthday!” T.S.B. passed away ten days to his eightieth birthday.
I became distraught. What then was the point of the revelation I received in Austria? What was the use of my fervent prayers against the spirit of death? Why did the Lord tell me the sickness was not unto death? Nevertheless, he still passed away.
Later, after much agonising, I sat down with the Lord to review the situation. I recalled that, in the first place, God had given me advance notice of the incident. That means, like Abraham, I am God’s friend.
In the second place, T.S.B. passed away ten days before his eightieth birthday. Had he passed away ten days after a big birthday party bash, it would have been embarrassing. We would also have been faced with double expenditure. By taking him away on the eve of his birthday, we were able to use the money saved for the party for his funeral. Indeed, the plans for the birthday enabled us to save for the funeral.
Last, but by no means least, I decided to re-read the entire chapter of the bible where Jesus says Lazarus’ sickness was not unto death but unto the glory of God. I then noticed that after Jesus made the statement, Lazarus actually died. Then Jesus raised him from the dead.
Therefore, I realised belatedly that what the Lord was telling me was not that T.S.B. would not die physically, but that he would not die spiritually. The sickness was not unto death, but unto resurrection from the dead. The Lord was telling me he would raise T.S.B. from the dead to eternal life.
How carnal I had been, praying against an eighty-year-old man returning back to his Father in glory. Indeed, God turns man back into dust and says: “Return, O children of men.” (Psalm 90:3).
When I came to this realisation, I was filled with joy in spite of my bereavement. The joy became so overwhelming, I suddenly started laughing fervently. The psalmist says: “When the LORD brought back the captivity of Zion, we were like those who dream. Then our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongue with singing.” (Psalm 126:1-2).
I soon discovered I was not in control of the laughter. Like Sarah, it was the Lord who put laughter in my mouth. (Genesis 21:6). My cup literally ran over. I laughed and laughed uncontrollably for several minutes. When I finally stopped, I was exhausted.
“Though the fig tree may not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines; though the labor of the olive may fail, and the fields yield no food; though the flock may be cut off from the fold, and there be no herd in the stalls- yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will joy in the God of my salvation. The LORD God is my strength; he will make my feet like deer’s feet, and he will make me walk on my high hills.” (Habakkuk 3:17-19).