Oct 30, 2014
At midnight on July 30, 1945 the US Navy ship Indianapolis, sailing near the Philippines, was struck on her starboard bow by two torpedoes fired by a Japanese submarine.
The torpedoes caused massive damage, and in 12 minutes the Indianapolis rolled over, her stern rose in the air, and she sank into the depths.
300 of the 1,196 crewmen went down with the ship, leaving the rest of the crew in cold, shark-infested water with few life-jackets and fewer lifeboats.
Edgar Harrell was one of them.
Edgar Harrell had gone to church all his life. But in August 1943 he became convicted of sin, and saw that he needed a Savior –
Despite my church-going ways and other religious practices highly acceptable and expected in my Bible Belt culture, I realized I had no real relationship with God. He was distant, not personal. As a nineteen-year-old, I really had no faith, no passion to glorify God, no real hunger to hear the sound of His voice in Scripture and obediently serve Him, no real desire to commune with Him in prayer …
My sin condemned me to an eternal hell, and I knew it. I needed mercy. I needed forgiveness. I needed a Savior. (Edgar Harrell, Out of the Depths: An Unforgettable WWII Story of Survival, Courage, and the Sinking of the USS Indianapolis, loc. 724-728)
So one Sunday, after the sermon, he stayed behind and talked with the pastor, who explained the gospel and led him in a prayer of repentance and trust in Christ –
Fear and Helplessness
Two years later, having joined the Marines and serving on the USS Indianapolis, he found himself in cold, shark-infested waters near the Philippines.
As the hours went on he heard the screams of men who had been burned or maimed by the explosion. He saw some of the wounded ripped to shreds by sharks. And his heart filled with fear and helplessness. So he cried out to God. And God helped him –
I was there alone — or so it seemed. But as I reached out in desperation to the Savior of my soul, He suddenly made it clear to me that He was also going to be the Savior of my life.
There was no audible voice. Something far more comforting was suddenly given to me. An unexplainable and ineffable peace enveloped me like a blanket on a frosty night.
With the undeniable marks of the supernatural, the chill of terror was replaced with the glowing warmth of divine assurance. I knew within my heart that God was answering my prayers and was going to see me through. (loc. 619-622)
So as he prayed, God powerfully met him. And a crucial part of this prayer involved God’s promises.
Here is his explanation —
As the terrors of the night surrounded me, my heart ran frequently to the Lord in prayer. The Holy Spirit would help me think of Scripture. When this happened, I would lay hold of His promises and pray them back to Him with an attitude of awe and great joy. (loc. 742-744)
Prayer is crucial. When we are weak and struggling we must cry out to God and ask for help. But in addition to prayer, God has also given us his promises.
And as Edgar Harrell floated in the middle of the ocean, the Holy Spirit brought to his mind promises from God’s word that he had memorized.
And Edgar laid hold of these promises, and prayed them back to God with a joyful heart of worship.
As a result, he continued to sense God’s sustaining presence, and his hope never waned —
… one memory eclipses them all—namely, the unfailing presence of God that sustained me. Luck had absolutely nothing to do with my survival. I believe with all my heart that it was solely by the providence of God that I lived through those dreadful days and nights. (loc. 156-158)
For some of the men, there was nothing to bring hope. And without hope, all that is left is despair. But for me, hope never waned. And I do not say that to my credit, but to God’s. (loc. 719-720)
Four days later the survivors were spotted by an Air Force plane, and ships were sent to rescue them.
Of the 896 who survived the torpedo attack, only 317 were still alive.
Edgar Harrell was one of them.
Prayer — When circumstances seem hopeless, and we feel only fear and despair, God invites us to draw near to him in prayer. And he promises that when we do, he will draw near to us (Psalm 145:18).
Promises – A crucial part of prayer is laying hold of God’s promises and praying them back to him. This means we must memorize God’s promises, so they are always available to us.
Power – When we cry out to God, and pray over his promises, his power will strengthen our faith, free us from fear, and fill us with hope. That’s what he promises (Isaiah 26:3; Romans 15:13; Philippians 4:6-7).
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And here are some related posts you might find helpful –
- Is Satisfaction in Christ the Focus of Every Promise?
- Four Reasons Your Faith Needs God’s Promises
- How You Can Escape the Giant of Despair (from John Bunyan’s “Pilgrim’s Progress“)
- What Are the Promises of God?
(Pictures are from Edgar Harrell, Out Of the Depths, and Wikipedia.)