Sunday, January 31, 2010

God's Presence or Just Routine?

Psalm 61:-1-3
When I was a child I marveled at the stories in the Bible. There was something in my heart that longed to see the manifestation of God’s presence working intimately among His people. I wanted to experience the Lord’s presence in the same way as did those people in the Bible. I especially remember sitting in a revival meeting in our Baptist church and feeling such frustration at how complacent and satisfied the people seemed to be. The Lord was with us; I knew that. But I felt so strongly He wanted to do more and that He would surely come if we asked Him. I decided to do something about it.

When the pastor gave the invitation at the end of his message, I walked up to him and asked if I could say something to the congregation. He stopped the music, asked the congregation to be seated, and stepped back so I could speak. I am sure he thought it would be a good thing and “safe” to let a sixteen year old boy speak to the congregation.

Everyone listened intently. I looked over the crowd and said, “I don’t think we as a people are really praying and asking God to work among us. If each of us would actually take time talk to the Lord before we come to these meetings, and ask Him to visit us, God would surely be here revealing Himself in some special way. I don’t know what He would do, but I know He would do more than what we are seeing here now. As we sing another verse of the song, I want those of you who feel the same way to join me up front, and let’s all kneel down here and ask the Lord to visit us.” The worship leader resumed the music, I knelt on the front row to pray, and about twenty-five or 30 people joined me. My heart rejoiced. People were responding. Something wonderful was happening. "Surely there will be a change now," I thought. "The Lord may visit us in a special way tomorrow night." I naievely thought the people would all go home and take some time to pray, and that the pastor would be so happy about what I had done.

I was disappointed the next evening when I saw that everything was back to routine and nothing had changed. I thought, “Obviously not many, if any, are praying at home, and no one seems really hungry to see the Lord work among us beyond this ritual and routine.” So during the invitational song I once again went up to the pastor and asked if I could say something. He very politely declined and said, “I think it is best if you don’t say anything tonight.”
My heart sank. I realized then that he was satisfied with things the way they were. He was not interested in God's “showing up” beyond the usual, and he especially did not want the congregation at the altar praying on their knees. He was afraid of what might happen, and he was not about to allow a 16 year old boy to instigate such activity.

But something happened a few months later to highlight the issue in my mind once again. During another revival meeting, a very well-dressed military man walked into the back of the auditorium during the meeting. I saw him bend over and whisper to a gentleman on the back row, who then arose and walked over to one of the families in the church and led them out to speak with this visitor. The pastor followed them out, and after a few minutes, he returned to the meeting, and stood before the congregation to share the terrible news. “The C___ family has just received news that their son’s plane has been shot down in Viet Nam, and he is now missing in action. Let’s all come up to the front and pray for God to save this young man’s life.” I watched as almost the entire congregation gathered at the altar area to pray.

I asked the Lord, “If this is the thing to do now, to break the routine, to gather in prayer to lift our voices together to cry out for God’s help in an emergency, why then do we not do it all the time? Why is it not a way of life? The world is full of emergencies and needs. People are always suffering everywhere. People are groping about and in need of God. People need the Lord. Why do we not sincerely and passionately call upon Him as part of our daily routine? Why is this not a part of our daily spiritual life as a people?” It blessed me to see the church in agressive and passionate prayer during this time of need. But my question was, "Why do we not thirst like this every day? Why do we not thirst to know Him?" To seek to walk intimately with the Lord daily, will this not strengthen our faith when we call upon Him during our times of need?

“Arise, cry out in the night, At the beginning of the watches; Pour out your heart like water before the face of the Lord. Lift your hands toward Him for the life of your young children…” Lamentations 2: 19

“Oh, that you would rend the heavens! That you would come down! That the mountains might shake at your presence…” Isaiah 64: 1

“Oh God, You are my God; Early will I seek You; My soul thirsts for You; My flesh longs for You in a dry and thirsty land where there is no waer. So I have looked for You in the sanctuary, to see Your power and Your glory.” Psalm 63: 1-2

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Pa Pa's Miracle When He Faced the Truth

Tharon Hardee was my maternal grandfather. The grandchildren called him Pa Pa. In 1964 he was in his seventies and a member of the church, but living a life inconsistent with his Christian testimony. I was 15 years old at the time, and remember sitting in Pa Pa’s family room and listening intently as my mother, her sisters, and brother expressed to him their concerns about his eternal soul.
“Daddy,” they told him, “we are worried about you and are concerned that you are not walking with the Lord as you know you should.”
“Why, Jesus is my all in all,” he responded emphatically, and acted surprised that they would question his behavior. He was not ready to admit the truth about where he was, and it seemed that the discussion had no apparent effect. He continued his life doing the things he knew were displeasing to the Lord.

A few months later on a Saturday evening while I was at my weekend job of steaming oysters at a local seafood restaurant I received word that Pa Pa had had a stroke and was in critical condition, and that I should go immediately to Loris Hospital where the family was gathering. I entered the emergency room just as they were pushing him down the hall. As his bed was rolled past me he looked up at me with distress in his eyes and with heavily slurred speech said, “Billy, pray for me!” This cry told me that in his heart he knew the reality of what his children had been trying to tell him. Facing death, he had to also face the truth.
“Okay, Pa Pa,” I said as they rolled him past me and on to treatment.

He was in the hospital for about three weeks, but finally recovered enough to be sent home. He was alive, but the stroke had left him unable to walk. The family decided I should sleep at my grandparents home at night in order to help my grandmother care for him. I would lift him up off of his bed every morning and literally carry him to the little cot that had been placed in the family room where he would remain all day. In the evenings I would go back to his house to resume my duties helping my grandmother. How well I remember going over to that little cot each night, lifting him up and carrying him in my arms, and placing him in his bed where he would sleep for the night. This routine went on for about two weeks.

Then one Saturday his nephew Carl came by to pray for him. He read 2 Chronicles 7: 14, and the verses leaped from the pages almost like an audible word from God to my grandfather. Every word seemed to be a word directly from God. They described him perfectly, stating the problem and the solution. “If my people who are called by my name will humble themselves and pray and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.”
Carl read the scripture, said the prayer, and then left. Pa Pa, sitting alone on that cot with those words echoing in his heart, looked up to the Lord and took Him at His word. He repented and turned his life over to the Lord in that very moment.

A few minutes later, my mother received a phone call from my grandmother saying, “Jessie Lois, Tharon wants you to come here now.” When Mama and I walked in, we saw Pa Pa sitting on his cot crying. With tears streaming down his cheeks, he looked up and said, “Lois, the Lord has restored to me the joy of my salvation,” and then after a pause, he continued, “And I think He has healed me, too.”
Mama then shouted, “Well, get up, Daddy!”
He immediately arose and began to walk. He was crying and laughing at the same time, and rejoicing in the overwhelming knowledge of God’s forgiveness, joy, and healing. I still remember him walking out the back door and circling the house a couple times with arms lifted, praising and thanking the Lord for his healing. My mom and I immediately called the rest of the family to tell them of the miracle.

Pa Pa was a new man after that. I remember being with him when friends from his past who had not heard of his transformation would come up to him and make some crude comment or some reference to his past life. He would get a very serious and stern look on his face. “I don’t do that anymore,” he would say, and then explain to them that he was walking with the Lord now and that his life had changed. I watched him love the Lord and walk with the Lord until the day of his death about two years later. Whenever I would visit him during those two years he would always ask me to pray for him and with him before I left. Often at night I would sit with him and read to him from the Bible. Those are precious memories. I had witnessed his years of hypocrisy, and then had the joy and privilege of witnessing his wonderful healing and the transformation which came to him when he faced reality and was honest with himself before God. We can all learn a lesson from this.

“But...the good ground are those who, having heard the word with an honest and good heart, keep it and bear fruit with patient endurance.” Luke 8: 15

“Behold, you desire truth in the inward parts…” Psalm 51: 6