Years ago, Jimmy Stewart, the famous Hollywood actor of the 1940’s and 50’s, left all his memorabilia to a midwestern university that very few had ever heard of. As the treasures were being gifted, he was asked, why are you giving all this to this particular university. He was questioned if this was the university he had attended? He replied, no. Another queried, did your children attend here? Another no. After several questions, someone finally asked, please share what your reasoning was behind giving such an amazing gift to this university. His reply was shocking, he said, “I gave it to them because they asked me for it.” No allegiance. No compensation. No expectations. They had the faith, the confidence, the audacity to ask. Sometimes the greatest blessings, the answers we need, are just a prayer, a ask away. God gives everyone the invitation to ask. Throughout the Bible you can see God encouraging people to ask. James tells us, “you do not have because you do not ask (James 4:2). Jesus said, “ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives” (Luke 11:9-10). Paul tells the saints of Ephesus that God is able and ready “to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think” (Ephes. 3: 11). The Bible is filled with scriptures imploring us to ask. I’m afraid we often fail to ask because we feel unworthy, we feel our failures eliminate us, or in pride we try to solve situations on our own. God sets in heaven with unlimited power, resources and is ready to step up and step in, but we never ask. Sometimes I fear we fail to ask because we see a God with limits. We see Him as Amazon or Wal-Mart. He has a limited quantity of the good stuff, the miraculous and the blessings, but once they are gone, given to someone else, well. . . too bad, you missed out. Other times we compare our situation to others, we feel guilty and hesitate to ask. We want to pray for financial blessings, for healings, for family issues to be resolved, but think about how blessed we are compared to others in the world, and we don’t ask. We reason, why should I ask for blessings when others are praying for a war to be over, like in the Ukraine. We consider a spouse or child praying for physical abuse to go away, or a Christian in China or the Middle East praying for torture to stop, and think, how selfish am I? How could I pray for something enjoyable when families in Africa are without water and starving. While those are crisis level issues and we should join together with them for deliverance, it does not impact God hearing and answering your prayer. Your prayers, request, and asking has no connection to someone else’s prayer being heard or answered, they are independent of each other. Why were some blinded eyes opened and some not, they asked. Why did some lame walk and others remained crippled, they asked. Why was the Roman Centurions daughter healed, he asked. People often ask why are you and Mary so committed to prayer. The answer is easy. God said ask. He said he would do exceedingly and abundantly above what we could ask for think, and He said we have not because we don’t ask. We take Him at His Word. Regardless of the situation. Regardless of pain. Regardless of our failures and shortcomings. Regardless of how many times He has said no or wait, we keep on asking. Every time I pray, I ask God to pour out His Spirit on my family, our community, and our country. Every time I pray, I ask God to heal my body and Mary’s. Every time I pray, I ask Him to bless us exceedingly and abundantly in every way. Every time I pray, I ask God to give me a covenant, a contract, that until the trumpets sounds, that every person, whether by birth or marriage into our lineage, that they will experience the book of Acts experience. I pray that they will have a passion to know Jesus, that they will love His Word, and that they will value prayer. I invite you into the atmosphere of asking. No applications. No requirements. Just ask!
I have been a follower of Jesus since I was 15 and I have been in full-time ministry for over 35 years. I’ve spent 15 years as an instructor at a Christian College and another 20 years as pastor of Life Connections. I’ve made it a priority to consume my Bible, not to study for a class or preach a sermon, but to know God. Since a teenager, I have been a man of prayer. I made prayer, learning to call and depend on God, one of the highest priorities of teaching in my college classes and I made prayer the greatest priority of the church we pastored in Fishers. For over 10 years Mary and I spent every Saturday evening praying for our Sunday services, asking that God would have precedence over any agenda or plan that we might have. I confess that nearly all my messages came, not from books or other’s sermons, but from being at an altar on a Saturday night searching for God’s will and a word for His people. We held monthly Prayer Services at our church for years and Mary and I circled our city on the first Wednesday of every month for 13 years. I have experienced the same Spirit filled dynamic that the apostles did in the book of Acts and been in many vibrant services where I have been overwhelmed by God’s presence. I have preached thousands of messages and prepared more Bible studies for college curriculum and our church community than you can imagine. Yet, I must confess I have seasons of doubt. Moments when I question God. Moments when I wonder, is there really a God, is He real. Sorry to be so raw, but transparency has always been a part of my life and ministry.
You may ask, why or how, could someone with all the study, time in prayer, experiences, and teaching have doubts and questions. First, I’ve seen too many wonderful people face heartache, pain, sickness, disease, and death that didn’t make sense. I don’t understand kids that are abused by their parents, war hurting innocent people, torture, famine, and the tragedy of natural disasters. I question why those who do evil succeed and have wealth, and those who do right live broken and struggle to make ends meet. Condemn me if you want, I’ve preached the messages you are preaching to me as you are reading this, but sometimes still, life just doesn’t make sense and it hurts. I know Paul says, “we see through a glass darkly,” and I’ve sang “by and by when the morning comes. . . we’ll understand it better by and by.” I struggle because I’ve prayed prayers for years, not days, not weeks but years that are still in the “wait,” or “no” categories. Some were selfish but others I am confident were not. In particular, I prayed as a college instructor that my students would experience an authentic move of God’s presence, no manipulation or hype, just a sovereign move that would be life altering. From the beginning of my pastorate, I prayed for myself, my family, and our community to experience an outpouring as in the book of Acts, Azusa, or like any moment in history when God overwhelmed the world with His presence. Now, after 20 years, and turning the church over to another minister, I anguish that we never got to lead people into the experience I had prayed for so desperately. So, how do I hang on? Why do I still believe? Two moments in my life.
One was an answered prayer. The answer came after a stage four breast cancer diagnosis in my wife, Mary, in December of 2015. Unfortunately, even though we had prayed, and even saw evidence of God’s working, Mary had to have a double mastectomy. It was three days after the surgery that we got the call from our very shaken cancer doctor, the words he spoke were spoken with confusion, disbelief, yet with glee, we wept uncontrollably when we heard him say, “there is no cancer in your limp nodes, I can’t explain it, but there is nothing.” He couldn’t come up with a logical explanation, but we knew instantly that God had healed Mary. Such a complete healing that after several follow-up appointments the doctor said there will be no radiation, no chemo, no five- or ten-year medicine’s, in fact, you never have to come back. Seven years later, she has still never returned.
The second life experience is my overwhelming reason I believe. More than my book of Acts experience, my knowledge of God’s Word, or Mary’s healing, it was a moment in a prayer service. These prayers services had been happening periodically for a couple of years. They were never hyped, no B-3 organ, no healing prophet, just organic prayer by people of faith for people who were sick, broken, hurting, and desperate. In this particular service I was one of several who had been invited to pray with those who would come to the front. We had been praying for people in cycles for over an hour and as the next group made their way to the front, a young man stood in front of me, I didn’t know his name, nor his story, and I still don’t. As I began to pray over him, and in a moment, something happened, not to him, but to me. My hand was on his shoulder and suddenly I felt a rush of electricity, a fire, a burning go through my body, almost like I had been shocked. I instantly stepped back, shaking, tears in my eyes, feeling overwhelmed, and honestly, confused. I sat down and wept, still feeling energy in my body and at a total loss as to what had just happened. The evening ended and when I got in the car, I told Mary about my experience. She was perplexed as well, but asked a question, “do you think maybe God healed you of your hay fever and allergies?” I remember saying, I don’t know, but I guess it’s possible.” For clarity, my hay fever and allergies were incredibly severe. I took the highest doses of prescription level Flonase and Claritin. I was allergic to dust, basically myself, and from July through October my eyes would swell shut, so severely that there would be days that I would have to cancel lectures. The day after my experience I woke up with no swelling or sneezing. The same thing happened the next day and the next. A week or so later I stopped using Flonase and Claritin and I haven’t needed or used either of them for over twenty-five years. I have no allergies and no clue when hay fever season is, except when I see someone else struggling. I am indescribably whole. Whole, not by a doctor or medicine. Not by a religion or a church. Not by a doctrine or creed. An experience. This is why I believe. It’s my anchor in my darkest hours and my deepest times of discouragement. An undeniable and unexplainable miracle and its why I never stop praying or believing in God.
The book of Matthew describes the moment the angel appears to Joseph and announces that his bride to be, Mary, is pregnant. In Matthew 1:21 the angel gives Joseph the child’s name, saying, “she will give birth to a Son; and you shall name Him Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.” Up to this moment God has had titles and descriptive terms, but never a name. We get a glimmer, a possibility of his name in Isaiah 9:6, when Isaiah says, his name shall be . . . but then describes Him as Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Old Testament heroes described Him as El Roi (God who sees), El Shaddai (God Almighty), Jehovah Rophe (God that Heals), Jehovah Jireh (God who Provides) and Jehovah Shalom (God of Peace), but all of these were merely describing a portion of His power. Everything changes the moment the angel gives Joseph His name. James tells us that demons tremble in fear at the name of Jesus, Paul says that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, and John tells us to ask anything in the name of Jesus. We are instructed to pray in the name of Jesus, baptize in the name of Jesus and preach the name of Jesus? Why, because when we use the name of Jesus every descriptive word and title ever used is spoken. The name of Jesus is omnipotent (all powerful), omnipresent (everywhere at all times), and omniscient (knows all things). When we honor, revere, and speak the name of Jesus we bring anything into the realm of possibility. At the name of Jesus blind see, deaf ears open, lame walk, growths fall off, disease relents and death surrenders. It is by the name and the power of Jesus that we are saved. When you say Jesus, you bring all possibilities to your situation. His name shall be Jesus!
A seismic world altering moment was just two weeks away. Yet, at this moment, after bringing Lazarus back to life, no one can fathom what is about to take place. The tears of joy are too overwhelming and the miracle to great. His disciples are convinced that Jesus is going to set up an earthly kingdom and can’t wait to see their place of importance. Not only had Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead but healed ten lepers of their leprosy. Jesus is immensely popular. Yet, in two weeks, the disciples will deny Him, the crowd turn on Him and He will take his last earthly breath. A lot can happen in two weeks, more than we could ever imagine. The point? Whatever you are walking through, whatever is overwhelming you, know that it can change in so quickly. In an instant, a man blind sees, a woman with a blood issue for 12 years is healed and a cripple from birth walks. Needing a miracle? Looking for a glimmer of hope? Pray one more prayer. Believe one more day. Look no further than the possibilities in Jesus. Keep believing. Keep expecting. You may be just a few days or weeks from a mind-blowing, life altering, forever changing encounter.
What do you believe? It’s an important question because what you believe becomes your truth, it becomes what you live your life around. As a society we are living in a time when beliefs are being fiercely challenged. The internet, access to information, and exposure to so many ideas and opinions are impacting life as never before. This is why personal ownership of belief is critical in this hour. Our beliefs can’t be based on religious tradition, church denomination or a pastor’s personal beliefs, it must be your belief. Your belief must come from a reputable source. It must be a source that has been proven true and has stood the test of time. Your belief must be something you have studied and can defend. I have always found my beliefs in God’s Word, but in today’s world, even that is being challenged. God’s Word has been eliminated from schools, mocked by media and is being explained away by educators and science. For it to be secure in our life, for our family’s future, it must be something we read, study and have ownership of. So, what do I believe? I believe that God came to this earth as Jesus. I believe that He healed people that were blind, deaf, lame and had diseases. I believe Jesus walked on water, multiplied bread and brought dead people back to life. I believe that Jesus was crucified on a cross, died and resurrected and was seen by hundreds of eyewitnesses. I believe He sent His Spirit first to a group of people in an upper room and then to every culture and period of time. This is my belief, I own it and its what I build my life, my family and my future upon. What do you believe? It’s a choice. It’s God gift to you.