“The purest form of love is given with no expectation of return. Measured by this standard, earnest prayer for others is a magnificent act of love.”-David Hubbard
That was the feeling whenever the subject of sharing the gospel with others came up in church circles. I knew I wasn’t living up to what I was called to do and it messed with me a bit. I had been coasting by, living off the mantra of “letting my life speak for itself”. I took this saying, which is biblical in part, (1 Thessalonians 4:12) but I used it as an excuse to avoid being bold enough to share about Jesus and the work He has done in my life. At some point, you have to use words right? So I was numb, but maybe in part, this was self-inflicted because I was afraid of the Spirit’s invitation to more.
My conviction reached a breaking point one morning as I was praying. I was fed up as I spoke with God. I laid before Him what was really in me. It felt like one of my more honest prayers confessing complacency, fear of man, and all the other worries associated with sharing the gospel. I finished praying with a request. I asked God to purposefully place someone in my life who was lost and in need of the gospel. I asked him to clearly reveal this person to me so I could push past fear and be a witness.
Sometimes God takes a long time to answer our prayers, and in other instances, He doesn’t waste much time at all. This experience was the latter. The next morning around 9 AM I was reading when I got a knock at my door. This was quite out of the ordinary for me so I was already suspicious God was up to something. I opened the door to a man in his 50s who I had noticed once or twice on our apartment complex road but hadn’t spoken with yet. He seemed a little tense and nervous to be at my door, but he kindly asked if I would be willing to walk with him to the store down the street and buy him a soda.
In the back of my head, all I thought about was the fact that God clearly heard and answered my prayer in this abnormal encounter with my neighbor. I knew the Spirit was inviting me to enter into this man's life and share the hope of Jesus with him.
I agreed to walk with him and as I did I began with small talk asking him about his life, his job, etc. I bought the soda and as we walked home. I knew I was running out of time so I laid it on him. I said “Hey man I don’t know where you are at, but I just wanted to tell you I have experienced the love, mercy, and forgiveness of Jesus. He has been so kind and he has changed my life in so many ways. Do you know Him?”
He seemed hesitant and a little thrown off. I can’t blame him. This wasn’t the most polished attempt at sharing the gospel, but he eventually went on about a family member who was a preacher in North Carolina where he was from. He talked about his experience with faith and I listened. By the end, he didn’t have a definitive answer to my question. I could see in his eyes he was intrigued but his body language seemed hesitant to want to hear more, so I just left it with a simple offer knowing now he only lived 2 doors down. I told him if he ever wanted to pray with me I would love to do that with him.
Our relationship progressed from there as we spoke quite often. All seemed to be well until it wasn’t.
He had previously been asking me to take him to the gas station a few times because his car wasn’t working. I agreed and we filled the time talking and getting closer together and me praying over him. He would often get a few things including a case of beer. At the time I didn’t think much of it as he seemed quite ok mentally and emotionally.
It all changed though one day when he came to my door in a panic attack asking for me to go specifically get alcohol for him. He didn’t seem like himself. Usually, he was kind and friendly anytime we talked, but a sense of anger and impatience came over him. I didn’t feel comfortable with meeting his request so I told him I couldn’t and he left.
It was at this point I got a fuller picture of his story. My neighbor was previously a firefighter and a Marine. He had been in buildings where he witnessed people burning alive and he saw things overseas that caused deep trauma within him. He told me he suffered greatly from PTSD and he had ups and downs, but he was in a dark place currently. Between medication and a good work routine, he had been doing ok, but something shifted and suddenly alcohol was the only fix that worked for him.
Richard Foster says, “if we genuinely love people, we desire for them far more than it is within our power to give, and that will cause us to pray.” That is where I found myself. I was utterly helpless in what to do. How could I practically free this man from alcoholism? I couldn’t. So I prayed.
I prayed many times throughout the week for my neighbor as I walked a trail close to our home. I asked God to move in his heart and work a miracle to free him from alcohol. I prayed for God’s love and hope to fill his apartment. I prayed the enemy would have no place in his home. I prayed, and prayed, and prayed.
The more I prayed the stronger my love for my neighbor grew. God began to really change my mind on how I looked at this person. Before he was just a neighbor that I offered help and had conversations with. Now he seemed like a family member. Someone I deeply cared about. Someone I hoped the best for.
So that made it that much harder when one day I saw an ambulance outside my neighbor's apartment. He had called the police on himself in one of his worst run-ins with alcohol. My wife and I went outside to see him laying on the ground covered in his own urine and alcohol. He at least knew he was in a rough spot to call the cops, but as we approached him he was uneasy about what was going to happen next. We talked to him and tried to calm him down, but his emotions were everywhere. He described his deep sense of loneliness. He shared with us the mental weight he has been trying to overcome and the feeling that nobody really cared. My wife put her arm on his back and said, “we care about you.” He looked up at us and said, “you two are the only people who have.”
My heart was broken. Our neighbor had to leave in a cop car and that was the last time I ever got to see him again. His brother came to take his truck and other belongings. He was evicted and the apartment got cleaned up for the next resident.
I remember feeling angry with God. Asking questions like “Really after all of that time praying, helping him run errands, and making myself available, this is what happens?” “I don’t get to ever see him again?”
This didn’t go on long before God began to remind me what started this whole thing out in the first place. I sought God to help change my heart, to break for what broke his, to build up the courage to seek out the lost as Jesus did, and now I was different. I prayed a shaping prayer. A prayer that realigned my selfish heart with the sacrificial heart of God. I asked God to see the world as He did, and break free from the sense of numbness I was experiencing and He answered that prayer. As far as my neighbor, God reminded me that I didn’t care nearly as much as He did. I was only entering into this man's life when God had intimately known him since he was created and God went to extreme measures to provide a way to restore a relationship with Him through Jesus’s death on the cross. Who was I to question how much God really cared?
Plus God reminded me as far as I know this man’s life isn’t over. There is still hope. God can still work in him. So I continually pray for my friend wherever he is and whatever he is going through. I lift him up to God and ask for His Spirit to bring restoration.
Which when you think about it is exactly what God has been doing since the fall; bringing restoration. See originally we were created to rule. I know that sounds strange, but really that is what God said when He created Adam and Eve, ”Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” (Genesis 1:26).
God created men and women to fill the earth, rule over it, and share in the love of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This went well until we broke that trust and were banished from the garden. We simply had lost our authority; our ability to rule the earth under God. The story of the Bible continues with God’s long and slow redemption process to get our authority back and that is what He does through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Peter declares, “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive in the Spirit.” (1 Peter 2:18). He even goes on to say, “It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at God’s right hand—with angels, authorities, and powers in submission to him.”
So Jesus has won all authority back that was lost in the garden and what does He say to his disciples after rising from the dead? “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20).
So Jesus has the authority and is extending it to those who disciple under Him. We get to experience in part now, what will come in full when we get to “co-heir” with Christ when the New Heaven and the New Earth come together. Revelation 21-22 depicts this future place where God’s children will be in a garden-like city with Him and we will share in this beautiful perfect creation as co-heirs.
But we are not there yet. We live in what Bible scholars call the “already, and not yet.” A place where “It is finished” as Jesus said, but also a place where evil isn’t fully eradicated. The enemy is still working here and now, but God invites us, his disciples, to spread His kingdom all over the earth.
So why get into all of this and what does it have to do with the story about my neighbor? Well, it has to do with how God is shaping our hearts to be like His. God has done this most profoundly in my life through prayer. To pray is to recover the ability to listen and speak with God. It is the place we begin to have intimacy with God again just like it was in the Garden of Eden.
“Of all the means God could have used, prayer seems the weakest, slipperiest, and easiest to ignore,” -Phillip Yancey.
And maybe that's true, but maybe that's the point because our struggle with how hard prayer is, reflects our need for God. As we begin to know Him deeper we find the impact prayer makes on what we do each day. To pray is not to escape from our current reality, but it is the starting place where we learn God’s will in the world.
As I began to pray for my neighbor in trouble I began to see what God desired for him. I saw how he was asking me to respond. I saw how God doesn’t give up on people and He teaches us to do the same.
In other words, God’s kingdom began to come into my heart. It impacts me when I take prayer walks through our neighborhood. I now pray “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” and I pray specifically how the kingdom can come to the apartments I walk past, and the people I see.
So what is the invitation? Well, your authority has been won back for you. The Spirit is in you and God really responds and acts through prayer. What would it look like if we didn’t settle for waiting for Jesus's return, but began sharing in the redemptive call He gives us in bringing His kingdom to earth? We have the capacity to do this through prayer; through the Spirit's invitation as we listen to Him!
“Prayer sets God loose. As we revolt against the world’s disorder in our actions and in our prayers, refusing to resign ourselves to evil, we demonstrate that there remains in Jesus’ phrase, “faith on earth,” -Phillip Yancey.
Let our prayer be, “Lord let your kingdom come into my soul. Give me your heart. Take the numbness I feel toward doing your will away. Show me the work you are inviting me to do for the renewal of my neighbors, my community, and my city. In Jesus name, Amen.”