In the 1850s, Jeremiah Lanphier gave up his business and walked the streets of New York, his heart throbbing with a divine obsession. He distributed leaflets inviting people to attend an hour-long prayer meeting. No one turned up. Half an hour late, someone arrived, followed by five others. Next week, twenty came. Within six months they were meeting daily, and the number had risen to ten thousand. People were being saved. Diverse denominations were working together in unity. Revival sparks flew to other parts of the nation. In two years over a million converts were added to the churches and a further million church-attenders revived.249
What if, twenty-nine minutes into that first prayer meeting, Lanphier had left in despair?
Elijah prayed for rain. Not a cloud in sight. He prayed again. Nothing. Six times he prayed. Six times there was no response.
Time to implement plan B. This is how it went: if prayer doesn’t work after six times, try seven.
Israel got wet.
God’s chosen were in a desert facing starvation. And it was God’s doing. The Lord later revealed he had engineered it to see what his people were made of.b Would they fall into faithless despair, or would they muster faith and declare, ‘Somehow, some way, God will bring us through’?
Unlike the Israelites, we may not be in a life-threatening situation, but our ministry hopes could be staring at death. We’re wasting in a wilderness where through sickness or whatever, there’s not a crust of ministry to be found. This is not the time to crumple in a whimpering mass. This is our moment of glory. It’s the time to display our faith to the entire spirit-world, declaring, ‘God is the God of the impossible! Somehow, some way he will fulfill my heart’s desire.’
The Spirit can thrust us into a wilderness for testing as he did Jesus. But like Jesus and through Jesus we can emerge Spirit-filled and burst into ministry.
In Christ, our possibilities would blow the circuits of anyone’s imagination. Let’s not succumb before discovering at least a fraction of the astounding things God can do through us.
Cultivate the blind optimism of a love-crazed boy forever pestering his vision of beauty for a date. She’s so sweet his tooth aches. His physique is a stretched rubber band and his face an acne war zone. He is certainly no oil painting, but something had to be making his skin that oily. She is the most popular girl at school. In a world of shining lights he is a black hole. The very thought of her sets the butterflies aflutter. He does something to her stomach, too. Finally, after his thirty-fifth refusal his enthusiasm skyrockets. He knew he was making progress the moment she uttered those magic words, ‘I’m telling you no for the last time.’
God has a bigger crush on us than we have on him.
Remember Elijah and pray up a storm. Remember Lanphier and never walk away.
We find him lurking in the shadows of Scripture. He was a breath of fresh air in a whirlwind. John Mark was bad news. In the human race he led the field from go to woe. He has often been identified with Christianity’s first streaker – the man who blurred through Gethsemane’s garden with the raw grace of a plucked chicken, leaving behind his clothes and his Savior.a More humiliations were to follow.
His unflattering nickname, stub-fingered, suggests he was physically impaired.250 To this he added a handicap of his own making: he was branded a deserter – a second time.
When the pressure mounts, the last thing you need is for a trusted companion to abandon you. That’s what Mark did to Paul and Barnabas.
His desertion seems to have deeply hurt Paul. The apostle was adamant that hanging out with this dodo was a no-no. Barnabas, who always stood up for the under-dog,b defended his cousin Mark. The result was a rift between old friends; the shattering of a great missionary team.c We never hear of Barnabas again.
One look at ‘stump-finger’s’ yellow face and you knew this jinx had had mistake and eggs for breakfast again. Whenever this egg-head cracked, everyone got egg on their face. Just what the church needs! He must have felt as blue as a browned off white man seeing red because he’s accused of being yellow.
Mark could have drowned in self-pity. He could have resented Paul. He could have turned back to Judaism. Instead, he redoubled his efforts, eventually being recognized even by Paul as having an outstanding ministry.d Peter also spoke affectionately of him.e As writer of possibly the earliest gospel and a primary source of Matthew and Luke, Mark’s contribution even to today’s church is beyond measure.251 This planet is a better place today because nineteen centuries ago a ‘no-hoper’ called stub-fingered decided to tough it out.
Knowing our weaknesses, our loving Father has preserved many such stories for us to gain strength.
‘Then will I teach transgressors your ways,’ crooned David. When? After a calamitous moral fall.f
‘Simon . . . feed my sheep.’g When? After denying his Savior.
‘He slew at his death more than he slew in his life.’h When? After Samson’s greatest humiliation.
Samson and David each knew the horror of spiritual failure. On the crest of their vocation, they plunged to abominable depths. Their lapses were inexcusable. Their ministries were desecrated. Yet they refused to dwell in defeat. They were failures for a moment, but they were overcomers forever. Grasping God’s hand of forgiveness, they clambered to new heights for the exaltation of the One who washed them clean.
Oppression crushed Simon the rock into sand. On the brink of ministry, after years of grooming, he blew it. He lied. He invoked a curse on himself. He disowned his Lord.i Yet though it rocked Simon, this one-time rock didn’t peter. Empowered by his Savior, he again turned to stone.
Though the righteous – that’s you and me in Christ Jesus – fall seven times, they rise again. That’s a promise.j
It was just a hair-cut
For the plaything of Delilah;
And just a prayer-cut
For Peter the denier.
Strong they dozed
But weak arose,
And knew it not.
Men destroyed by fatal cuts;
Left to wallow in their ruts;
Left with blame
And haunting shame,
In sin to rot.
A seed so small and barely sown
Meant to die, but how it’s grown!
Things so small
Grow so tall,
But marvel not.
If sin can grow,
So can prayer;
If prayers will flow,
So will hair.
With faith restored
Hope will soar,
And blunders blot.
His repentance real,
The victim of Delilah,
Had victories still.
And the spineless Christ-denier
Shed his shame
The church’s rock.
It’s not necessarily a moral lapse that is hardest to recover from.
When his wife was pregnant with their only child, George Whitefield knew he had heard from God: it would be a boy and this son would become a great evangelist. Newspapers grabbed the story and mocked. Whitefield was unmoved. The whole world could laugh; time would vindicate him. Finally the baby was born. A boy. It died.252
Doug Hunt, chief pilot for Wycliffe Bible Translators – dead. Dr Darlene Bee, brilliant linguist and Bible translator – dead. In all, seven mangled corpses lay strewn amongst the aircraft wreckage. All because a missionary-mechanic neglected to tighten a nut.
‘The funeral was a ghastly ordeal,’ confessed the shattered mechanic. ‘The sight of those caskets lined up ... hit me like a blow to the stomach. I wanted nothing but to get out of there . . .. How could I face my friends? How could I face myself?’
Anyone who can keep going after that is not a negligent mechanic. He’s a spiritual giant.
‘Except for God’s grace,’ he later wrote, ‘I’d be somewhere cowering in a corner in guilt-ridden despair – the eighth fatality of that Aztec crash.’253