By Marcelo A. Tolopilo
Prone to Wander
Mom and dad’s commitment to pray for their children would be severely tested through the years. It has been said that God has no grandchildren – this is a certain spiritual axiom. Every individual in each generation must choose whether or not He will follow the Lord.
Danny in his late teens took a decisive turn away from the God of his fathers and began a ruinous road of hard living that littered his life with broken relationships and missed opportunities. Through these dark years, my parents never ceased to pray for Danny every day of their lives. I must admit that as my brother grew older and set in his ways, I grew increasingly discouraged about his worsening spiritual condition.
Danny had been blessed with so much: a godly heritage, a life adorned with the fellowship of God’s saints, a home where the Bible was taught and modeled. Consequently, his rejection of God’s grace was all the graver and made his situation so desperately bleak.
As the years of Danny’s spiritual pilgrimage passed by, his spiritual drifting seemed to place him beyond God’s reach. In my discouragement – and to my shame – my prayers for Danny became infrequent and even less hopeful.
Persevering Prayer and Faith
By contrast, the prayers of my parents not only persevered, they became all the more focused and urgent. Many times Mom and Dad expressed to me their deep conviction that Danny was not beyond the pale of God’s grace, a truth that I was forced to concede intellectually but found difficult to accept realistically.
In the same breath, they would also express their sincere hope that God had spared Danny’s life as a child so that he might one day become a child of God. I could only acknowledge that with an unenthusiastic nod of the head in deference to my folks. I am so grateful that my parents’ prayers and God’s redemptive power were not diminished by the frailty of my faith.
A Turning of the Tide
In the spring of 1994, my wife, Valorie, trapped Danny into attending church with us – it was Palm Sunday. My seven year old son, Joshua, was singing in the children’s choir and it happened to be a weekend that Danny was visiting.
Danny has a hard time saying ‘no’ to my wife and kids. Somehow his steely resolve turned to mush that day as he looked in their sparkling, sea-blue eyes and acquiesced to their demand of him. Cornered by toothless grins, pigtails, and squealing pleas (the children’s not Val’s), Danny reluctantly agreed to come to church with us.
At long last the heart wrenching prayer uttered decades earlier by an anguished mother, as well as the thousands of unbroken petitions offered by two faithful parents, were about to be answered.
The Melting of a Heart
As we left the inviting sunshine of that beautiful spring day and entered the unadorned warehouse that served as our place of worship, Danny was somewhat uneasy about being in “church.” The worship of God’s people aroused in Dan a strange familiarity – the last time he had attended a worship service with his family, Nixon was still president. Privately, we all prayed for God to begin a supernatural work in my brother, and indeed, God’s Spirit was about to move powerfully in his heart.
If I could have orchestrated that worship service, everything would have clicked together like a Swiss watch. The worship through music, the children singing, and the message would have come together with such forceful impact that Danny would have left the building exclaiming, “You know, I gotta do this church thing again. I really enjoyed that. I forgot how cool going to church was! May I come with you guys next week? Please!?!”
Let me just say, I’m thankful that God is in control and I am not. The morning got off to a disastrous start and went down hill from there. The music was off key, the children were squirrely, and the pastor felt ill. As if things were not bad enough, just before the pastor was due to preach he had to excuse himself to go to the bathroom and there he stayed for the better part of 15 minutes.
We had stumbled through the “order of worship” down to the sermon and now that was postponed leaving us to twiddle our spiritual thumbs. An uncomfortable tension filled the room as I thought to myself, “Why did Danny decide to come to church today, of all days!” That attitude was indicative of my lack of faith and my subtle but misguided belief that a spiritual work can be achieved through physical means.
Yes, God desires our most excellent efforts as we serve Him, but ultimately a heart is changed by the will and awesome power of God Almighty and not because of our clever presentations or smooth professionalism.
The uncomfortable silence was broken as the congregation was led in a time of corporate prayer. One by one people throughout the auditorium stood up and offered sentence prayers of thanksgiving to God.
This unexpected time of prayer was obviously orchestrated by God’s Spirit. On that beautiful Palm Sunday morning each individual prayer thanked God for the tremendous gift of the Lord Jesus Christ and His atoning work on the cross of Calvary.
In the stillness of those precious, prayer-filled moments, my attention was arrested by the suppressed groaning of someone fighting back their tears. Lifting my head slightly and looking left, I saw my brother Danny with his face in his hands trying to contain the erupting emotions surfacing from a struggle deep within his soul. God was penetrating Danny’s hardened heart – a heart I thought was impregnable.
The Struggle over an Eternal Soul
My brother was pretty tight-lipped about his experience for the rest of the day. When he left our home that evening, he was somewhat stoic and aloof, but we all knew Danny was wrestling with God. We prayed that he would not wrench himself free from God’s compassionate and loving embrace.
That week Dan wrestled with God, himself, and the enemy. His eternal soul awaited the outcome. Hounding and tormenting his conscience was the guilt of his sin. Beckoning him was the pardon found only in Jesus Christ. On the one hand, he could hear the voice of God’s Spirit calling him to repent, on the other his pride and lifestyle were holding him back. At moments he would long to turn to the Lord only to hear that inner voice hot with the breath of hell, “What makes you think God would ever want you, let alone forgive you! You’re beyond pardon. Run away from God!”
A Date with Destiny
During one afternoon of that fateful week as Danny drove home from work, God’s Spirit prompted my brother to listen to a tape of a message I had preached. My wife Valorie – our resident evangelist – had given it to Danny in the hope he might at least listen to his brother.
Through the years, Val had given Danny several of my messages which Dan graciously accepted and proceeded to bake in his car. This particular tape was new and uncooked, and for reasons he didn’t particularly understand, Dan decided to listen to the tape on his way home instead of his favorite sports radio talk show.
The message dealt with the anatomy of repentance and emphasized the amazing compassion, lovingkindness and pardon of the Lord. The text was Isaiah 55:6, 7.
Seek the Lord while He may be found; call upon Him while He is near. Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; and let him return to the Lord, and He will have compassion on him; and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon.
As Dan listened to God’s Word proclaimed, the Holy Spirit broke down the resistance to His gracious wooing. Pulling up in his driveway, while sitting in his car, Danny decided to stop wrestling with God. In a silent prayer, he unconditionally surrendered his life to the Lord and received God’s full pardon through faith in His Son.
Nearly four decades after my mother’s grief-stricken prayer, Danny surrendered his life to Christ. Since that day of surrender 15 years ago, Danny has walked humbly and faithfully with the Lord Jesus Christ even in the midst of challenging circumstances.
Beloved, God hears and answers the prayers of His people.