My stepmother, who was sixty-three, had been ill for some time. Five years ago she was diagnosed with cancer and had to undergo radical surgery. She was never the same after the radiation and chemotherapy. Her liver was damaged and she experienced some loss of movement in one arm. She fell several times during the past two years and seemed to be failing physically. Several weeks ago, she was hospitalized for major surgery to remove a blood clot on the back of her brain.
It didn’t look good this time so my sister went down to Florida to be with my unsaved dad. We all knew where he stood because he could be flat vicious at times if you tried to talk about Jesus. My stepmother, Betty, would lovingly scold him when he got really bad. We never really knew about my stepmother though. She had been raised in a Baptist family but showed absolutely nothing in her behavior that would let you know that. She was a loving and giving person but there was no outward sign that she was a born again Christian. The family prayed for both of them. Because my sister had experienced some major spiritual attacks the last time she visited alone, we all prayed hard for her protection as well as a breakthrough with my Dad.
While my sister Jan was there, the Lord used her to effect reconciliation between my dad and my other sister, Sue. She had refused to have anything to do with my dad and his wife and had pretty much isolated herself from the rest of the family for almost 15 years. There were children and grandchildren that he didn’t know at all. Both my sister Jan and I sensed that the Lord was about to move in our family but had no idea how or when. My sister sat with my still unconscious stepmother and read the Roman road to her. She also prayed the sinner’s prayer out loud while she held her hand.
Everyone was praying. We had both my sister’s church in Pigeon Forge, TN and my church here in Roswell, GA interceding. Miraculously, Betty started to improve. The doctors didn’t understand what was going on. Even my dad, still an avowed atheist, started asking people to pray. Her condition continued to improve daily but, somehow, I didn’t feel any release over the situation. Although the rest of the family thought there was a chance, it was as though the Spirit was letting me know that she wasn’t coming home from the hospital this time. Because things were looking up, and the doctors indicated this could be a long recovery, my sister returned home to Gatlinburg.
About a week later, on Friday, June 2nd, Betty awakened enough to recognize my Dad and tell him that she was “so tired.” He got to hold her hand and know that she could hear him tell her that he loved her one more time. Then, Saturday morning, June 3rd, she took a sudden, sharp downturn and passed away within hours. My dad and her sister were both with her.
I suggested that my younger sister, Jan, drive down from Gatlinburg so we could be together to drive down to Florida. There were too many of us to consider flying. Later in the afternoon, she called and said she was going to drive down with her son.
That afternoon and into the evening, I prayed and asked the Lord for guidance. I prayed that I wouldn’t try to solve things myself. There were so many complicating issues. One of the phrases I prayed constantly was “let me be obedient to your will, Lord. Just use me.”
While I was praying, concepts and phrases started to come to me in a steady stream. I briefly considered writing them down, but they seemed to stick in my mind like glue – there was no need. It was as though I was receiving a sermon from the Lord Himself. I mentioned it to my wife, Dana, because it seemed very supernatural in nature. I felt very strongly that the Lord was going to have me do something that was very “out of the ordinary.”
Saturday night, my sister Jan got a late start and didn’t arrive until around 2AM on Sunday morning. After only three or four hours of sleep, we started out for Florida in our family van. Around 10AM, while we were heading south, my Dad called my cell phone and said that he was discussing the plans for the funeral service. He commented that he really wanted us there. More pressure! While he was on the on the cell phone with my sister, he asked her to ask me if I would perform the service, but to think about it before I made a decision. Not my will, but yours Lord….
Sunday was rough. We arrived in Clearwater and hugged everyone. My dad seemed to be doing pretty well, considering. To complicate matters, my ex-wife had decided to invite herself to the event without telling my dad. I knew there was going to be a major spiritual attack, but now I knew who the agent was going to be. Ephesians 6:12 says “For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.” Amen to that verse!
My Dad officially asked me to do the service and I nodded in affirmation. I told him I was honored by his request. He cried and I laughed inside because I already knew. I immediately called my best “Prayer warrior” friend who was already on vacation in Florida and asked him to pray Wednesday morning during the service. He graciously offered his prayers and those of his family as well.
My Dad was adamant that this was going to be a generic non- Christian service. I prayed a lot! I was going to be speaking to over a hundred people and I wanted to know the truth. I wanted to know where Betty was. The Spirit gave me wonderful things to say about her but I needed more. All the while, my Dad kept asking to see my notes for the service but the Spirit said “no,” so I stalled him.
Sunday and Monday are a blur now. There was a lot of weeping, hugging and doing the typical things that people should have done while they were alive. Monday evening, my friend, who was on vacation, called and asked how the service went. I told him it wasn’t until Wednesday. There had been a misunderstanding – mine I’m sure, and he and his family had been praying all Monday morning. Little did he know that the results of their intercessory prayer would show the very next day.
I had been agonizing over how I was going to approach my Dad about having a Christian service, complete with an altar call. That’s what the Lord wanted and I knew that’s what I was going to do. He knew how to make it happen but I sure didn’t! I prayed again. “It’s in your hands, Lord. I’m not going to try to manipulate this situation.” With the Lord’s help, and in answer to prayer, my sister and I were left alone with my Dad all Tuesday afternoon. My sweet wife, who had never been to the area before, graciously drove all of the kids down to St. Petersburg to our hotel. My ex-wife disappeared! Everyone left!
My Dad had begun to rummage through his closet looking for some of my old school books. While we were there in the closet together, he showed me a stack of “The Book of Hope” tracts that he said Betty had been handing out to cancer patients at the local hospital. She had volunteered to counsel patients who were undergoing therapy. Wow! I had very clearly received an answer to my prayer asking for a sign. The logo on the cover is the same one that is animated on the FCET web site. Not only was she saved, but it appeared that she even had a ministry of sorts. I cried and I showed my Dad that I had received an answer to my prayer. His response was not what I expected. Instead of a negative reaction, he asked if I was really sure that Betty was in heaven. I answered that I was. The next 45 minutes are forever etched in my memory. He asked questions and I answered them all with scripture. He finally said that he had tried to believe for over thirty years but just couldn’t accept that Jesus was God. He talked about how he had even attended church but that he never felt comfortable.
I told him that God is a gentleman. He will not intrude in your life without permission. You must willingly give him that permission. Solomon’s Song of Songs 2:9 came to mind. “My beloved is like the roe or a young hart; behold, he stands behind our wall, he looks forth at the windows, gazing through the lattice.” In the same manner, the Lord will come right to the door but we must open it.
I felt the Holy Spirit in the room and I had a tremendous peace. I saw my Dad’s heart beginning to soften and I asked him if he would pray with me. He said “yes.” He joined hands with my sister and I as I told him to repeat, aloud, what I said. I prayed the prayer that has been used to open the services at the Brownsville revival since Father’s day of 1995. It is a powerful prayer of permission.
“Dear Jesus, speak to my heart, change my life, in your precious name, amen.”
As the “amen” came forth from my Dad’s mouth, he began sobbing. He buried his face in his hands and cried. So did my sister and I. We had just seen God do a mighty work on my Dad. After a while, I let him read my notes including the short sermon and the sinner’s prayer at the end. Tears welled up in his eyes as he said “OK.”
The next morning at 10AM, the service started. When I was through with the Roman Road, I had everyone pray the sinner’s prayer out loud. I watched 100 or more people pray it but I heard only my Dad’s voice. He told me later that he meant it from his heart. My unsaved sister prayed it too. So did her children and her grandchildren. Two elderly women came to me afterward and whispered “bless you for your boldness and for doing what you did.” Each of them had friends that they had been praying for that were in attendance that morning. They never would have gone to church but they heard the gospel message somewhere else.
Wednesday night it rained for the first time in three months. The sweet smell of it came long before the raindrops. It was as though the Holy Spirit was blowing across the land. My Dad even thought it was supernatural. Before we said goodbye, he made me promise to visit relatives here in Atlanta that I haven’t seen for over 30 years. I know why. He wants them to be with him and Betty in heaven. Talk about boundless joy! Thank you Jesus! Hallelujah! Somehow I’m more humble than I was before this experience. As a Christian and a son, I have been blessed beyond measure.
In closing, there are some important lessons here. First, don’t ever give up on your lost loved ones. Pray hard and don’t ever quit. The Lord will honor your prayers. His promises are yes and amen. And second, don’t try to manipulate, instead, volunteer to be a willing servant. Let the Lord tell you what to say and do. He knows what He’s doing.