Note from Eric: After a restless night, an 18 year hiatus from attending church, and knowing that one of his friends was dying, Al woke up one Sunday morning and told his wife they should go to church. They got in the car and started driving, spotting a sign for a brand new church called “Saddleback.” In this story, Al shares how God revealed Himself to him, not just once, but many years later when he needed that revelation again.
JUST ONE PRAYER AWAY
by Al Lowry
Many have marveled at Mel Gibson’s movie, “The Passion,” about Jesus Christ’s last hours here on earth.
About 20 years ago another film hit the theaters with a very different impact on the Christian Community. As a matter of fact, this depiction of Christ was so over the top for many churches that leaders requested a boycott of this Martin Scorcese production, “The Last Temptation of Christ.”
At the time, I had just begun attending a little start up church in Orange County, California. The congregation of about 250 people was led by a young pastor named Rick Warren, and was held in the Laguna Hills High School auditorium. Glen Kruen, an associate pastor of this church, implored us not to view the movie, which depicted Jesus’ humanness in ways that contradicted Jesus’ own teachings about Himself.
As someone who had not attended church in about 18 years, I was stunned to hear a pastor requesting his congregation to make a moral determination based on a work we had not even viewed. Stranger still, I decided to forgo seeing the movie myself. This was the first time I had ever taken a stand based on some one else’s moral view.
The next day was very cloudy in Southern California, reminiscent of my boyhood days growing up in Michigan. The front page of The Orange County Register showed an article of a Christian movement to boycott, “The Last Temptation of Christ.”
I felt a bit peculiar to be a part of this “movement”, and it was very much on my mind as I drove along Golden Lantern Parkway in the City of Dana Point. Along the way I spotted a street named, Jeremiah. Wasn’t that in the Bible? Then Josiah, Leah, David… The whole subdivision had biblical names. I parked my car by a grassy area called Dana Crest Park. Then I looked up at the clouds and prayed for the first time. A little awkwardly I asked, “Lord, if you’re real, please make yourself known to me.”
I wasn’t sure why I made this bold request, but felt compelled to do so. I think part of it was due to the pastor’s own bold challenge to test the Bible which will prove to be the inspired word of God. As I prayed, I was staring above the trees on a hillside where dark clouds still loomed. It was then that something remarkable happened. The sky cleared and the sun came through in the very spot where my eyes rested. This startled me to realize the God of the universe would answer my request on the spot. I’d heard that He answers all prayers but this blatant manipulation of nature was overwhelming to me.
It was just as overwhelming as what prompted me to go back to church in the first place after an 18 year hiatus.
One Sunday morning in the early 1980’s, I had woken up from a very restless night. My wife and I were living at our first house in Laguna Hills, and my friend, David, was dying of cancer. He was very young, as were we, and death was not an area I had any experience with. For no apparent reason, I woke up and told Suzanne we should go to church. Without a word, we got on the road and began looking for one. We spotted a banner, which directed us to the service that was just starting at Saddleback Church.
The topic Rick spoke about on this particular Sunday morning was entitled, “On Handling Grief.” I remember being spellbound at the words spoken. The message was so relevant that I believed God was speaking to me directly through Rick’s words. That night David died. His passing was very hard on those of us who loved him, but we received much relief from God’s words through Rick.
Shortly after my epiphany in the park, I once again attended church and was challenged again. This time, with our eyes closed in prayer, the pastor challenged us with an unusual question. “ If you can think of no reason not to, why don’t you acknowledge to God that you’re a sinner and that He sent His Son, Jesus, to die for those sins, and then raised Him from the dead, and will raise you, too, along with all who know Him and accept Him as their personal Savior?” Put like this, I could see no logical reason to resist this offer of a free gift.
I took the challenge, accepted Christ, and was baptized in a Jacuzzi, Southern California style. It was the first baptism done by our newly appointed music pastor, Rick Muchow. My life was forever changed.
Around this time, I began playing guitar in the church band, while maintaining a personal relationship with Christ. In good times and bad, I learned to rely on God for decisions in my life. I started a ministry for guitarists in the church who shared a love for Christ, and we began to offer our services of leading worship to other ministries, study groups and outreaches of all sorts.
But just recently I was very troubled. Much had been happening in my life; not all bad by any means, but enough to cause anxiety and concerns. Many years had passed since I first made a decision to follow Christ, and I was feeling overwhelmed. Over time, we’d experienced the anguish of bankruptcy and foreclosure of our home. We’d had three kids, and my contracting business was always on a roller coaster of highs and lows. Our pastor had written a best selling book, and our small church had grown to international acclaim. Our guitar ministry was about to produce it’s a second CD.
It had been over 18 years since that first day in the park where I said my first prayer. I sometimes still stopped there for a time of contemplation if I happened to be passing by. I knew it was time to return again to Dana Crest Park, my sanctuary, for a little life contemplation session.
I recalled to my mind the first time I sat in this same spot, wondering about Jesus Christ and asking for a sign that He was real. Now, this March day exhibited the cloudiness I had come to expect in recent days. 2005 had measured a record rainfall in Southern California. I could remember so vividly watching the clouds open up that first day I had prayed. Perhaps, I wondered, if I asked again, God would repeat a similar miracle to show He still was there for me.
I prayed, but the sky remained unchanged. I pushed a little harder, embellishing with some scripture and Christian clichés that came to mind. After all, I was now familiar with the Bible, and had learned faith as small as a mustard seed had the potential to obtain at least a meager harvest. Still, the sky remained dark along with my spirits. I began to have doubts as to whether God was still close to me or not. I’d become so busy, not with all bad things, and with some that the world might look at as healthy church involvement. But the real problem was that I just wasn’t spending time in personal communion with God. Busyness had become my God, and I didn’t have time to wait for answers from Him.
Then I heard a voice; not a roaring lion, no audible sound at all, but very clearly these words came into my mind, and I began to weep.
“Why do you require a visual sign today? Hasn’t your life in me been a miracle and isn’t your salvation enough? Don’t miss my blessing! Don’t take it for granted!”
I began driving through these streets of biblical names, listening to the music that would be going on to our new CD, and praising God. New life flowed through me as the songs written by my friends ministered to me and soothed my dying heart. God was pleased at the effort we had shown, but even more so that I was spending time with Him. I became overwhelmed reading the street signs depicting heroes from the Old and New Testaments.
When we seek God, He always comes through; often answering prayer in ways we would never imagine, but always answering. It’s easy to get discouraged and impatient when our perspective is lost in today and not in eternity. Aren’t we all doubters at times, with hints of Thomas circulating in our lives? Even though he had traveled personally with Jesus and had witnessed the wondrous miracles He performed, Thomas still wanted to see for himself that Jesus was alive. Jesus answered Thomas’ request, showed him the scars in His hands and feet and side, and proved without a doubt that He had indeed risen from the dead that first Easter morning.
Then He added: “Because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed.” (John 20:29)
I’ve learned a lesson from my trips to the park over the years: Jesus Christ is the same, yesterday, today and forever. I don’t need to see the clouds part to know that God is still here, that He still cares, and that He is still answering my prayers. He has proved Himself to me over and over again. I know that I can call on Him at any time, in any place, and know that He will hear me.
Whether you’re a “seasoned Christian” or just thinking about taking a first step towards God, if you’re feeling distant from God, know that You can come to Him again today. Don’t let pride, hesitancy, doubt or discouragement keep you from coming to Him. Call on Him. Let Him show you, in His way and His time, how very much He loves and cares for you. And always remember: He’s just one prayer away.