It was February 1998. I was 30 years old and attending a church retreat that, looking back on it now, I probably should have never attended.
It was a meeting that dealt primarily with teaching our in-home small group ministry to a second generation of leaders. I had just attended my first small group meeting that Thursday night and I was invited to attend the retreat the next day by the leader of that meeting.
What followed was typical church retreat stuff. I listened to presentations on the Scriptural basis for small group ministry in the home, the practicality of the ministry, the ways to insure the success of the ministry, and so on. I was enjoying the fellowship and the knowledge but I was not sure I was getting anything out of it besides that.
Little did I know that my life was about to be radically changed.
I went to that meeting pretty confused. I had no direction. I was not even sure that I was “saved” due to all the rebellion that I perpetrated against my Dad for 14 years prior to this point. My life was beginning to emerge from a really big ditch but I had no clue as to which direction it was about to turn.
We went to our last session in the old chapel of this Baptist retreat center. We placed all of our chairs in a circle with one chair in the center. We were told to picture Christ in the center chair. If you could ask Him anything knowing that He would grant the request, what would you ask?
Think about that … what would YOU ask?
My question came quite easily. It was a request that I had held for a very long time.
“I would like to hear You in an audible voice and know that it is You,” I said silently in my head.
That would seal the deal. That was the cry of my heart as I instinctively knew what it would mean.
“But you do not believe because you are not of My sheep. My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; and I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand.” — John 10: 26-28
I then scrapped that whole idea as I reminded myself that God doesn’t work that way anymore. I began, instead, to ask for God to send me a man to teach me how to know the voice of God.
I was taking a walk with my wife on the campus that Saturday afternoon after that incident with the chairs and discussing all that was going on. I told her that maybe God was showing me that the man who invited me was going to be my mentor … I was not sure.
I remember on that walk that I got an impression … kind of like a mental image … of Jesus hanging on the cross. He looked dead at me and said, “Do you see what I did for you? I saw the first time you failed. I saw the second time … I saw every time you sinned and I still chose this for you.”
It was very humbling.
Then it was time.
We went home and I immediately called Dad to talk to him about the experience. He had been wary of this shepherd ministry from the very beginning (since it was something he had never heard of before and it sounded kind of cult-like to him) and he made me promise to call him when I got home.
I went through my notes and explained everything to him. When I got to the chair scene of the story, that is where God was setting His plan into motion.
I was telling Dad of my request to the empty chair, “”I would like to hear You in an audible voice and know that it is You.” Before I could even finish the story, Dad interrupted.
“Do you know how I know when God is talking to me, David? The hair on the back of my neck stands up and my mind becomes changed,” he said.
Dad said these words not even knowing that was my second request to the chair …
when I doubted the first would be answered …
“Send me a man to teach me to hear Your voice.”
It wasn’t the man who invited me to the retreat that God had in mind at all. It was my own Dad.
Mind you, I had openly rebelled against my Dad’s authority, teaching, and ways for about 14 years. This was beyond awkward.
Dad had accepted me back into his home seven years earlier and helped me get my life straightened out after I had totally wrecked it. He was responsible for giving me guidance to get back on track, finish school, get my job in education … he set me back on the right path.
Though the rebellion was over … I had never repented of it. I had never thanked him for being the Dad that I needed. All of that broke out in that phone conversation that afternoon … during that very moment.
I was sobbing my eyes out asking my Dad to forgive me. He was solid at first but he began to get a little misty as well. Perhaps the best way to describe the whole conversation is to use the chorus from one of Dad’s favorite Bill Gaither songs:
It is finished
the battle is over
It is finished
there will be no more wars
It is finished
the end of the conflict
It is finished
and Jesus is Lord
From that point forward, Christ ruled the relationship between my Dad and I. It was not perfect. We had squabbles and disagreements after that but they were few and far between. Why? Because Dad was always right.
This breaking … this softening of my heart toward my Dad … had to happen at that moment to prepare me for what was coming.
During that conversation, my wife entered the room sharing news from the paper that a man named Robert had been shot by his daughter and had been hospitalized. She thought it peculiar because the man’s name was in our caller ID list on our house phone. I told her to come back when I was finished talking to Dad. I did not want anything to spoil that moment of reconciliation.
When the phone conversation was over, I called her back in and asked her to read that to me again. She asked if I knew the man or was it just a coincidence. As it turns out, he was the father of one of my students at school.
I felt bad for the guy but that is as far as it went. My wife told me that she was going to get cleaned up and ready to settle in for the evening. I sat in my office chair just reminiscing about the awesome moment I had experienced talking with Dad and got up to go to the kitchen to get something to drink.
That is when my life truly changed forever.
I stepped into the hallway and I heard a voice so loud that I thought the house was shaking (in reality, it was probably me shaking from the core of my being outward). “Go and pray for Robert,” the voice said.
I went and told my wife to stop her plans and get dressed for a hospital visit. I began to call hospitals to see where this man had been admitted. He was a patient at the first hospital I called.
As she changed clothes, I called Mom and Dad to tell them about what had happened. Dad could not come to the phone so I told Mom to tell him what was going on so he could pray for me. After that call, we immediately got in the car and began to head that way.
And this is where the opposition comes into play.
This next part happened in the span of about ten seconds.
As I got off the elevator and onto the floor we were looking for, the first voice hit.
What if he does not accept you because he is not a Christian
That was simple … “God told me to go,” I thought back at the voice.
What if he does not accept you because his daughter is your student and he makes trouble for you and your job?
“I don’t care,” I thought back. “God told me to go and I am going.”
What if he does not accept you because he is Black and you are white?
I literally stopped walking at that point. I had not thought of that. I mean, this is Mobile, Alabama, after all.
I began to shut my eyes and pray, then I looked up. There was a large African-American nurse at the nurse’s station who was just closing her Bible and putting it down on the counter.
I took that as a reassurance from God. “It doesn’t matter,” I thought back. “He told me to go and I am going!”
We walked to Robert’s room and it was full of his sisters and aunts. He had a bandage on his neck and a bandage on each hand. He later told me that these wounds were caused when he instinctively threw his hands up to ward off the shots.
“Mr. Lawrence, what are you dong here?” he asked as my wife and I entered the room.
I explained, “I don’t really know why I am here except that I came in from a church retreat today and God totally changed my life. He told me to come pray for you. Is that all right with you?”
He smiled his peaceful, gentle smile and said, “It sure is.”
Then I asked a question that, ever time I think back on it now, it must have seemed very awkward.
“Can I give you a hug first?’
He kind of hesitated, unsure of why I made this request, and then said, “Why, sure.”
He could not have known the words of the third voice that I was silencing through this action.
As I pulled away from the hug, I asked how all of this happened.
He told me that he had been divorced from his wife for a number of years but his daughter (my student) had always held out hope that they would re-unite and get the family back together again. That afternoon, Robert informed her that he was going to propose to his girlfriend and wanted to know how she felt about it. It was at that point that she picked up his .357 and shot him multiple times at close range.
That totally blew me away. I could not see this thin 13 year old girl doing such a thing. Then Robert clued me in.
“She had been angry ever since we separated and she has fallen into rebellion against me.”
He did not have to say another thing. I fully understood where the story was going.
After finishing the conversation, we prayed. I prayed for Robert’s physical healing and for the emotional and mental healing of his daughter as she sat in the juvenile detention center that night. I begged God to keep her off the path that I had chosen that had wrecked my life and relationships for so many years.
After the prayer, I asked him how long he was expected to be in the hospital. He told me that he would be there for about a week for tests and observation.
As we walked back to our car, I asked my wife a question that was quite possibly weirder than the one that I asked Robert just minutes earlier.
“Did any of that make sense to you?”
“What are you talking about?” she said.
“That prayer. Did it make sense to you? I mean, I remember the ideas that I prayed about but I don’t remember a single sentence that I prayed.”
She took my hand, smiled at me, and said, “It made perfect sense. You were just fine.”
It was just another confirmation to me that something supernatural had happened. For the first time in my life, God had invited me to join Him by faith on an important intervention. After hearing His voice that afternoon and experiencing His leading and filling that evening, I would never doubt my salvation again. I had experienced just a taste of His power and glory and it was life-changing.
To make a very long story short, to the glory of God, Robert was released from the hospital two days later. I ran into him years after this incident. He told me that he and his daughter (who was an eighth grader at the time of this incident) had totally mended their relationship and she was currently in college in Pensacola and successfully pursuing her degree.
I chose to write this post today to encourage those who are struggling and thinking that God has forgotten you. Or, maybe you are like I was and your failures have you thinking that you are not one of His.
The answer is simple.
Press in until you hear His voice.
He is the Good Shepherd … He will not cast you off.
As my Dad wrote in the front of my Bible back in 1982, “If God feels distant, He did not move — you did. Remember, He is just one knee bend away.”
I hope these words bless you and this testimony strengthens your faith as we go through a very cold Monday here in Mobile.
If you have any questions or comments about this story, please leave them below. I would love to strike up a conversation with you and talk with you more about my Savior.
Have a blessed day and a very Merry Christmas!