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Never Stop Laboring, Never Stop Travailing (Part 1)

Updated: Sep 4

Today, January 28th, 2023, marks the one-year anniversary of my late father's new birth in Christ.


My dad was eighty-two years old on the day he finally invited Jesus' light into his heart's darkness. As he sat on his chair in the living room, waiting for Cleveland EMS, he prayed a simple yet authentically-understanding prayer: "Jesus, be my light."


Four short words that had an altering eternal impact.


If that sanctified red-brick house (which my dad and mom had lived in since 1973) could have actually spoken in that moment of delivery, there's no doubt my childhood home would have broken into boisterous, heavenly praise. After having witnessed the persevering labor and travailthe real, raw endurance that had occurred within its walls for many long years—how could it have not?


And all of W. 99th street and beyond would have heard it.


 

Earlier that morning—already knowing that my mom and older brother had made the decision that Dad would need to be transported to the hospital when he woke—I was having my time with the Lord; and in the quiet darkness, God led me to Genesis. Concerned thoughts about my dad's physical and spiritual state were heavy on my mind. Then I read familiar words I had read so many times prior:


"Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. And God said, 'Let there be light,' and there was light.'" (1:3)


Right then, I knew the Spirit was speaking to me about my dad.


Over my dad's resistant heart, I could visualize darkness like a pitch black veil obstructing light from penetrating through. Yet. . .there was "the Spirit of God." And just as the Spirit had hovered over the waters in the Creation story, I knew the Spirit, all throughout the years, had been hovering over my dad.


So, in that still moment, once again I prayed for my dad's salvation, as I had done countless times prior. And in the context of those words I'd just read, I prayed that God's light would finally break through my dad's darkened heart. It wasn't a lengthy prayer, just a brief, sincere utterance to the only One who could draw my dad to Himself.


I then snapped pictures of the verse from my Bible and used my phone's editing feature to underline the verse and circle a comment that I had previously written in the margin. When I texted the pictures to my brother, no corresponding words were sent. Only the pictures. I knew he would know why I had sent them and what I had just been praying by sending them. I knew he would know they were in reference to our dad.

 

Why our dad chose to remain in darkness for as many years as he did is a reality I'll probably never understand, this side of Heaven. Yes, I understand that Satan, "the god of this world" and the "father of lies," is extremely effective at what he does to keep humanity in darkness. But my dad had so many opportunities, throughout my childhood and adult years, to say yes to the Lord. He had numerous people praying specifically and regularly for his salvation, for more than fifty years. He had head knowledge, a legitimate understanding, of what it meant to surrender his heart to Jesus—that it began with repentance of his sins and acceptance of God's gift of salvation, a gift of mercy and grace. He had witnessed his wife live a persevering Christian life, void of spiritual oneness with her spouse (though my dad was always supportive of my mom's decision to follow Christ and serve God, and to raise my brothers and me in church). He had watched each of his three grown children, over the years, joyfully surrender heart and life to the Lord, and he observed grandchildren do the same. And in his older years, he had witnessed a lifelong friend—so similar to himself and just as resistant, and who'd been prayed for equally as much—say yes to Jesus; and from that moment on, live an authentically transformed life.


But in spite of these influences, and irregardless that God continually extended His love, and the Spirit pursued and called, my dad always resisted.


Until the morning of January 28, 2022.

 

While waiting for an ambulance transport, my brother approached my dad and began sharing the Scripture I had texted him earlier that morning. Led by the Spirit, my brother proceeded with a very short discourse (one among many Spirit-led opportunities that he had seized with my dad over the years). He reminded him that Jesus is the true light that came into the world, and that it's Jesus who brings light into the darkness of a person's heart.


This was not new truth my dad had never heard before. My dad knew this truth. It wasn't as if my brother, all of a sudden, said the missing, magic words my dad had always needed to hear yet never had. And, it wasn't as if my dad had never before faced a serious, uncertain moment, where his health was concerned, making him more inclined to heightened thoughtfulness about an eternity separated from God. He definitely had.


But in this moment. . .in this sanctified, sovereign moment. . .my dad could not resist the loving tug of God any longer. And with readied decisiveness, his tongue finally loosened, and he prayed the words: "Jesus, be my light."


Oh praise the name of the triune God who kept offering the gift of salvation!

So relentless and merciful was He!


As it would end up, my dad only lived thirteen days, following that salvation moment. On February 9th at approximately 8:30 pm, surrounded by family who loved him so much and had prayed for his salvation for so long, he breathed his final earthly breath in that same living room where he'd recently been born again.

 

I'll never hear again, this side of Heaven, my dad's deep voice. And his teasing ways are now but a memory. Judge Judy's no-nonsense rhetoric isn't daily blaring from the living room television; and the chair at the dining room window, where he ritualistically enjoyed his morning coffee and Cleveland Plain Dealer, sits empty. When I dwell on these realities and so many others, I get very sad. And sometimes, from just a fleeting thought about death's finality on Earth—that my dad is no longer here and never will be—my eyes well up with tears.


But, I know my dad is more alive right now than he's ever been, and his life in Heaven will go on and on. And I know that I, along with the rest of my family, will be reunited with him one day.


I know these truths because God's true Word tells me so. In this I have peace. In this I have hope. In this I have joy.


And, so, my daughter's sorrow does not get the final say.

Neither does Death. Nor the Grave. Nor Satan. Nor Sin.


Again I say, Oh praise the name of the triune God who kept offering the gift of salvation!

So relentless and merciful was He!

 

A couple or so years ago, I heard pastor-author Mark Batterson give an interview on a Christian television program. If I'm remembering correctly, he was discussing his most recent book at that time, which had recently been released. One of the things I specifically recall him sharing in that interview is how God had healed him of asthma, a condition he'd lived with his entire life. For more than forty years he had prayed about his healing, never giving up though nothing changed. He just continued to ask, continued to bring his desire back to God who can do "immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us" (Ephesians 3:20).


Then, one day, God healed him. Miraculously and completely healed him. An individual who'd been hospitalized multiple times for serious asthma attacks and had lived with an inhaler his entire life, Batterson was instantly healed, never to need an inhaler again. Healed so completely, he even trained for and ran the Chicago Marathon.


Batterson wrote about his miracle in an article, which was posted on his website. In it, he relayed how he had challenged his church to "pray the bravest prayer they could pray." He clarified:


"By bravest prayer I mean the prayer you can barely believe God for because it seems impossible. It's often the prayer you've prayed a hundred times that hasn't been answered but you pray it one more time anyway. For me the bravest prayer was that He would heal my asthma. And it was brave because asthma is all I had ever known."


 

Batterson's words make me think of my heart's prayer the morning my dad finally said yes to Jesus. Though I didn't record the prayer's words in my journal (as I sometimes do with my prayers), I know it went something like this:


I'm here, Father, once again. Crying out to you on behalf of my dad's salvation. Asking you, once again, to make a way where there seems to be none. Light was the first reality you spoke into existence on Earth. And so, I'm asking you to overwhelm the darkness that's enveloping my dad's heart, with your overwhelming light. I'm asking you—One. More. Time.—to save his soul. Yes, I want his body to be healed so he's no longer hurting; but more importantly, I want you to set free his soul from darkness.


Though I knew full well the will of the Lord regarding my dad's salvation—that "He is not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance" (2 Peter 3:9)—I also understood that my dad had been created with free will. I knew how proud and stubborn of a man my dad was and that he had spurned the Spirit's invitation countless times, over his lifetime. I knew that though God had always done and would continue to do His part to deliver my dad from Satan's dominion, my dad had to humble himself and finally stop resisting.


And so, once again, I prayed.

And I know my brothers were praying.

And my mom was too.


And I suppose you could call each of our prayers a "bravest prayer" because each fit Batterson's description that such prayer is one "you've prayed a hundred times that hasn't been answered but you pray it one more time anyway." Only God knows, but I feel certain that over fifty years of travailing, the prayers were in the thousands; so, I guess you could say there were thousands of "bravest prayer[s]" uttered throughout those laboring years.


In his article, Batterson wrote, "God doesn’t answer 100 percent of the prayers we don’t pray!" (italics added). That's a practical, compelling statement. Though we don't fully understand other people's choices, or we don't fully understand God's perfect, sovereign ways, we know we can always trust His heart. Always trust His character. Always trust His wisdom. Always trust His love. Always trust in His infinite mercy. And always trust in His boundless, amazing grace.


And, so, this motivates us to keep on praying. Keep on laboring. Keep on uttering those "bravest prayer[s]." Time and time again.

 

Fellow sojourner, I have no way of knowing whose soul you are interceding for, or the amount of time that's passed on life's big calendar. I don't know this person's history or why exactly he or she keeps choosing to remain in darkness. I have no way of determining how long it will be before the light of Jesus breaks through. Neither do you.


But I do know this:


Whether it's a parent, spouse, child, family member, co-worker or dear friend, don't stop laboring. Don't stop travailing. Don't stop praying those "bravest prayer[s]."


Because that long-awaited birth could very well occur with the next "bravest prayer" you pray.












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