God often answers our prayers in ways we hadn’t expected with a result that far exceeds what we imagined. Yes, I know, that’s what the apostle Paul said in Ephesians 3:20. Well, he was right! What follows today is a personal story illustrating that point.
Psalms 34:18 (NCV): “The Lord is close to the broken-hearted, and He saves those whose spirits have been crushed.”
Psalms 46:1 (CEB): “God is our refuge and strength, a help always near in times of great trouble.”
Ephesians 3:20 (NIV): “[God] is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine.”
GOD HAS NOT PROMISED US a smooth path when we receive the Holy Spirit into our hearts.
That’s the prosperity gospel, and it is a false teaching. However, He does promise to walk with us through our earthly travels.
In one of the lowest points of my life, when I felt deep emotional and physical pain — from disharmony in my family and a twist in my back — I heard the Lord’s voice.
I had reached out to Him from my depths, begging Him to relieve my suffering, when I asked, “Lord, are You trying to tell me something?”
HE SPOKE TO ME, telling me He wanted me to start a men’s Christian-based fellowship in the neighborhood where my wife and I had recently moved.
“Now?” I asked, incredulously, wondering if He was unaware that I was reaching out because of my emotional and physical pain, not because I was looking for more work.
He said, “Now.”
“Who would I invite?” I asked. Since we had just settled from another state, we didn’t really know anyone.
He said, “You know.”
So, I thought.
I barely knew of two men in our neighborhood I could invite, plus one man I had met a few months earlier during a walk, but I didn’t recall his name.
HAVING LEARNED OBEDIENCE, I immediately left the comfort of my ottoman and hobbled over to my desk, where I opened my computer. As I moved, I felt the pain in my back and the hurt in my heart.
I searched a name directory for our neighborhood and located the “mystery man” from several months earlier.
After praying for God’s direction, I typed out an e-mail inviting the three men to join me in forming a neighborhood Bible-based fellowship.
I left the format open, although I encouraged each man to consider the group his own, with shared responsibility for leading discussion.
Once I sent the e-mail, I was done with the venture.
Or, so I thought …
THE NEXT DAY, as I opened my tablet for devotions, I read an e-mail from “mystery man,” proclaiming he was “all in” on forming a group! His exact words: “Ward, I’m in!” As a bonus, he sent along an agenda to help us organize.
He was the only one of the three to respond, but it only takes two or three gathered in the Lord’s name, and we already had two.
As the next few months evolved, I watched the Lord’s hand at work in my life.
My back pain went away, and I could stand up straight and resume active exercising. The emotional strain was healed through understanding and forgiveness.
Our men’s group faced various setbacks, probably because Satan challenged us, but, with the Lord’s help, we plugged away.
THREE YEARS LATER, our men’s group has reached some 50 men — more than half of them active — a much healthier turnout than either “mystery man” or I could have imagined. Both of us credit the Holy Spirit for our group’s growth and vitality.
Yes, that’s a true Ephesians 3:20 testimony, where the Lord can bless us in ways beyond our ability to ask or imagine, and He definitely was building Christian encouragement into the lives of men who hungered for His Word.
TO BE HONEST, I would much rather tell this story by saying it started on the mountaintop, when I was filled with the Holy Spirit and glowed with light and glory.
Instead, it started in the valley, when I wondered if my life meant anything.
Pastor and author John Ortberg says this connection between our lowest moments and greatest gain is not uncommon. “Often our mountaintop moments are connected with our lowest valleys.” Ortberg, Faith and Doubt, Kindle edit., p. 69.
The only action I took to relieve my suffering was all that I really had to do … I reached out to the Lord. He heard my prayer, and He blessed me to do His will.
POSTSCRIPT: SO, WHAT STARTED as a plea for grace ends up with a song of praise.
Doesn’t it always?
All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is our merciful Father and the source of all comfort. — 2 Corinthians 1:3 (NLT)
For I, the LORD your God, will hold your right hand, Saying to you, “Fear not, I will help you.” — Isaiah 41:13 (NKJV)
O LORD God, we are so grateful for Your loving grace and tender mercy, Your faithfulness, Your patience, and Your forgiveness. Help us to stay in prayer throughout the day, O Lord, giving thanks in all situations, and praising Your loving kindness. In the redeeming name of Jesus Christ we pray. AMEN