Jesus prayed often during his ministry years recorded in the New Testament. He was an example for us
In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence.
Sometimes Christians are discouraged when our prayers are not answered. But when we pray that God’s will be done, that does not mean that our desires are his will, and we should not expect our prayers to be answered as we desire. Only God can change hearts and we cannot know what he is doing in the lives of others most of the time.
In 1971, I was an agnostic or atheist. I was studying philosophy at Yale. Surprisingly to me, I was saved reading the Bible. I was intrigued by Soren Kierkegaard’s discussion of “faith” and the “knight of faith” in his book Fear and Trembling, and his philosophical characterization of God’s instruction to Abraham to kill his only son, Isaac, as the “teleological suspension of the ethical.” I decided I should look at “faith” as expressed in world religions. I read through Buddhist writings, the Hindu Vedas, Taoism – Lao Tse’s Tao Te Ching, Confucius, all of the Alan Watts books popularizing Eastern religious thought, the drug induced fantasies of Carlos Castenada, Timothy Leary and Richard Alpert (before he was Baba Ram Dass), and the Koran. I read them all. I threw the I Ching. Nothing seemed to strike me as believable. Having run out of major religions to look at, I decided I should read the Bible to be fair. Starting with Genesis, I read straight through the Old Testament which was not easy. The New Testament Gospels were much easier to read, and suddenly in the midst of the third Gospel, the Gospel of Luke, I believed what I was reading was true. No decision, I just believed, a work of the Holy Spirit as I now know. Jesus found me. I believed He died for my sins and was raised from the dead, and was alive, just as the Bible said. God was a living God. I became a Christian.
In 2005, I wrote my Spiritual Memoir. I wanted to make a record of how God worked in my life over the 34 years that I had had a relationship with Jesus Messiah, my Lord and Savior, my salvation experience and the theological and philosophical issues I thought about during those years. In particular, I wanted to record how God had shown himself to me supernaturally as a living God who answers prayers. Some of my answered prayers seemed like insignificant requests, but God honored my sincerity at the time to show me He was interested in me and my life and the lives around me and it is not for me to judge what is important to God. We cannot possibly fathom how “all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose. Romans 8 (NKJV). It is not easy in our fallen flesh to pray with sincerity, and often, I expect, our prayers are not sincere, but self-centered or rote repetitions, but we must persevere in prayer for those around us who need the Lord. Here is the segment from my Spiritual Memoir recording some of the answers to prayer, and supernatural ways that God can show himself. He is always at work, but we cannot see him unless He graciously brings it to our attention. I always try to be attentive to Him and His work, but unfortunately, my sinful nature is not cooperative much of the time, and only by His grace do I see. Here, beginning in Section VII of my Spiritual Memoir is an account of how God answered prayer in his supernatural way.
Most Christians can give examples of answers to prayer as evidence of God at work in their lives. I have had my share of prayers answered, including eight years of praying for a wife. In 1989, when I was deciding whether to ask the woman who became my wife on our first date, I was walking up Ocean Avenue in Carmel, California, trying to work up the courage to ask. As I approached the entrance to the Dowd Arcade where Susan worked, she walked out of the entrance about ten yards in front of me as if on cue and headed up the street. My decision was made easier for me with the appearance of a divine appointment. A few quick steps and I was walking with her. I found the courage to ask her to a weekday Bible Study at a nearby Calvary Chapel – some first date for a forty-year old man to propose to a woman who was not a believer. Fortunately, the novelty of the request was sufficient to overcome any prejudice she had towards Christians and she accepted my invitation. She was struck deeply by the Pastor’s message that evening, a pleasant surprise to me. She became a believer herself shortly thereafter and we have been going to Church together ever since.
When I was living in Los Angeles in the early 1980’s, I was without a car and rode the bus for about 11 months. I was spending much of my time studying the Bible again because I had reached a low point in my life, “backslidden” as Christians refer to the situation. I needed to get right with God. I had forsaken alcohol addiction and was attending AA meetings as I reassembled my life. I was interested in talking with people about God and the Bible at the time. The bus provided many opportunities to share my faith, as I often carried a Bible on the bus. As it says in Ecclesiastes, “To everything, there is a season, and a time for every purpose under the heaven.” This was a season for me for learning about fellowship with other Christians, which I had avoided for years, about sanctification, about holiness, about prayer and significantly, about the presence and power of God.
While living in Los Angeles, I was studying acting at the Loft Studio. Peggy Feury was a famous acting teacher. I found her by asking people I knew in the film industry who the best acting teacher was. I auditioned and was fortunate to be given the opportunity to study with her. She taught method and at the time, the successful actors and actresses sought her help, along with novices like me. While I was at the studio, Johnny Depp, Nicholas Cage, Laura Dern and Meg Ryan were among those taking classes and practicing scenes each day. I was told that Sean Penn had studied with her for six years. When Lily Tomlin was preparing for her one woman Broadway play, “The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe,” she came to our class in her sweat clothes and practiced scenes for us. We would then leave and she worked privately with Peggy. One Friday afternoon Peggy came up to me, a glass of wine in her hand, smiled and said, “David, I’m so proud of you. I think you’re ready for any role.” I was very surprised and flattered. I thought she hated my acting. Once, she had me get my haircut twice in the same day. She told me that the male film stars all had short hair, and she gave me a short list of them. I thought she was running out of ideas for me. I was excited to hear that she was giving me her blessing. However, two weeks later she was killed in a fiery car wreck on Sepulveda Boulevard. She had narcolepsy and failed to take her medication. My acting career came to a halt. For a number of reasons, I decided that God did not intend for me to be in that business then, but that I should have a family and away from the temptations of show business. I moved to Carmel, became a trial lawyer, got married and started a family.
While studying acting, I shared a house in Hollywood with an actress. She was a daily witness to my spiritual rebirth in sobriety. She was also receptive to the things I would say to her about my study of the Bible and talk about God. Her father was a lawyer in Dallas. Her father’s best friend, also a lawyer, had been cured of cancer at a Kathryn Kuhlman healing service and my roommate’s whole family, including her, had answered an altar call to be saved. She had fallen away from observance of the faith, but was receptive nonetheless. She began to look at the Bible again. I remember telling her about Jesus’s parable of the sower sowing the seed. The sower’s seed is the Word of God. When a person hears the Word, the devil is actively trying to prevent the seed from taking hold in the persons heart. In some cases, the seed may be sown among thorns. The hearer of the Word is caught up in the world and “the care of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches, choke the word, and he becometh unfruitful.” My simple take on this was that when we became interested in Jesus, the enemy would provide diversions in the world to distract us and hopefully lead us away. I warned her about this possibility.
Sure enough, she got two auditions out of the blue. She was invited to try out for a rock group and she did not play an instrument or sing. They would teach her. And she was invited on a free trip to Europe with a guy she hardly knew. Worse, she told me that he thought that his house was haunted. This all happened in the space of two weeks. It was stunning. She did become less interested in spiritual matters with all this worldly opportunity coming her way. She took the trip to Europe, to Germany, swearing that they were just friends. She did not want me to think she was paying for the trip with her favors.
While she was away, I woke up on a Sunday morning to hear the news that there was a bombing of a disco in West Berlin. This was 1986. I was worried about her. Later that morning I was on my way to my church, “The Hiding Place,” a nondenominational charismatic Christian church started by a young man who felt called by God to start a church in Beverly Hills. I had read in the paper that the music minister was Todd Fisher, son of the crooner and former spouse of Elizabeth Taylor, Eddie Fisher. The church attracted Hollywood types. Stevie Nicks married a member of that church in the early 80’s. By 1986, The Hiding Place had moved its services from the Beverly Theater in Beverly Hills to a junior high school behind the Mormon Temple on Santa Monica Boulevard in West Los Angeles. The services were crowded; it seemed like over 1,000 attended each Sunday.
I stopped at a payphone on Santa Monica, a block from the junior high, and called my friend, Terry, to arrange brunch. After hanging up the phone, I checked my watch to see if I was on time for church, and headed up the street. I thought of my roommate, and prayed for her protection. I asked God to let me know that she was alright. I thought the immediate peace I felt was the answer to that prayer.
Two days later I received a message to call my roommate at a phone number in Germany. I called her. She said she was worried that something happened. I said, “About what?” She said, “I don’t know exactly, but I can tell you the time. It was around ten minutes to ten in the morning, Sunday, your time, something happened.” I immediately remembered praying for her and having checked my watch. She was prompted that something was up at the exact time I was praying for her on the other side of the world. I told her everything was alright, and that I had been worried about her because of the bombing. Basically, that was a message from God that He was concerned for both of us, and that He worked in mysterious ways.
During this time, I read in the papers about a cult of Buddhism that was making a mark in Hollywood – Nicheren Shoshu Buddhism. Hollywood people were chanting in order to receive material reward: money, a new car, whatever they desired. It was like the prosperity “name it and claim it” gospel that televangelists touted – “Gaaawd-ah whants yew to be rich!” I was concerned that friends of mine might be tempted by the Buddhist chanting. I said a little off-the-cuff prayer that God would teach me something about this cult so that I would be equipped to talk about it if the subject came up in conversations with others, and be able to witness the truth of the Gospel. The prayer was perfunctory but sincere. I forgot about it.
A week or so later I was waiting at a bus stop in Downtown L.A. The stop was crowded with about 25 people waiting. I was standing behind the crowd. As I stood there, I noticed a red compact car come up to the curb to my right and park about twenty yards past the stop. An small Asian woman in business clothes got out of the car, walked through the crowd and right up to me. She looked up into my eyes, said, “I have something for you.” She reached into the pocket of her jacket and handed me a brochure for Nicheren Soshu Buddhism. I thanked her and she turned and walked back to her car and drove away. I got goose bumps and chills. I still do. I closed my eyes and thanked God for answering my prayer in such a spectacular way. Why would God use such a supernatural means to provide me with a brochure, other than to give my faith strength? When something like that happens, it diminishes any natural tendency for me to doubt that God is real and alive.
This marvelous event was surpassed, though, by another event that happened around the same time. I took the Wilshire bus to downtown Los Angeles one morning. The seats were all taken so I stood at the back of the bus holding onto the bar. I noticed a woman in her early 30’s wearing an unusual blouse that she had embroidered with the words, “And God created the duckies and the piggies and chickies and the horsies. Read the Oldist Testament.” She had glazed eyes and was saying out loud the things written on her blouse. People on the bus were purposely avoiding looking at her because she was obviously mental. The African-American man standing across the aisle from me looked at me and rolled his eyes knowingly – another crazy woman. I said a prayer for her. That was a good habit that I had developed of using prayer to deal with situations where someone, including me, needed help. She needed help.
Later that day, I was back in Hollywood walking down La Brea after acting class to catch a west bound Wilshire bus. As I approached Wilshire, I watched four buses go by heading west. I did not usually miss four buses like that, and my immediate reaction was that God was punishing me for something, a silly reaction, but I really did not like to wait for a bus. I quickly examined my conscience which was clean to the best of my knowledge. I wondered if God wanted me to meet someone at the bus stop and the missed buses were to call me to attention. I approached the bus stop curious, but no one was at the stop.
I walked under the eaves of the bus stop shelter, and looking up, I noticed handbills were plastered to the ceiling of the little shelter. I was surprised to see multiple copies of one hand-written handbill that said, “And God created the duckies and the piggies and chickies and the horsies. Read the Oldist Testament.” It identified the author as “Becky” and gave an address for correspondence. Obviously, the author of these handbills had to be the same young woman I saw on the downtown bus that same morning. Putting aside my surprise, I wrote down the address.
Later, at home, I wrote Becky a letter urging her to read Ezekiel in the “Oldist Testament.” I quoted Ezekiel 36:26:
“I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.”
I told her that Christians believe that Ezekiel is prophesying the new birth. In John’s gospel, Jesus tells Nicodemus that “Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” I included a “Four Spiritual Laws” tract which gave instructions for salvation. I sealed the letter and prayed that God would show me what He was doing with Becky. The spirituality of her mental disorder was curious.
A month or so later, I was at The Hiding Place in West Los Angeles for Sunday service. I was sitting near the back row in the crowded auditorium waiting for the service to start as people were seating themselves around me. A young woman sat directly in front of me just as the service was about to begin. I was amazed to see writing on the back of her blouse, of course, “And God created the duckies and the piggies and chickies and the horsies.” It was Becky. I tapped her on the shoulder and said, “Becky?”
She turned around with her deranged smile, “Yes.”
I said, “I wrote you a letter. I told you to read Ezekiel. I gave you one of these. Did you get my letter.” I pointed to a Four Spiritual Laws tract that I took from my pocket.
She replied, “Oh yes. Thank you. Did you get my letter?”
I had not given her my address. “I’m sorry, I didn’t get your letter yet. Why are you here today?” I asked.
She looked at me with her eyes wide and said, “I was roller skating at Venice Beach this morning and a guy got out of a red Porsche and came up to me and told me to go to this church this morning.”
“Un huh.” I whispered and pointed towards the front where the Pastor was about to begin. I wondered who the man in the red Porsche was, marveling at chain of events that led her to sit down right in front of me. Los Angeles is a big town!
Becky stayed until the Pastor started talking about Jesus, when she abruptly stood and walked out, looking around like she was lost as she left. She was obviously a work-in-progress. But what a blessing to have God provide me with that experience. Can I doubt that God is alive and working in the world?
Before I left Los Angeles and moved to Carmel, California, I was in Carmel for a few days looking for a job. I was staying at a motel there. The first evening I was in town, I was walking from my motel room to get some ice. I heard someone yelling at me from up above. I looked up and there were three young women on the third floor balcony of the apartment building next to the motel. They were having a little party, drinks in hand.
“Hey, Hi. What are you doing?” one of the women yelled.
“Going to get some ice,” I responded.
“No, what are you doing here in Carmel?”
“I’m looking for work. I want to move here.”
“What do you do?”
“I’m a lawyer.”
“Oh, you should meet my boss. She knows all the lawyers in town. She has an agency that places legal secretaries.”
“Great!” I yelled, “do you have a business card?”
She went inside for a moment and returned with a card which she threw down to me. The card traveled in the breeze from the third floor balcony, flipping over and over until it landed on the parking lot asphalt and I ran to get it.
I thanked her and excused myself with a polite and sincere “Thanks,” and a pass on having a drink with them because I needed to get a good night’s sleep.
The next day I called her boss, Pat, first thing in the morning. She asked me if I had a resume and if I could come to her office around eleven. I said, of course, and was sitting at her desk across from her at eleven on the dot. Pat looked at my resume and picked up the phone. She dialed, and asked for Larry.
“Larry, I have a guy here from LA who says he’s a lawyer looking for work here.” She looked at me. “Yeah, he looks ok.” Pause. “Can you see Larry at one o’clock.”
“Sure,” I said, without asking who Larry was.
“He’ll be there at one. Good, Larry, bye now.” She hung up the phone.
“His name is Larry. He’s an attorney. Here’s his address. He says he might need help.”
“Is there anything you need me to sign?” I asked.
“No. This is just PR for me. Let me know if it doesn’t work out and I’ll see if I can help you find something else.”
At one o’clock I walked upstairs to an office in an interesting looking wooden building with an outside stairway and outdoor balcony upstairs. The receptionist led me into an lawyer’s office and there behind huge stacks of files on his desk was Larry. He put each hand on a stack of files. “I’m swamped!”, he laughed.
To compound the serendipity of my job search in Carmel, California, Larry was also a graduate of my law school at the University of Kansas. After discussions and several weeks of negotiation, I went to work for Larry. I drove a rented truck from Los Angeles up Highway One with my mother visiting from Arizona accompanying me for the trip. God knows what we need before we ask.
For nearly twelve years after becoming a Christian in 1971, I struggled with alcoholism. I seemed to have missed the parts of the Bible about holiness. Some who knew me must have questioned the sincerity of my faith when I was shamefully intoxicated, I am sure. Jim, one of my roommates in Hawaii, was a sculptor. He was working with surfboard resins at the time. One of his works looked to me like Dumbo had flown over and dropped his technicolor droppings in our front yard. One evening Jim and his girlfriend Nana asked me sincerely how I could claim to be a Christian and drink so much beer. I told them that I was not a Christian because of my actions, but by the grace of God, that I prayed every night that God would deliver me from alcohol, and that I was not proud of my excess. Most important, I said, was that I was a sinner and that Jesus died for sinners like me. If I had not been sorry for my gluttony, my faith would be questionable, because as a Christian, I knew that my conduct was sinful. Just because one is given a new life in Christ does not mean that the old sinful nature is not still present, doing battle with the new. Paul described this struggle with continuing sin after conversion in his letter to the Romans:
I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do – this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.
With a new spirit, Christians have to overcome that sinful nature with the help of God. Christians are supposed to be salt and light in the world, and though I was salt in the world, I was not providing enough light with my unholy public conduct. I was sorry for my conduct, but not sorry enough at that point to quit.
It wasn’t until I was sitting in the backseat of a police car in El Segundo, California in 1983 under arrest for drunk driving that I was able to decide that enough was enough. I had reached my “bottom,” a low point in life where I had a “moment of clarity,” as they say in Alcoholics Anonymous. God honored my decision and took away my desire to drink shortly thereafter.
A few years later I got a letter from Jim telling me what happened to my friends in Hawaii. Jim and Nana moved to Brooklyn so that Jim could try to work into the New York art scene. They were walking down the street in Brooklyn one evening when they passed an African-American Baptist church with a spirited gospel-music service in progress. They went in out of curiosity. The minister got to them with a message of salvation. They both responded to an altar call and were saved that night. They got married shortly thereafter and moved to San Antonio. Jim got a job in advertising, and they co-founded a Christian church there. Despite my errant ways, God was able to use me to plant a seed in their hearts.
God protects my family supernaturally. For example, when my son was two and a half years old, I usually left for our law office early. My wife would take our son to his baby
sitter and join me at the office a couple of hours later. (She has been the office manager/paralegal for our ma and pa law office since we married in 1989). One morning our son insisted that I take him to the baby sitter. My wife tried to talk him out of it, but because his preference was unusual and seemed so determined for a two year old, she acquiesced and I took him to the sitter’s house. After we left, my wife decided she now had some time to pray and got on her knees next to our bed. However, instead of praying, she kept getting a repeating impression in her consciousness, “Call the mechanic, Call the mechanic.” She had an old BMW. She had noticed some play in the steering wheel. She decided she should stop trying to pray and call the mechanic. She called our mechanic, a BMW specialist who was also a Christian, and told him she had noticed some play in her steering wheel. He told her not to drive the car and have it towed into the shop. She did. They examined the car and found that the steering box, which had three bolts had one bolt sheered off. The second bolt was loose and the box was hanging on with only one bolt, ready to break off. The route to work was seven lanes – four southbound and 3 northbound down a steep hill. The speed limit was 45 mph. In those days, the baby’s car seat was in front. I my wife had lost steering at high speed going downhill, the damage could have been devastating to my family and possibly to others. God used our little boy to avoid likely danger. This providential event is composed of seemingly natural events, but the timing of the components reveals to us God at work. Our pastor asked us to tell the story to the church that Sunday evening.
It is not normal to hear voices in the head. Of course, mental disease is a valid explanation for most accounts. However, I am sure there are exceptions, hearing voices in the mind that are not the result of a mental disorder.
On Sunday, August 11, 2002, I awoke late, around 9:00 a.m., fully rested after a good eight hour sleep. I was lying on my back in bed. I clearly heard the voice of my mother calling, “Dave . . . Dave.” It was alarming. My mother, in her seventies, lived in a nursing home about ten miles from my home. She had Alzheimer’s. Because of the sad mixture of feelings I experienced seeing her like that, I had avoided seeing her for a few months since a family get together for her May birthday. Although her sight was nearly gone, along with her memory, she always recognized my voice.
That morning, when I heard her voice, I responded to her with my own voice in my head, guiltily, saying “I’m coming to see you today, Mom.” Shortly after getting out of bed, I called my sister to see if my mother had some recent health setback. She told me that she had gone to see her last week and that she was as fine as she could be in her condition.
I went to see my mother that morning with my wife and son. She was cheerful. She seemed happy to see us. We had a conversation that was mostly spoken pleasantries that she heard, acknowledged, but clearly did not understand. Her last words when we were leaving were, “There’s that blue kitty again.” She had frequent benign hallucinations. Unexpectedly, she died of a heart attack four days later. Obviously, I’m very glad I heard her voice in my head that Sunday morning. I consider it the grace of God, mercifully sparing me the guilt of the neglect I would have endlessly felt had I not seen her shortly before she passed away. I have not heard any voices since then.
Around 1988, I told some of these stories to a Roman Catholic nun who was waiting outside the law office where I worked in Monterey, California at the time. I asked her what she thought. She smiled. “The language of Heaven,” she summed up. Catholic or Protestant, evangelical or mainline, regardless of the denomination or non-denomination, Christian true believers know the language of Heaven. Their God is a living God who is at work in their lives. I am grateful that God cares enough to provide me with supernatural confirmation of His presence in the natural world.
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May 24, 2005
David C. Larkin