[These thoughts follow a sermon preached at Gray Road Baptist Church called"The Healing Hand of Jesus". If you would like to listen to that message, just click here.]
Almost two years ago, I got on a plane and traveled to Liberia, West Africa, in order to obtain a visa for my newly adopted daughter, Georgia, and bring her home. Before leaving for 3 1/2 weeks, I wrote a prayer/devotional guide for the congregation I was serving in Nashville, TN. That devotional guide found its basis in the book of Mark, and one text of Scripture that came to mind over and over as I wrote that guide and traveled to Liberia was found in Mark 1:40. They are the leper's words to Jesus, "If you will, you can make me clean."
These words are striking to me, and God reminded me of how to pray using the leper's words...He used these words to encourage me as I sought to bring Georgia home. While I was in Liberia, I kept a journal so that Susan would know more about the experience I had. We did not get to talk for long periods of time on the phone, so this journal would be her insight into my heart and my journey while in Africa. Now, I will share some of that with you. (Anything in italics is added to help give clarity.)
On Friday, February 1, 2008, I wrote the following:
"It's Friday, and it's about 2 PM. I just finished preparing to teach tonight, and it has encouraged me greatly. [I was asked by a local church to teach on Wednesday, Friday, and Sunday during my last week in Liberia...which included preaching the gospel to Georgia's birth parents on Sunday morning!] It's on Mark 1:40-45, especially focusing on the leper's words, "If you will, you can..." I am praying this with great boldness and confidence as I wait to hear if Georgia's visa will be granted today.
We just heard that another child's visa is packaged and ready, and we are waiting to hear about mine. [This was the last day I could receive my visa and still leave on Sunday because the government would shut down for the weekend.] I felt compelled this morning to fast over lunch and to focus all my energy on calling on God to deliver this visa. Nobody believes I will get it. After listening to the encouragement from other parents who were with me, I had moved my flight up to Sunday from Wednesday. Now, they were apologizing for this counsel. Not even Maria, [the founder of the orphanage], believes I will get the visa. When I asked her what the chances are, she said, 'You're not getting it today.'
However, I believe that God can. If He is willing, He can. I will willingly submit to His will, but I refuse to believe it cannot be done today. My prayer is that it will come through as a demonstration of His power over governments...as a testimony of hope for the other families...and as an instrument of glory for God...that many might see the power of prayer and fasting and faith...that these are vehicles which God uses to bring amazing things to pass."
At this point, I need to clarify before I share more of my journal. Nobody knew I was fasting. We were all praying for the visas to be delivered, but nobody knew about the fasting. I only share it in this public way to testify to what the Lord did.
After writing this journal entry, I took Georgia to our bedroom and laid her down for a nap. As she napped, I prayed. Then, she woke up, and I had her playing on the bed while I continued to pray. I believe it was Charles Spurgeon who said that when we pray, we should go to God with arguments...that's what I did. This was my next entry:
"After praying for the last hour and a half for the Lord to send me home...to grant Georgia's visa...I finally got an answer. I asked that He would grant the visa for Georgia's sake because He is the One who "settle[s] the solitary in a home" (Ps. 68:6). For Caleb's sake...so he could stop wearing Daddy's hat and could have Daddy home. [Every day I was gone, Caleb wore one of my hats to be close to me.] For Austin's sake...that his excitement over my homecoming being on his birthday wouldn't be met with disappointment. For Emilie, so her heart wouldn't be broken anymore. [Though she talked about Daddy and where Daddy was, she would not talk to me on the phone or even look at my picture...she was mad because I was gone.] For Susan's sake, so she could be relieved of the pressure she feels.
For Alta Loma's sake [the church I was serving at the time]...so they might see the power of prayer and fasting and would become men and women of prayer, and so they would have their pastor home. For all who will hear this story...so they will know God answers prayer. For my sake...because I am His child, and He gives good gifts to His children. Mostly for His sake...because the government rests on His shoulders...because His power is greater than any other...because He is still the God of adoption...because He started this process...because His Son died to teach us of adoption, and His Son should be honored in it.
At 3:25, as I was praying these kinds of things over and over again, there was a knock at my door. I opened it, and there stood Maria. She said, 'Your visa is on its way to the compound.' I could do nothing but hug her and weep. I had fasted, I had prayed, and I had wept in prayer for this. God delivered my answer in His time. Thank you, God, for teaching me how to pray."
As I type these words, I am taken back to that time in my life, and I long to be more consistent in this kind of passionate prayer. It was impossible for that visa to get to that compound before the end of the day...it just wasn't going to happen. But God, in His goodness toward me and my family and especially toward Georgia, granted that visa. Traveling two or three days later probably would have been no big deal, but this pastor's heart and faith were encouraged that day...when God moved the government of Liberia so that He could answer my prayer.
What is it, in your life, that needs this kind of praying and fasting? Is there a loved one who does not believe? Are there situations at work or in relationships that seem impossible to resolve? We must completely submit to God's will, knowing that He will do what is right and good ("If you will"). We also must believe in the power of God to accomplish anything that He so desires ("you can"). So, let us follow the example of this leper and pray, believing, "If you will, you can..."