My first concrete, without-a-doubt answer to prayer – 1961
My first concrete, without-a-doubt answer to prayer occurred during my sophomore year at the University of Washington. Looking back from the comfortable and sage vantage point of many years, I know for certain that God had answered earlier prayers, but up to that point, my prayers had been of a more general nature. “God – here is my life. Please take it and use it.” Or, “Help my life to make a difference.”
One evening I was sitting alone in my room in the house where I lived at 16th and 47th in the U district. I was taking stock of my life. For a non-introspective guy this was pretty rare. What became crystal clear to me that night within just a few moments was that, although my relationship with Christ meant everything to me, I had never really shared my faith with anyone in a straight forward fashion – “Here’s what I believe and why. Here’s the difference Jesus has made in my life.” My roommate was gone for the evening, so I began to pray seriously that sometime very soon I would be able to do exactly that – to sit down with a friend and tell him about Jesus. I actually got down on my knees.
After a few minutes, I felt so strongly about it that I went next door to Jay Oertli’s room and asked him to pray with me about it. Jay, a great guy from Montana, did just that. And he didn’t think I was crazy, which I appreciated. Then, I promptly resumed my engineering student mode and went back to studying like normal.
The next morning I woke up, ate breakfast and headed down to class, having totally forgotten my prayer of the night before. After my 11 o’clock, I was heading back to the house for lunch, and crossing the quad, I heard somebody yell out my name from about thirty feet away. “Hey Joe!” Turning around, I saw that it was a guy named Bruce.
Bruce had been our freshman class president and had gained notoriety because of an incident the previous year. He was a fun guy, outgoing, a little cocky in a good way, and he happened to be Jewish. During the election campaign he had been perched up in the back seat of a convertible in a parade of candidates running for office, and someone had called him a derogatory name for Jews.
Bruce promptly responded by flipping the guy off. This got reported to campus officials and even though he won the election, the “obscene gesture” caused the officials to question his right to hold the office. That lasted for a week or so, and then they ruled that he was within his rights, so he took office. So Bruce was famous, or infamous, depending on your perspective, and he was a friend of mine. We’d sat next to each other in a few classes and he knew I was a Christian. So I yelled back, “Hi Bruce!”
And his next words completely floored me. He yelled back out of the blue and still from thirty feet away, “Joe, when are you going to tell me about your religion, anyway?”
You could have knocked me over with a feather at that point because instantly I remembered my prayer of the night before. My thoughts were, “Wow, God! You really do exist! And you really answer prayer!” So we arranged a time in a couple of days. I showed up at his apartment, and he sat and listened to me as I presented the most level-headed and heart felt version of the Gospel to him. When I was done, he said to me that that was the most logical thing he had ever heard about Jesus. Did he respond? No. But that one incident burned into me that God hears our heart-felt prayers.
I think God had Bruce call out to me in such a loud, clear, and public way just to get my attention. To let me know how real He is and to increase my faith. The last part of Psalm 37:23 says that “He cares about every detail of our lives.” (NLB) I was beginning to get that.
His nature is such that He wants to show himself – to reveal himself – to us. Jesus says in John 14:21, “The one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love them and show myself to them.” Isaiah 30:18 says “The Lord longs to be gracious to you. He rises to show you compassion.”
That day He showed himself to me and I’ve always remembered it.