John Ortberg, in The Life You’ve Always Wanted, tells about the time that Tony Campolo, the college professor, popular speaker and author, was about to address a college chapel service. Several men from the school gathered with Tony for a time of prayer before he spoke. They circled, knelt, laid hands on him and began to call out for God to bless their speaker.
That means a lot to a preacher. We have a group of deacons who gather every Sunday morning to lay hands on the ministers and pray for God to give extra strength, wisdom and “unction” in worship that day. Then these deacons pray over the class rooms, the teachers and every name on the roll before the Sunday crowd arrives. A second group also prays for teachers and the worship hour later in the morning.
Campolo shared that his men prayed a long time, and as they prayed, they grew tired and started leaning more and more on Campolo. The prayers were earnest, but their weight was getting too much to bear.
On top of that, one guy was not even praying for Tony. He was praying for someone named Charlie Stolzfus.
“Dear Lord, you know Charlie Stoltzfus. He lives in that silver trailer down the road a mile. You know the trailer, Lord, just down the road on the right hand side.”
Why was the man praying for Charlie? Tony was the speaker, not Charlie Stoltzfus. In addition, the Lord already knew where Charlie Stotzfus lived.
“Lord,” the man continued, “this morning Charlie told me he’s going to leave his wife and three kids. Step in and do something, Lord. Please bring that family back together.”
Finally, the prayer time ended, they had a great chapel service, and Campolo headed home. Just as he was merging onto the Pennsylvania Turnpike, he noticed a hitchhiker on the side of the road and decided to give him a ride.
As they rode along, Tony introduced himself. The man stuck out his hand and said, “My name is Charlie Stoltzfus.”
Campolo could not believe his ears. What are the chances . . . ?
At the next exit, Tony left the interstate and turned the car around. As they returned to the interstate, Charlie said, “Hey, mister, where are you taking me?”
Tony said, “I’m taking you home.”
Campolo said, “Because you just left your wife and three kids, right?”
The man was stunned. “Yeah. Yeah, you’re right. I did.”
He moved over against the door and never took his eyes off of Campolo. Then, when Tony drove right into the guy’s yard, that really did it.”
Charlie’s eyes bulged out. He said, “How did you know I live here?”
“The Lord told me,” Tony said. (He didn’t explain how the Lord told him).
The trailer door threw open and Charlie’s wife ran out. “You’re back! You’re back!”
Charlie whispered in her ear what happened. The more he shared, the bigger her eyes got.
Campolo then said with real authority, “The two of you sit down. I’m going to talk and you two are going to listen!” And he laid it on, and they listened.
That afternoon, Campolo helped those two receive Jesus Christ as Savior, and that was the start of the healing of a marriage.
Now, was that coincidence that Tony Campolo happened to pick up that particular hitchhiker? Or did God answer the praying man’s petition to “step in and do something?”
James 5:16 reads, “The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much.” Prayer unlocks divine power, heaven’s blessing, and God’s answer. How many of our coincidences are really answered prayer?
Dr. David L. Chancey is pastor, McDonough Road Baptist Church, Fayetteville, Georgia. The church family gathers at 352 McDonough Road and invites you to join them this Sunday for Bible study at 9:45 a.m. and worship at 10:55 a.m. Visit them on the web at www.mcdonoughroad.org.