Something about heaven was brought home to me by a testimony in the latest issue of Christianity Today (July/August 2014).
In “A Grief Transformed,” Tara Edelschick tells of being brought up the daughter of a secular Jew and a lapsed Lutheran. She learned to be fairly self-sufficient, went to a great college and married a super guy. “Weaker souls might need a god,” she thought at the time, “but I needed no such crutch.”
“That belief was obliterated when my husband of five years, Scott, died from complications during a routine surgery. Ten days later, I delivered our first child, Sarah, stillborn.”
Oh, my. Talk about a double whammy. Life suddenly took a tragic turn, blindsiding the unsuspecting young woman.
Many would never have recovered from such a blow.
However, within a year, Tara had become a Christian. She writes, “Nothing miraculous happened–no defining moments, blinding visions, or irrefutable arguments. But slowly, imperceptibly at first, I was drawn into a life of faith.”
Mostly, what happened, from her perspective, at least, is that friends witnessed to her. One friend in particular got her reading the Word.
A Christian acquaintance named Tony introduced Tara to the Gospel of John. Each Saturday morning over the phone, they would read a portion of scripture and talk. “Tony was the only Christian I knew who didn’t try to explain away the loss of my husband and baby.”
Eventually, Tony convinced Tara to start going to church. That’s where she made the commitment to become a follower of Jesus Christ.
On the surface, the story seems simple enough with no complications.
But this is where the story gets good.
Run the tape back to the time when her husband and baby died. Tara’s little family was living in New Jersey.
“A woman from Massachusetts named Liz stood up at her church for several weeks on end and asked people to pray for me.”
“Liz lived with my friend Ora, and Ora had told her about me.”
In that Massachusetts church was a man named Jeff. He joined Liz and Ora in praying that “God would take care of my body and heart.”
Tara knew none of this was happening.
What came from it is a God thing.
Liz, the praying friend of Ora, moved off to England. Then one day several years later, Liz contacted Ora to ask how her friend Tara was doing.
Ora was delighted to be able to say that Tara had become a Christian, was doing great and had met a nice guy named Jeff, a chaplain at Harvard, and they had married.
Liz said, “Jeff Barneson?”
He was the man in Liz’s church who had joined them in praying for Tara, all those years back.
Jeff had been praying for Tara years before they would meet.
Tara goes on with her story….
“One afternoon six years ago, after I finished telling this story to my friend Kathy (a member of Tara’s prayer group–Joe) she said, ‘So was I!’”
Tara said, “You were what?”
“I was praying for you, too. Liz was in my prayer group. She came to our group so distraught by your story that she asked us to pray for you. We prayed for weeks, and then I forgot about that story.”
Kathy continued, “When I met you, it never occurred to me that you were the same woman. In fact, Jean and Julie would have been there at church as well, so they were also praying for you back then.”
Tara spent the rest of the day crying. Jean and Julie are also in her prayer group.
Three of the five members of her prayer group had been interceding for her in prayer years earlier when she had gone through the greatest crisis of her life, without any of them having any idea they would ever meet, much less become best friends.
Tara writes, “Knowing that Jeff had been praying for me before we met had always touched me. But learning that my spiritual sisters had also prayed for me left me shaken.”
She continues, “Piecing it all together, I wept and wept, unable to imagine the grace of it all.”
Think of it.
In 1997, when Tara was an agnostic widow living in New Jersey, a group of Christians in Massachusetts was interceding for her. She says, “While my own attempts to find a faith never adequately explained my conversion, this did.”
“I had been prayed into the kingdom.”
God does not like to waste suffering. So, to no one’s surprise, these days the Lord is using this young mother to minister to others who are hurting the way she did. Tara has worked with middle school students whose parents had died. God is using her to counsel men and women who lose children and spouses in death. She has taught classes at Harvard on bereavement. She says people sometimes come up to her “in lowered voices” at parties and in grocery stories to unburden themselves of their stories of loss and grief. She says, “I pray for God’s love to do what I cannot: to bind up the wounded places, leaving their scars to bear witness of the power of both loss and love.”
This made me think of two big things that will happen in Heaven.
One: People will be coming up to thank you for praying for them. “God used your prayers to make the difference,” they will say. And you had not known it until that moment.
You will be so glad you prayed.
One of the inescapable realities of prayer in this fallen world is that most of the things we pray for, we will never know in this life whether the prayers were answered or how they were answered. We will pray by faith that God hears, cares, and answers, or we will grow discouraged and quit. (See Luke 18:8 and 2 Corinthians 4:1,16.)
Two: You will find out that many of the great blessings in your life resulted from people praying for you. You had no idea they were praying, and might have even thought those blessings were pure luck, sheer coincidence, or the result of your hard work and sincere effort.
In Heaven, you will find out you were “prayed into the kingdom,” as Tara put it, and that prayer played a huge part in God’s guidance in every area of your life.
When I was 19 and recovering from my freshman year of college and working on our Alabama farm, something happened that changed my life forever. Two phone calls, actually.
The first call came from my sister Patricia to say that her young family would be transferring to Birmingham. Since her husband James would be traveling, would it be possible for me to switch to a college in that city and stay with them. Free room and board for me, and security for her and the baby. I loved the idea.
The second call was to a cousin who was a year ahead of me in college in Birmingham. I asked about Samford University and Birmingham-Southern College, the two primary choices for higher education in those days. As a result of her counsel during that call, I turned right around and called ‘Southern to ask for an application.
Near the campus of Birmingham-Southern, I began attending a great Baptist church where in a course of three years (that is, during college), I was baptized, met my wife, was called to preach, married, and ordained.
What part did prayer have in this? I have no memory of praying much about any of it.
Was someone else praying? Is my Christian life and ministry of the gospel the result of the prayers of someone whom I do not know?
We will find out in Heaven.
Joe McKeever says he has written dozens of books, but has published none. That refers to the 1,000+ articles on various subjects (prayer, leadership, church, pastors) that can be found on his website — joemckeever.com — and which are reprinted by online publications everywhere. His articles appear in a number of textbooks and other collections. Retired from “official” ministry since the summer of 2009, Joe stays busy drawing a daily cartoon for Baptist Press (www.bpnews.net), as an adjunct professor at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, writing for Baptist MenOnline for the North American Mission Board, and preaching/drawing/etc for conventions and churches across America.