A Story of Prayer

I have to tell you an amazing story of God’s Hand at work.

This past week, Lana and I were in New York with several pastors to discuss a movement of prayer in the City of Austin – and of course, we were also praying for the City of Austin! We came to NY to do that because of the Brooklyn Tabernacle, and their longstanding Tuesday evening prayer service – a place in the inner city where thousands gather for this mid-week opportunity to seek God together.

If you haven’t read Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire, Jim and Carol Cymbala were called to this dying church forty years ago. With no funds, few members, and as new leaders with no formal training, all they knew to do was cry out to God, and the Lord began to move. The Brooklyn Tab has over 20,000 members today and is a beacon of light in the midst of the inner city. I have never witnessed so many so passionate and expectant for God to move. As you can imagine, part of the reason for their fervency is the desperation of living in a very dark place. Their church, in fact, is in the heart of an area inundated with drugs, gangs, crime, and prostitution.

Today, they worship in a renovated theater that seats 5,000. On Tuesdays, every seat is taken by people coming to pray. The service begins at seven, and people begin to trickle in at 5PM to pray at the altar. Our primary reason for coming to New York was to sit in on this service.

This trip was planned months ago.

But there’s more to the story…

Two weeks ago, we received a long-awaited call from a Pediatric Neurologist we’d been trying to see for months for our little girl Lily (also known as “Lilybird” or “The Bird” to those who love her most ☺.)

Lily Bird

This amazing six-year-old had a brutal first year of life that included two major surgeries. Lily was developing normally when, around age two, she began to regress – losing her ability to talk and largely sinking into her own little world. She hasn’t yet recovered. After years of research and appointments, we believe that Lily has a viral infection in the frontal lobe of her brain that is stalling her development.

Dr. Souhel Najjar is one of the most widely sought after specialists in the world, and books have been written about his treatment of rare brain viruses. You can follow this link to see a story on the Today Show about another one of Dr. Najjar’s patients, and if you click on the “Brain on Fire” story to the right of that one, they show a clip of the doctor himself. Just to get in to see this man was incredibly difficult. But God answered our prayer. And on top of that, after he finally said that he wanted to see her, we were offered an appointment on the 16th of July – the very next week after our Brooklyn Tabernacle trip.

But there’s more to the story…

Back at the Brooklyn Tabernacle, when Pastor Cymbala heard we were coming, he invited us to meet with him before the service to update him on what was happening in Austin. It was a pleasant half-hour conversation, and right at the end fellow Austin Pastor David Smith mentioned that Lana and I would be back in the City next week with our daughter. Jim graciously asked for more details so he could keep her in prayer. We were glad to share and of course grateful for his sensitivity and compassion.

The prayer meeting began with people lining up for one-on-one prayer with deacons and prayer leaders at 6:00. Hundreds of people lined up – extending to the very back door. It was incredible to witness the expectation these people had for God to move! They somehow prayed for everyone in line – without rushing anyone – and finished with about five minutes to go before the service started. It began with some incredible worship and praise before Pastor Cymbala came to the podium.

Prayer Meeting

Just being reminded of the power of prayer when we were on the verge of such an important appointment for Lilybird was worth the trip for me. It was as if the Spirit of God was telling me, “I am big enough to bring you all the way to Brooklyn and remind you that I delight in answering the prayers of my people. I have heard you. Don’t lose hope!”

The reminder of God’s presence in such a clear way would have been reason enough to be in New York this week.
But there’s more to the story…

Jimcymbala

When Jim Cymbala came to the podium, the first words he said were, “I would like to ask Lily’s Mom and Dad to come right here to the front. I believe the Spirit is calling us to pray specifically for this little girl in Texas tonight.” He repeated Lily’s story to the congregation, asked his pastors to surround us, and asked everyone to cry out to God for Lily. And for fifteen minutes, 5,000 people prayed for a miracle. Pastor Cymbala wept for our little girl. People of all ages, races, cultures and backgrounds cried out to God for Lily by name. For Lily in Texas to speak.

The service continued with more music, specific prayer requests distributed on cards to everyone in the audience (who then divided into pairs to intercede), and a brief message from the Book of Acts. Toward the end of the service, Pastor Jim reminded the crowd about Lily. He then shared that he realized Lily’s family wasn’t the only one in the room with an urgent need, and he asked others in crisis to come to the altar for prayer. At least 500 filled every space at the front and we sang and prayed.

As hundreds gathered at the altar, I couldn’t help but think that God had set aside a time just for The Bird to be prayed over. And He did it a mere subway ride away from where she’ll see a doctor next week that we didn’t even know about when we planned this week’s trip. I won’t presume to know what God is up to. But a God who is great enough to bring all of these things together is certainly capable of saving His best for last, and we’re expecting Him to do something great – whether He heals Lilybird completely or has something better in mind.

We can’t wait to see what God has in store!
And there’s more to the story…

Serving as a pastor in Austin, Texas is unlike any other place on earth. The Lord has connected many of the pastors in our city with deep and lasting friendships across improbable denominational and racial lines. Some of my best friends are people whom the world might see as “competitors,” but that’s hardly the case. We long to see the people around us know how much Jesus loves them, and it’s a thrill to share that message together!

Last year, I mentioned in passing during one of our meetings that one day I would love for these friends to pray over Lily. One of them picked up on it and set a date for this to happen. And on a Sunday evening after everyone had wrapped up the ministries at their churches, they gathered in South Austin at Bannockburn to surround our girl and pray for her. Witnessing all of those men and women of God calling out in unison for a breakthrough was one of the highlights of my life. We actually came together on another occasion to pray for her a few months later, and when they received word about our upcoming appointment, my friends set a date for prayer this Sunday evening – the night before we take Lily to NYC.

These pastor friends have allowed me to choose who to invite to these gatherings, and Lana and I decided on both previous occasions not to announce these prayer times to our church or to anyone else. We kept it quiet for three reasons: we wanted our pastor friends to be able to focus on prayer without thinking we had an “audience” watching the prayer, we didn’t want to get so many in the room that not everyone had the freedom to pray as God led them, and (probably the primary reason) I am sensitive to the fact that our church is filled with urgent needs of hurting people. I don’t want our congregation fixated on the problems of their pastor’s family, or to bring special attention to our needs.

But as I have heard from so many people this week who received word about what’s happening in Lily’s precious life, those reasons feel silly. I was reminded that, while we’ll pray for healing and insight, the focus of our times together is not on our family at all, but on the majesty of Jesus.

So I want to invite you to join us in prayer this Sunday evening with some very special pastors from around Austin. We’ll be praying for a little girl that has stolen my heart and grown my faith. And we will give thanks to a God who cares more than any of us for The Bird.

We will gather at 6PM in the Worship Center at Bannockburn in South Austin – at the corner of William Cannon and Brodie Lane.

We realize that there is still more to the story. God is already using one six-year-old girl to show Himself faithful and connect the hearts of people in prayer. I can’t wait to see what the days ahead will bring.

He is able!