Romans 8:26 – And in the same way—by our faith—the Holy Spirit helps us with our daily problems and in our praying. For we don’t even know what we should pray for nor how to pray as we should, but the Holy Spirit prays for us with such feeling that it cannot be expressed in words.

Gratitude Day 760

There maybe times when we feel that God does not answer our prayers. We feel like we have prayed and prayed and prayed. But things do not turn out as we had hoped. Planned. Anticipated.

This has happened within my circle of friends this past week. Twice, dear friends of mine have died. Two guys who have been very influential in my spiritual journey and life as a pastor. Christians who mentored me. Two great guys who most people would agree died too early.

Guy #1  – Let me introduce you to Rom.

Rom blowing the shofar in the Holy Lands

It was the fall of 1998 and before I entered pastoral ministry. Rom was a pastor at two small churches in southwestern Wisconsin. I returned from a year overseas as a missionary. Rom invited me to share some of my experiences with the two churches he served during worship.

Sunday morning: we had completed the first worship service and were driving to the second country church. The time frame between worship services was not terribly long. I probably spoke too long and Rom was speeding through the back country roads making up time. His words spilled out of his mouth almost as quickly as he was driving. He asked if I had ever considered a call into pastoral ministry. In fact, he said, during worship God had been speaking to him and wanted him to share with me that I did have a call into pastoral ministry.

What Rom did not know is that just a couple days earlier, God and I had a very similar conversation. I had no intention of going into pastoral ministry after I returned from overseas. But God had other ideas. I had shared this information with only a few family members. Rom was maybe the fourth or fifth person to know my life-changing news. It was all very new. I did not really know exactly what it meant to be “called.” Rom was clearly placed in my life to confirm this call and help me navigate next steps.  

If you do not know what a call into pastoral ministry is, it is okay. When I received my call, I was not sure either. Basically, a call is a very strong feeling or experience in which God asks you to do something specific. My experience was very clear. My next step was to become a pastor.

Rom and I chatted about this between worship services. We had more conversation in the following days. Rom understood my questions if this is real. He was also a second (or third) career pastor. Rom affirmed for me that if this is what God was saying to me, I only had two choices: obey the call or not obey the call.

I decided to obey the call.

This led to a bunch of other choices. I decided to attend seminary to be trained as a pastor. Rom was in seminary at the time. He invited me to visit the school he was attending. We made another road trip together. Just a few weeks later, I started school.

Pastor colleagues in the Holy Lands. Rom is on the far right.

Over the next 20+ years, Rom and I connected regularly. We had several shared ministry experiences. When Rom had a health scare many years ago, I was not serving churches and helped lead worship where he was serving. We went on mission trips together and participated in clergy events. Rom and his pastor-brother Stan have hosted many trips to the Holy Lands. My friend Mary Ann and I joined one of those trips. Being in the places where Jesus lived and ministered has profoundly impact how I read the Bible. At the Jordan River, I reaffirmed my Christian baptism, with Rom and Stan beside me.

Rom and his pastor-brother Stan

Rom was a spiritual mentor to me before I knew that I needed one. I am one of a whole bunch of people that Rom has spiritually guided. He just wanted to serve God and serve people. Love God and love people. And this is exactly what he did.

About 18 months ago, Rom was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. This is the kind of cancer nobody wants. It is aggressive and full remission rarely happens. Rom immediately began treatment. Over time, he retired from ministry. He and his wife Jane moved to be closer to his daughter and her family, i.e. – their grandkids.

Currently, I am working on a second book. One person I knew that I wanted to interview was Rom. Several weeks ago, Rom and I had a long ZOOM conversation. Rom was typical Rom. Confident that God could heal him if this was God’s will. He and Jane were committed to bathing his entire treatment and journey in prayer. Rom spoke of how the prayers of many were making a difference for him and his care-giving wife. He said that he is praying with great hope for healing, that God will hear the prayers of God’s people and let them know that God has heard them.

So, did God let Rom down by not answering the prayers of all those who have prayed for him? Why did God not heal him? Should we give up on God?

This is an area where faith gets tricky. Should God just answer every random prayer that we say? Absolutely not. In hindsight, there have been so many times that I AM thankful God did not answer a prayer that I was very adamant about. My limited view did not allow me to see the much larger view that God has.

But what about Rom and his healing? Was this a bad prayer for so many to ask? Absolutely not. Healing prayer is important. People benefit from prayer. The person who needs healing benefits. Those who are caregivers need others to advocate on their behalf. God also yearns for our prayers because God wants to hear our requests and desires.

I am confident Rom WAS healed in the very best way possible, just not like so many would have preferred. His death sucks for those who love him and will miss him. It sucks that he is no longer able to serve God in this world. Our prayers have been answered, just not exactly as we would like.

Guy #2 – Let me introduce you to Les.

Les was one of my seminary professors. He started teaching during my second full year of seminary. He was new and trying to find his footing as a professor. I enrolled in two of his classes. We discovered a shared interest in exploring our faith theologically and had countless discussions about this.

When I was ordained as a pastor, I could invite two people to participate in the ordination service. I asked Les because of how he impacted me as a spiritual mentor. Les was a pastor for many years before he became a seminary professor. His insights into ministry were rooted in experience and application. He shared what worked and what did not work. It was a very powerful moment when Les, Carol and other people laid their hands on me as I was ordained into God’s service.

Les was also a runner. I had dabbled in running but found it difficult to run during seminary. After seminary, I made it priority. For several years, Les and I attended an annual ministry training event together. The same weekend, a neighboring town had a run. Several times, we ran the five mile race before attending the last day of the seminar. We also participated in an annual Labor Day 5K. Hubby Rick and I drove down to Les and his wife Linda’s home the Sunday before Labor Day. Les and Rick talked John Deere tractors, spraying apple trees and gardening. I chatted with Les about theological things and books. Les LOVED books. One of his goals was to have his own library and he accomplished it. He had pieces of paper printed up that he would put inside the book cover, labeling it as part of his library.

On Labor Day, we’d run along the banks of the Mississippi River and celebrate our accomplishment with breakfast at Perkins. After Les retired, he and Linda moved to Michigan. Unfortunately, we never made the trip to see them.

This winter, Les was diagnosed with ALS. A few weeks ago, he had a feeding tube put in. He died unexpectedly in his sleep earlier this week.

With two of my running buddies: Will and Les. Both have found their heavenly home.

Like Rom, Les believed in the power of prayer. He spoke specifically about how pastoral leaders must make prayer a daily priority and teach people within the faith community where they serve to embrace prayer as a daily practice as well.

Did God let Les down because he got ALS? No. God does not promise us that everything in life will be grand and great. God DOES promise us to be with us in the deep and sorrowful valleys of life. We can find God journeying right beside us in the most challenging and difficult moments if we pause long enough to see and hear God in our lives.

Of course, the question that always comes with these types of conversations is, “Why?” Why did Rom get pancreatic cancer and his life was cut short? Why did Les lose physical strength and ability, something he worked so diligently at to maintain?

Honestly, I cannot answer these and other questions that people have. My seminary degree nor my experience from living life does not provide adequate answers. I do not think God “caused” either of these spiritual mentors to get these life-changing diseases. There is a lot evil in this world which causes a whole bunch of rotten things to happen. Spiritual giants like Rom and Les are not immune to such evils.

Often, people have told me that they do not think they should keep praying because God did not answer their prayers. If this is how you feel, I want to honor this. Let me also encourage you to reflect upon the verse at the beginning of this post. While you may not know what to pray for, or have the right words to say, or may not even be confident in God’s intervention based on your prayers, it is alright. In these instances, the Holy Spirit simply prays for us. Puts words to our thoughts and feelings, whether they are positive or challenging. When we do not have the ability or words to say, the Holy Spirit does it for us.

This, my friends, is so important. We do not have to have the right words. We do not need words at all. The Holy Spirit sees us, feels us and intervenes for us. Does this not demonstrate the deep, deep love God has for each one of us?

I pray that it does.

In the past few days, I have reflected significantly about these two spiritual mentors that have been a part of my life: what I learned from them, how they ministered to me and what I can take forward in the days that I have ahead of me. Here are a few of those thoughts:

  • Rom spoke about how important the cards he received from other people were for him. He said, “Cards have never meant so much to me.” If you ever wonder if sending a card is appropriate, SEND THE CARD. (Just be careful not to send a “Get Well Soon” card to someone with a terminal illness.)
  • If cards are not your thing, send a text message. Leave a voice mail. Sick people may not have the energy to respond. Be okay with this. But hurting people need a community of people who are praying for them and being the Body of Christ to them. Quite honestly, I did not do this with Rom and Les as I should have. I wished that I would have been more attentive to this. It is a lesson I am taking forward.
  • I appreciate the spiritual mentors I have had in my life. I am called to spiritually mentor other people. So are YOU. Maybe faith is not super comfortable for you. This is okay. Still chose to be a mentor. I have had many wonderful mentors. They have come from various backgrounds and at different stages of my life. Each one had something important to share with me. No matter your age or stage of life, YOU can mentor someone else. Please pay it forward.
  • Finally, it is okay to struggle with prayer. I do. Other pastors do. Spiritual giants do. People who aren’t sure there is a God do. Sit with the struggle of prayer. Double-down on it when you discover someone you know is struggling, whether it be with a physical challenge, mental, emotional or spiritual hardship. We all need the Body of Christ in our lives. We get to be this to each other. This IS important. Let’s do it. Every day.

For spiritual giants in my life and their commitment to prayer, I am grateful.

Blessings –


Holy God – When we lose people we care about, we are sad. Hurt. Disappointed. Often, we question if our prayers made any different. Assure us today that prayer DOES make a difference. Remind us that prayer is not the least we can do; it’s the most IMPORTANT way we can serve ourselves, each other and You. Be with the families of Rom, Les and others who have lost loved ones recently. Challenge us to be the Body of Christ to those who are hurting. Help us to simply be present with them and not make it about us. Allow us to listen and simply hold their hand. Thank you for the Holy Spirit’s wisdom to pray for us when we do not have the words or know how to. What a gift You give us daily. Amen.

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