Last week, the world lost legendary nonagenarian Christian leader and educator, Dr. Oral Roberts, who rose from humble beginnings to become one of the most influential leaders of the 20th Century.
Following his interment this morning at a private graveside service in Tulsa attended by family, a public Memorial and Celebration Service honoring Dr. Roberts' life and legacy will be held at the Mabee Center -- a 10,000-seat indoor arena on the campus of the university he founded more than 46 years ago, designed and configured after the huge tent he used in his itinerant ministry.
Dr. Roberts' passing at 91 is part of an inter-generational changing of the guard, which follows a legacy that includes reforming the image and practice of Pentecostalism into mainstream respectability. But for me, it was a brief anecdotal personal experience with this great man of God that had the most profound impact on my spiritual journey and development.
I had the privilege of meeting Dr. Roberts on three occasions, twice in the past ten years at his Southern California home after he had retired. On my last visit, his face was cut, bruised, painful and swollen after he tripped and fell on a sidewalk step en route to a doctor appointment the day before.
Despite being extremely sore, Dr. Roberts was very gracious with his time and counsel during a conversation with a colleague and me for nearly an hour. When it was time to leave, I asked the renowned evangelist how I could pray for him, and was initially confused, and then challenged by his response. He leaned forward, got right up in my grill and asked, "Do you know your way to the Throne?"
Having grown up in the church most of my life, I have some experience in personal and corporate prayer, and have had numerous opportunities to pose that question to a number of Christian leaders in my work over nearly three decades in representing their ministries in mainstream media. But Dr. Roberts' wise, seasoned perspective caught me off guard. "I think so," I replied, though at the moment I wasn't sure, and was not even certain what he meant.
Perhaps, I thought, this was a man who, during decades in the public spotlight, had experienced so many people cavalierly offering to pray for him -- knowing they wouldn't -- he wanted to make sure that if I wasn't serious, I not waste his time or mine. Or, like a spiritually senior Obi-Wan Kenobi, did the tenure and theological insight of this spiritually senior Obi-Wan Kenobi provide him with an understanding about connecting with God in prayer that he wanted to impart to me as a young Luke Skywalker in the faith?
After fixing his anointed gaze on me for what seemed an eternity, Dr. Roberts smiled and told me how I could offer a prayer on his behalf about his physical condition and other items. Then, he grabbed my hand and during a brief time of intercession together, I could sense God's presence in our midst. Immediately, I was able to better understand the power in his touch that others had experienced in services around the world for more than 60 years.
Do you know your way to the Throne?
Dr. Roberts' question initially perplexed, then haunted, me during a subsequent spiritual inventory following our encounter as to the meaning of what prayer is all about. That journey led me back to the Bible, where I stumbled on a passage in Hebrews 4:16: "Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need."
Though I am not a theologian, my curiosity drove me further to a word study in commentaries and concordances, from which I learned that "come boldly" literally means, "without reservation; with frankness." In prayer, we approach a Throne of grace, not of judgment, and obtain mercy for the past and grace for the present and future. All of us would agree that our world could use a little bit of both in these troubled times.
That spiritual confidence and authority available to the average believer was confirmed in Strong's Exhaustive Concordance, where I learned that boldness comes from the original Greek word, parrhesia, meaning "outspokenness; unreserved utterance; freedom of speech; with frankness, candor, careful courage; and the opposite of cowardice, timidity or fear." The application denotes a divine enablement that comes to ordinary and unprofessional people exhibiting spiritual power and authority. It is not a human quality, but a result of being filled with the Holy Spirit.
But what about the concept of grace also addressed in the Hebrews passage? Again Strong enlightens that the original Greek word, eleos, means "compassion; tender mercy; kindness; beneficence; an outward manifestation of pity, used of God and of men."
I didn't know it at the time, but my brief encounter with Dr. Roberts left me with a profound takeaway "aha" about prayer. That is that we can not only approach God with frankness, freedom and confident boldness, but we can also be the beneficiaries and bestowers of His mercy as we intercede with compassion and empathy for others, such as Dr. Roberts allowed me to do in his time of suffering following a painful injury.
More importantly, on a practical level I learned that prayer is a privilege in which we can't be cavalier, especially when inquiring about or promising to pray for someone -- regardless of their position or need.
Today the world mourns the passing and celebrates the life and memory of Dr. Roberts at a Memorial Service in Tulsa, which I will attend. But as I join many others from a wide spectrum of Christian experience, I am especially grateful to a man who showed me the way to the Throne, at the feet of which he now sits with the One he has faithfully served for a lifetime. Now united in heaven with his beloved wife Evelyn, indeed Dr. Roberts is finally home for Christmas.
Larry Ross is president of A. Larry Ross Communications, a full-service public relations agency that provides cross-over media liaison emanating from or targeted to the Christian market. With more than 33 years' experience influencing public opinion, Mr. Ross' mission is to "restore faith in media," by providing Christian messages relevance and meaning in mainstream media.