Recently my friend Wes Adams died. In some ways, of all the ways death has made itself known recently, his death has moved me the most. Teckla and I got to know Wes when I took a teaching position at Mid-America Nazarene College in Olathe, Kansas. I was teaching English and he was teaching New Testament. Spouses of faculty could take courses for free, so Teckla took a boat load of courses in biblical literature and New Testament Greek. Many of the courses were taught by Wes (full name, John Wesley Adams).
When taking a course on Acts from Wes, Teckla came home one night and said, “Professor Adams seems to actually believe in the Bible and think the church today should be like it was in Acts.” My heritage was completely Nazarene, going back four generations, and I cut my theological teeth on discussions with my father about sanctification, the Holy Spirit, and what the church should look like, so I was intrigued to see how Wes fit everything into Nazarene tradition. I began sitting in on few of his lectures.
After getting to know Wes a little better, Teckla and I dropped into his office one day. I laid out my argument that there had to be more to the baptism of the Holy Spirit than just a deeper commitment. I had questions. Where is the being “clothed with power on high”? Where is the power to be a bold witness to resurrection of Jesus through signs and wonders? Was the book of Acts irrelevant to the operation of the church today? Doesn’t Pentecost promise both holiness and power?
Wes looked at me a moment, took a deep breath, then said, “Close my door.” He then explained at some length that he thought the description of the church in Acts was meant to be normative, not merely historical. It described what the church should look like today. And yes, we need both power and holiness to do New Testament church.
Now all this may sound like nothing more than an exchange of theological perspectives, but for Teckla and I it was life changing. It was for Wes too because my next question was, “What do we do to move the church closer to the Books of Acts?” Wes, a student of revival, explained that all great revivals were preceded by passionate and persevering intercessory prayer. His short answer was, “We pray.”
We did pray. Teckla and I joined the Friday night prayer meetings Wes was leading at the college. I had never been a part of such passionate crying out to God for revival. Some prayer meetings began at ten and ended with the morning light. Oddly, this all felt like a return to early Nazarene faith of my grandfather and great-grandfather. In those days they called such meetings watch night services or “tarrying” prayer meetings. The old idea was to “tarry” until “clothed with power from on high.” Older Nazarenes called it “praying through.”
And it was in these prayer meetings where I first prayed for Wes Adams to be healed. Wes at age sixteen was in a car accident that left him a partial quadriplegic. For Wes, believing that Acts is normative for the church could never be merely theoretical. After all, chapter three tells of God using Peter and John to heal a man lame from birth. How could Wes teach that we should pray for revival like that in Acts without letting folks pray for his healing?
So, for the last forty years, I have prayed for revival and prayed for Wes to be healed. In fact, I have never been able to separate the two. I am certain Wes fully expected to be healed in this life. Others I suspect shared this conviction. I never heard anything from God promising his healing, but I never felt released from praying for him. However, I think Wes walked close enough to God to hear anything God had to say about not healing him.
I do wonder why God had so many pray so long for Wes and yet never healed him. I do know, and heard Wes say, that for a quadriplegic he lived a miraculously long time. He was certain that all the prayer had extended his life and ministry as a teacher. Although true, this really doesn’t answer the question. Why didn’t God just tell Wes and others that his calling was to minister from wheelchair the rest of his life?
It helps some to note that Paul and some other authors of the New Testament thought Christ was about to return, probably in their lifetime. They seem certain in several places. The teachings and parables of Jesus encourage living as though Jesus could appear at any moment. God has been content to let the church continue to think, really for thousands of years, that Jesus is about to return.
It is also likely that God wanted to bless Wes’s message of revival and intercession with the authority that came from practicing what he preached. He gladly allowed people to pray for his healing year after year—knocking and knocking on God’s door, humbly asking for the healing touch of Jesus. I have often felt if Wes could persevere in prayer and faith while in a wheelchair, I could muster the faith to keep praying. If Wes could be unrelenting in his intercession for revival, how could I abandon this vision?
While talking with my father the summer before he died of cancer, I saw tears appear in his eyes as he said, “My greatest regret is that I have never been part of a real revival and a moving of God’s Spirit.” Like Wes, my father died without ever seeing what he had prayed for most of his life. However, because of the example of my Dad, and Wes (a spiritual father) I have never stopped praying for God to clothe his church with power and purity. Both Wes and my Dad are like those men of the faith mentioned in Hebrews 11:13: “All these died in faith , without receiving the promises, but having seen them and having welcomed them from a distance,”
Teckla and I are sixty-eight. Her recent battle with breast cancer, and the deaths of brothers and sisters in Christ, have forced me to think about the possibility of dying before I see real revival break loose and before I see my prayers for my sons answered. Have all my prayers for Wes, for revival, for my sons been wasted? I have heard no thunder from heaven but feel the hum of the Holy Spirit in my veins saying, “No.” I am certain Wes and my Dad would say, “No.” I am confident that God’s Word says, “No”. Every prayer is heard, every tear treasured.
Of course, I still have many unanswered questions. There is so much we don’t know about how intercession in this age prepares us for ministry in the next. We probably can’t fully grasp how obedience in the darkness makes us servants God can trust in the light. Intercession now may prepare for intercession with Jesus. We are told that right now Jesus is at the right hand of God interceding for us. I suspect Wes and Dad are interceding with Him.
It is also true that Jesus has called upon us to pray for things that we don’t see happen in our lifetime. We called to pray for God’s kingdom to come, but in many ways it hasn’t. We pray for God’s will to be done on earth as in heaven, but we do not yet see heaven on earth. Have such prayers been a waste or misguided? Of course, not. But what do we do in face of so much we don’t know about prayer and God’s delays in answering it?
As Wes said forty years ago in his office at Mid America, we pray.