Did I hear him correctly?
Did he really say what I think he did?
Are my hearing aids working properly?
Robertson McQuilkin (1927–2016), then 85, walked by me on a parallel sidewalk five yards away. He pointed at me and exclaimed, “I prayed for you this morning!”
Those weren’t the words that surprised me. I knew he often prayed for personnel at Columbia International University, where he had once served for twenty-two years as President.
“Thanks for praying for me,” I replied. “I need it! It means a lot that you pray for me occasionally.”
It’s what he said next that stopped me in my tracks. “Oh, no. You misunderstand. I don’t pray for you now and then. I pray for you every day.” His declaration so overwhelmed me that I’m not sure what I said before we parted ways.
For me? Every day?
The man who was all alone at the top of my “Christian heroes” bulletin board–he prayed for me daily?
Backdrop to That Conversation
Back in the early 1990’s, not long after he had resigned to care for his wife, Muriel (early onset Alzheimers), I asked him to serve as my accountability partner for six months. Each week, we met in his den, his beloved Muriel in a nearby chair.
For 30-40 minutes he asked me a series of questions I had given him, covering everything from spiritual disciplines, TV viewing, thought life–you name it. He often added a few grace-filled comments or warnings, and prayed fervently for me before I left each session. I was (and remain) convinced that there is grave danger in too much privacy for a Christ-follower.
On one visit, when I asked him about his prayer life, he reluctantly showed me a loose-leaf notebook, teeming with photos of family, friends, and the prayer cards of missionaries. He reserved the front section for persons who received his prayers daily (his successor at CIU, family members, etc.) Another section contained pictures and information on persons for whom he prayed at least weekly. Seeing the pictures of people for whom he prayed made intercession more intimate and vibrant for him.
I never thought I’d be in the front section of his notebook.
The year before the incident on the walkway at CIU, in 2014, he had heard my CIU chapel testimony on depression and faith via podcast. He wrote me a note, assuring me of his prayers for God’s continued sustenance and for fruitfulness in my teaching and writing.
Whether it was my long-ago admission of needing to be held accountable, or my recurring despondency, or the kingdom potential in the ministries God had given me–or all three–I figure he prayed for me daily because he grasped how needy I am!
Who will replace Robertson McQuilkin?
I’m not talking about Robertson the college President. We’ve had capable, visionary leaders since he left that post.
I’m not referring to Robertson the missionary, who planted five churches in Japan over a twelve year period. Among the targets of his persistent prayers were the new believers he left behind and missionaries who replaced him.
I’m not thinking of Robertson the author, whose texts on Bible interpretation and ethics have been widely used in Bible colleges and seminaries. Whose book on Life in the Spirit has enhanced the spiritual formation of thousands who learned how to rely on the Holy Spirit’s power for holiness and effective ministry. Whose best-selling A Promise Kept, about his care for Muriel, has shown countless couples what the “for better or worse” part of their wedding vows looks like.
I’m referring to Robertson the intercessor. Pastors, missionaries, Christian school teachers, seminary faculty, evangelists–all are much easier to replace than a committed prayer warrior. And it is a whole lot easier to teach and preach on intercession than to do it regularly and earnestly. (I ought to know.)
The prophet Samuel saw intercession for God’s people as a primary ministry. He told Israel, “Far be it from me that I should sin against the Lord by ceasing to pray for you” (1 Samuel 12:23). And when he referred to Epaphras’ intercession for his fellow believers in Colossae, Paul indicated that Epaphras “labored earnestly” for them–strong words in the Greek that meant “agonizing” or “wrestling.”
There is no harder work than agonizing in prayer for people. There is no more strategic battlefield in spiritual warfare than the spot where we wage war through intercession. There is no better way to penetrate the darkness than to offer heartfelt prayers for ourselves, or for others in need.
I’m not asking who will replace Robertson in praying for me personally. Several loyal friends and my wife pray regularly for me. I’m talking about replacing the intensive prayers he sent the Father’s way daily for a whole lot of people. And to think….long before he retired from full-time vocational ministry to care for his wife, this intercession was an integral part of his hour-a-day-with-the-Lord habit.
Intercession isn’t exciting or glamorous. It isn’t a public ministry that, when you do it well, results in claps or enthusiastic compliments from admirers. But it is a hinge on which the stability, holiness and ministry of people you know turns.
Now you know why Robertson remains at the top of my hero board.
Will you be a behind-the-scenes, out-the-the-pubic-eye hero by laboring in prayer for believers you know, for the work of God in your church and on the mission field, and for those without Christ both here and abroad?
Whose pictures will you put in your prayer notebook?
Starting today, propelled by grace-motivated effort, identify one person for whom you will pray more regularly.
Robertson would be the first to insist that he was not irreplaceable. But it might take scores of praying Christians to make up for the cumulative hours he spent on his knees. Will you be one of them?