Pastors in the pulpit know good stories are often hard to find. But generations young and old appreciate a powerful illustration that sets forth a significant truth.
Author Joni Jones has written two books in which she gives God the glory for how He has worked behind the scenes to offer direction, provide meaning or fulfill a promise. The books, Bragging About God: Hearing His Voice and Bragging About God Again: Holy Spirit Encounters, provide dozens of Spirit-focused testimonies pastors can use to illustrate their points. Here are just a few, with themes noted.
Ambassadors of Love
Theme: Power of relationships
I'll never forget my first emergency call as a rookie firefighter. The strident bell summoned our crew to one of our town's fine assisted-living residences in the middle of the night.
Upon arrival, we rushed down the hallway toward the source of concern. Imagine our surprise to find our path lined with residents sitting in wheelchairs or standing in our way. We squeezed past these elderly obstacles in our bulky boots, gloves and coats, lugging our even bulkier equipment. Why are they trying to slow us down?
But as we pushed through the maze of people and chairs, I noticed my fellow firefighters giving each other meaningful glances.
After we completed our task, we made our way back toward the exit. And then I witnessed yet another surprise. My crewmates removed their gloves and helmets, shoving the gloves in their pockets and doing their best to tuck the helmets under their arms. Then—despite the 2 a.m. call—each one knelt beside one or more residents to offer them a few moments of friendly chit-chat.
These tough, faith-filled firefighters yielded themselves to the love of Jesus, which overflowed into the whole atmosphere. They held the old folks' hands and gazed deeply in their eyes to talk and listen. They knew what I didn't: The residents were more interested in a kind word and a meaningful touch than in the reason for the emergency.
I got it. This was what God wanted me to witness. In the days to come, every time we walked those halls, the senior firefighters responded the same way. God's Spirit filled the atmosphere, and the residents were hungry for more.
Relationships matter—even at 2 a.m.
Praying for Frank
One night as I lay sleeping, the Spirit woke me up and in a booming voice, said, "Pray loudly for Frank."
In my early 20s, untrained and unchurched for the past 10 years, I had a weak relationship with God. But I always chose to obey His instructions. And I knew Frank, deployed overseas with the Army and living off-base, could easily be in danger. I rolled out of bed and went to the living room, alert and upset but unsure how to pray.
"Save my brother," I pleaded with the Lord, pacing the floor in anguish.
The Spirit showed me an open vision of Frank, driving his little Mazda through dry, dense landscape on a bumpy dirt road, far from any town. The road, little more than two deep tire tracks, became a slippery, muddy mess as he approached a wide, shallow stream.
Frank paused, analyzing whether his car could navigate 18 inches of water. I noticed the tracks of other vehicles on both sides of the stream, evidence that they cruised right through without a problem. But Frank still seemed to question his route. He veered out of the mud and parked on a dry patch. Sliding out of the car to investigate, he rested his hands on his hips, nodding his head as he pursed his lips and surveyed the situation. On the other side of the stream and to his right grew a large stand of thin trees, whose thick leaves obscured the view.
"Pray he does not cross the stream," the Spirit urged. "Some locals are waiting to ambush, rob and kill him."
I finally understood the grave danger Frank faced. My prayers intensified. Now, the Spirit showed me a scene laden with emotion. Upstream from my brother, another American soldier lay dead, half-in and half-out of the water. If he crossed the stream, Frank would face a similar fate.
My throat grew dry and my voice became raspy. I wrinkled my brow, unable to escape the vision as I continued to pray.
Frank climbed into his car, turned it around and slowly began his drive in the opposite direction. The vision ended, and I sighed in relief. God had saved my brother! "The righteous cry out, and the Lord hears, and delivers them out of all their troubles" (Ps. 34:17).
The next Sunday, I waited all morning and into the afternoon for Frank to make his regular call. I was anxious to tell him what I had seen, but the phone sat silent.
Later in the week, the phone rang at Frank's customary 5 a.m. time. He started to chat, but I interrupted him and described everything I remembered from my vision, not leaving anything out.
A long pause followed. "The stream, turning around—it all happened just as you said," he told me, stunned. But Frank had never understood my seer gifts. In fact, he had always dismissed them. "Men weren't coming to ambush me," he said. "And no dead man lay upstream."
"Oh, they'll find him soon," I said, confident of the Holy Spirit's revelation.
A few days later, Frank called again, upset. "They found the dead guy upstream—right where you said."
God's love and protection for my brother ministered to me, and the way the Spirit notified me only served to build my trust in Him. Our Lord wants to remain unseen in the physical, but He gives us proof of His existence through mysterious happenings like these. And believing He works on our behalf without physical proof has a special name: faith.
Hitchhikers and the Prophetic
Theme: Holy Spirit
"Pick up the hitchhikers you'll see in a few minutes."
I knew the Spirit was speaking, but what he said surprised me. An already-memorable evening was about to become even more so.
Just 16 years old, I had taken my friend Lori out on the town to celebrate her 17th birthday. Decked out in high heels, dresses and beautiful camel-hair coats, we spent some time shopping before dining at an expensive restaurant high on a hill overlooking downtown Portland. Dad had let me drive his new Mercedes Benz, and Lori and I were doing our best to act as mature as the cultured and refined teens we appeared to be.
It was nearly 10 that Friday night, and Lori and I were chatting away on the highway toward home when I heard the Spirit direct me.
I told Lori what I heard. She hadn't experienced my prophetic gift and didn't understand what was happening. Upset, she shook her head in vehement disagreement.
But she didn't have a say in this decision, and I told her so. Reluctantly, she agreed to allow the hitchhikers to join us. Still, neither of us wanted a couple of dirty, sweaty guys in our car. Lord, what do You have in mind?
Almost right away, I heard the Spirit tell me, "The two hitchhikers are in grave danger, because there is another vehicle a few minutes behind you. If you don't stop and pick them up, they won't live through the night."
Within two minutes, we saw our new traveling companions—not scruffy men as I had envisioned, but giggling, pretty, blonde 14-year-old girls out way too late. I pulled over, and without a thought for their safety, the teens hopped right in.
This pampered pair wore extreme miniskirts, high heels, tight blouses and far too much makeup. Lori and I listened to them brag about their adventures of hitchhiking all over Portland, going to parties and hitchhiking their way home, no matter who stopped to pick them up. Lori and I pretended their stories amused us, fake grins plastered on our faces, but we could tell they were headed for even bigger trouble. As our passengers giggled about their crazy escapades, I knew they were flirting with much more than the men who paid them attention.
Every Friday, one teen spent the night at her friend's house. And every Friday, the host's parents went to bed early, exhausted from working all week. That's when the girls made their regular escape.
I dropped them off together and watched them climb in a bedroom window. Immediately, I felt a check in my spirit that said I needed to take this a step further. I parked the car in the driveway, headlights pointing directly into the living room window, and honked the horn every few minutes. I watched as lights came on in this gorgeous, pillared white home.
Despite Lori's loud protests, I strode up to the front door. A few minutes later, both parents came to the door in their housecoats, wondering about all the commotion. When they opened the door, I barged in to take care of business.
I introduced myself and started to explain what had just happened.
The father politely asked me to stop speaking for a moment and rushed down the hall to his daughter's room. Red-faced and furious, he returned with his frightened daughter and her friend, still dressed in their shameless attire.
"God told me to pick the hitchhikers up even before I saw the girls," I said, and finished my story.
Afterward, both parents thanked me. I felt wonderful, knowing the foolish girls were once again safe under God's care and parental protection. And I felt even better knowing I had listened to God's voice—and obeyed.
Joni Jones has written two Bragging About God books. After a difficult cancer diagnosis, this former firefighter has seen God perform many miracles in her life.
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