The moon was cloaked behind dark clouds, the midnight sky as black as a sin-stained conscience by the time 13-year-old Nathanael Wolf crept into the house. Careful to avoid creaking floorboards, he tiptoed past his mother’s bedroom. For a moment all was silent and his shoulders sagged with relief. Home free! he thought.
Not quite. He lifted his foot to take one more soundless step and froze as soft sobs broken by gentle murmurs floated into the hallway. His mother was praying again. Nate stopped cold and the hair on the back of his neck stood on end at the sound.
He knew what he’d see when he looked into her room. He’d witnessed the scene countless times before. His mother would be kneeling on the floor, crying out to God, pleading for Him to intervene in her son’s life. It didn’t matter what time he snuck home, that’s what Nate usually found her doing. Sighing, he slunk to his bedroom. Before morning she would know everything he’d done—what he drank and the drugs he’d used.
Nate clenched his jaw in defiance. It didn’t matter how many times God ratted on him, he wasn’t going to serve Him. Yes, he’d given his life to Jesus when he was four years old. He still remembered the time a missionary offered an altar call for those who felt the Lord tugging them into ministry. Five-year-old Nate had been the only one who’d gone forward. The missionary had laid hands on him and prayed.
But a lot of things had changed since then. Nate was no longer a naive, obedient kindergartener. He was a hell-raising adolescent. God knew it, too. Nate was certain of that.
The way he figured it, God had some kind of cosmic video camera that recorded everything you did wrong. When you died and showed up for judgment, God pressed the Play button.
Nate’s videotape had already captured enough incriminating evidence to bust him for eternity. He didn’t see any point even trying to be good anymore. Given all the bad things he’d done, His heavenly Father must be as furious with him as his earthly father was. Nate couldn’t do anything to please him either. He could only hope God’s wrath would be less painful than his dad’s.
In his room, Nate tried to shake the haunting echo of his mother’s voice. Let her pray, he thought as he crawled into bed and pulled the cover up over his head. It won’t do any good.
A Prayer of Promise
Wednesday nights were church nights at the Wolf’s house. Always. Without fail. No matter how much Nate protested. So that week, he wanted to dance for joy when he got a reprieve. His uncle was in town for a visit and for once they were going to skip the Wednesday night service.
As they drove to the impromptu family reunion, Nate’s mother sat rigid in the front seat and fidgeted with the handle of her purse. “For some reason I don’t feel good about going,” she said.
“I don’t either,” Nate’s dad admitted. “But…family is family so we’d better go.”
At first, the concerns seemed unfounded. The visit started with the usual pleasantries; then, without warning, the atmosphere changed. Nate’s uncle grew agitated, reeling from the effects of eight different drugs no one in the family realized he had taken. When his rage flared into threats of violence, a deadly drama unfolded.
“I’m going to get a gun and kill you all,” he declared to the horrified family.
The events that followed tumbled together in a blur before Nate’s terrified eyes–a frantic call to the Sheriff…the sight of a holstered gun and an officer warning his wild-eyed uncle to settle down…the rush of relief when the Sheriff’s car rolled away and it seemed for a moment that the crisis had passed…Nate’s uncle erupting again, ranting about a murder he claimed he’d committed…Nate’s mother asking him to calm down. Then the unthinkable happened.
In one fluid movement, the uncle grabbed a knife, pulled Nate’s mother into a headlock and stabbed her in the throat. Blood pulsed from her carotid artery with each beat of her heart as he stabbed her again and again. Her heart seized as the blade pierced her chest. All in all, she received eighteen stab wounds that night.
Nate’s dad fought to free her and became the next victim as his brother turned the knife on him, slicing and plunging it into his body more than a dozen times. Desperate to stop the slaughter, Nate grabbed a fireplace poker and swung it full force against his uncle’s head. Nate’s dad took the opportunity to scoop up his bleeding wife and escape. Nate scrambled out of the house behind them and called for help.
After Nate returned from calling 911 at a neighboring home, he found his uncle outside the house plunging the knife in his own throat while his parents had locked themselves in the family vehicle.
By the time the police had arrived, his uncle had passed out on the front lawn from shock and loss of blood.
While waiting for an ambulance, Nate transferred his mom to a police cruiser. “Everything’s going dark and I feel so cold,” Nate’s mother whispered as she hemorrhaged copious amounts of blood. “I’m dying. Nate, promise me you’ll serve the Lord.”
“Lord, I’ll serve you if you’ll spare my mom!” Nate prayed. “Now Mom, promise me that you’ll live!”
By the time the ambulance reached the hospital no more blood pulsated from her neck. Her carotid artery had somehow sealed. Although she had felt her heart seize when stabbed in the chest, no injury to her heart could be found. Miraculously, she was released from the hospital and had sustained no fatal injuries.
Nate knew that God had answered his prayer. But, even so, he reneged on his rash promise. Jaw clenched and eyes hard as flint, he refused to serve the Lord.
A Death Wish
As days turned to months, and months to years, Nate became a prisoner behind the bars of his own hardened heart. There were only two ways of escape and he knew it. He could break free by choosing life in service to God; or he could end it all by choosing death. Still defiant, Nate chose death.
Three years after the ordeal with his uncle, Nate arrived home drunk one night and found his parents waiting for him.
“I don’t want to have anything to do with either of you!” he shouted.
“What about the Lord?” his mother asked with a stricken look on her face.
Looking up to heaven, Nate made an obscene gesture. “God, I hate you. Jesus stay out of my life. I won’t do what you want me to do.”
Not long afterwards, Nate’s girlfriend broke up with him. Drunk and in despair, he drove through town at 120 miles per hour.
“You’re going to hit someone and we’ll die!” his friend shouted, gripping the dashboard with white knuckles.
“Yeah, we’re going to die tonight!” Nate howled.
Somehow, they plowed through five stoplights without hitting anyone.
At home, Nate decided to finish the job. Sliding six bullets into a .357 Magnum, he pulled the hammer back and put the gun in his mouth.
Before he pulled the trigger, every sermon he’d ever heard about hell flooded his mind. He felt terrified…and trapped. Pulling the gun out of his mouth, he put it away.
At the gym a few days later, Nate sat in the weight room. Around him, other men worked in teams, acting as spotters and barking words of encouragement to each other as they hefted weight-laden bars. Nate turned his back on them all and reached for a set of dumbbells. He preferred to work out alone.
“Nathanael.” Nobody ever called him Nathanael. Putting his weights down, he turned to look over his shoulder.
Strange. No one was there. He glanced around to see who might have spoken to him, but nobody was looking his way.
“Nathanael, I love you.”
This time the words washed over him in waves like liquid love. The presence of God fell over him with the heaviness of glory.
“I want you to go to the Philippine Islands.”
Me? Go to the Philippines? Nate shook his head at the thought. The youth group at his church was planning a summer mission trip there, but he had never entertained the idea of joining them.
“God, I don’t want to go,” he said. “First of all, you picked the wrong guy. I use drugs and alcohol. I’m not pure morally. Send Mike. Send Peggy. Send Ann.”
“I’m sending them, but I want you to go too.”
“I don’t want to go. I don’t want to serve You.”
Nate already had his life mapped out. He planned on joining the Marines and then becoming a gun runner in Africa. Going to the Philippines didn’t fit his agenda.
“No matter how far you run, no matter where you go—My love will be there waiting for you.”
In that instant, Nate knew without a doubt that God wasn’t mad at him. He knew that God didn’t want to judge him, but he knew that if he didn’t serve God his life would be cut short. God wasn’t trying to control him; He was trying to save him.
As tears streamed down Nate’s face, the guys in the weight room looked away, uncomfortable at the sight. But Nate didn’t care. Driving home, he prayed and wept even more. “Lord, I repent and ask that you forgive me of my sins. I believe that Jesus Christ is the living God and confess Him as my LORD.”
Alone in his bedroom, Nathanael asked to be filled with the Holy Spirit. Then, kneeling on the floor the way he’d seen his mother do so many times, he poured out his grief to God and up out of his innermost being came of flow of prayer in languages he’d never learned. What seemed like moments later, he realized that he’d prayed for three hours.
As he stared at the clock in wonder and heard a gentle rap on his door. He looked up to see his mother set a Bible on his bedside table. “I want you to start reading this tomorrow,” she said.
Over the next three months, Nathanael read the New Testament 27 times, prayed in the Holy Spirit, and worshipped for three to five hours a day. Yet he still hungered for more of God.
“Mom, I want to learn more about prayer,” he said.
“You need to learn from Edith,” she said, referring to an 86 year old widow in the church. “Edith is my prayer partner and has spent years praying for you.”
Edith’s eyes twinkled when she heard Nathanael’s proposal. “I’ll clean your house if you’ll let me listen to you pray,” he said.
Nathanael watched and listened as Edith settled into a chair with a world atlas beside her. Each prayer time, she prayed in unknown tongues and then interpreted her prayers. Once, Nathanael heard her pray and weep in deep intercession over an earthquake that would hit Mexico City. Weeks later when the earthquake hit, Nathanael wondered how many lives she’d saved. Another time, he listened in fascination as she prayed over a volcanic eruption. When it hit the news, Nate thrilled to learn that everyone escaped to safety.
That summer, Nathanael traveled to the Philippine Islands with his youth group. Mustering up his courage, he preached for 15 minutes on the streets.
Thirty-three people gave their hearts to Jesus.
When he returned home, Nathanael and some of the other youth in the church started holding all night prayer meetings. Nathanael’s dad, touched by their sincerity, converted his garage into a prayer room.
After high school, Nathanael abandoned his plan to join the Marines and attended Bible College instead. Rather than running guns in Africa, he opted to smuggle Bibles into communist countries while hiding with the underground church from the secret police. He also became a husband, a father of four beautiful children, a church planter, pastor, and still travels nationally and abroad in ministry while fanning the flames of revival.
All in all, Nathanael’s life in service to the Lord has been a wonderful adventure.
Left to himself, Nathanael would have missed that adventure and chosen an early death. But the tenacious prayers of his mother and her friend, Edith, got in his way. Their prayers saved his life just as surely as his desperate cry to God once stopped a hemorrhage and healed his mother’s carotid artery.
Prayer is the most powerful force on earth. That’s one thing Nathanael Wolf will never doubt. He has seen it bring protection from a volcanic eruption. He has seen it provide safety in the midst of an earthquake. He has seen it heal his childhood wounds with liquid love and transform his life.
Every breath he takes is evidence that prayer changes everything.
A Prayer to Receive Eternal Life
Dear Heavenly Father, I come to you now in the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ. I admit that I am a sinner and today I repent. I believe in my heart that Jesus Christ is Your Son – that you raised Him from the dead. Jesus is alive.
I confess with my mouth, right now, that Jesus Christ is Lord. Jesus You are my Lord. You are the promised Messiah and I surrender my life to you and your service. You promise in the Bible that if I believe upon Your Son and pray this prayer that I will receive Eternal Life (John 3:16, Romans 10:9-10).
Thank you for Eternal Life. Thank you for saving me and making me a new person. Thank you for giving me a new heart – instead of a heart of stone – you have now given me a new heart that is soft towards you.
Open your Word to me as I study it – give me a spirit of wisdom and revelation in knowing you – teach me to pray. I want to know you. I ask to grow in my relationship with you, to become more and more like Jesus, and to be baptized in the Holy Spirit. Help me to find a Spirit-filled church to be a part of – a family of believers that are fully surrendered to You, Your Love, and seeking Your kingdom. In Jesus Name, Amen.