A Ministry of Gentle Prayer

There are going to be surprises in heaven. Great evangelists, powerful church pastors and some revered Christians may find that the most magnificent crowns are set aside for humble men and women who gave their lives to prayer for others.

Every day of my life, I return to 2003. I don’t want to, but memories are so fragile that I don’t dare push them away. I have the quaint belief that clinging to a memory—even a difficult one—will keep it from dissolving.

My daughter, Bethany, died that year.

That was also when my wife and I were blessed for the second time with a hospital visit from a friend at church, Leonard Cox. Blessed is an odd word to use since the first visit we received from Leonard also involved one of our children and a terrifying hospital emergency.

Leonard was an old friend. I don’t mean we’d known him for decades. I mean he was old—in his late 70s when we met. A gracious though slightly gangly gentleman, he had a slight stoop, a whisper of a voice and a single well-used dark suit that was a little shiny from wear.

Both times we saw him at the hospital, he had come there to pray. If he had missed us, he would have moved on to others who were diseased, broken and worried. Though officially retired, praying was Leonard’s full-time ministry. Each day he rode the city bus to local hospitals, where he would pray at the bedsides of friends, strangers and anyone in need.

Many believers would call Leonard a prayer warrior, but a better term would be quiet intercessor. Leonard was never aggressive or combative, as the term warrior implies. He was much stronger than that. His was a healing ministry.

I never heard of the crippled walking or the blind seeing after Leonard prayed, but I did feel the effects of his prayers. Those sincere words arose as though they were winged. I believe they reached God’s heart. I know they reached mine.

That first time was in the late 1990s, when my younger son, Nate, was a student at a Christian high school. One day he fell on a classroom floor during the first seizure of his life. That day was ferocious and frightening. Foremost in my memory is watching numbers swing wildly on a heartbeat monitor. One moment the rate plummeted to under 40 beats per minute and then it raced up above 200. It was like being on a nightmare roller coaster.

The scene was not quite so frantic a couple of hours later. Medications had calmed Nate’s heart, and he rested while we worried, wondered and prayed.

The next morning, Leonard slipped into the room. Holding back, he waited for us to recognize his presence and ask him in. He was not there to intrude.

Quietly, he asked “Can I pray for Nathaniel and for the two of you?”

Tears welled in our eyes. My adolescent son was even moved by the generosity of this tender offer.

I don’t recall his exact words, but I do know that the prayer was as plain as the man and also as sincere. There was no show, no arm-waving, no look-at-me. These were just a few words of one friend talking to Another. This was just another conversation between Leonard and the Lord, and my family was blessed to be included.

Tears were flowing just a moment later when he finished the prayer. We could hardly thank him because with a barely audible “Amen,” he headed for the door.

As much as I appreciated his ministry, I thought the seizure incident would be the last time I’d have a visit from Leonard. Nate fully recovered and we moved on.

But in what seemed the blink of an eye, Bethany was at the hospital where an MRI gave doctors a clear view of the malignant brain tumor that would take her.

She was 24 years old, a recent college grad who was just getting started. Our only daughter, she was destined for greatness—all five-foot-two of her. Smart, talented and engaged with all around her, she loved her life, old Leslie Gore songs, stuffed animals and Jesus. But then came the diagnosis.

Leonard once again slipped into the room without a sound. Elaine and I were in a very different place this time. Though we prayed for and hoped for healing, we knew we needed a hem-of-His-garment miracle if Bethany were to survive.

Quietly, he asked, “Can I pray for Bethany and for the two of you?”

Again, I cannot recall the words, but I remember the feeling. It was as if God reached around all of us, assuring my wife and me that the daughter we so deeply love would be fine, no matter what happened. And she is.

Leonard Gamaliel Cox was 84 when he died on September 5, 2006. He had pastored two churches in his life, but it was in his latter years that he was called by God to a very special prayer ministry. What a high calling it was.

The Honor section of Life:Beautiful is a place of recognition for significant contributions to society and the Kingdom of God by believers and groups of believers. While this column honors the ministry of the late Leonard Gamaliel Cox, we are not limiting our accolades to Leonard alone.

This Honor column is for all the women and men who quietly pursue a ministry without fanfare or recognition. These are faithful Christians who care not whether they come first or last; all they care about is hearing their Lord say on that Bright Day, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant. Enter thou in.”
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