Father of the faith Oral Roberts candidly shares from experience the principles he has learned through the years that have kept his ministry and personal life on track.
Solomon, the richest and most successful man ever to live, uses the term "meaningless" no fewer than 31 times as he laments about his life in the book of Ecclesiastes. For him the struggles of youth had brought great obedience and focus. But he allowed the success of maturity only to bring him great distraction and ruin. It is a powerful lesson to us to remain vigilant.
As we submit ourselves to the Lord, pursue Him with our whole heart and seek His guidance and wisdom, then we will succeed. But it is precisely at that moment of success that we will need to be the most submitted to the Lord and to our calling.
Be careful when you want to buy everything you never had or ever wanted. Beware when you begin to think that you can't fail. Watch when your personal walk with God grows stale and your secret place with Him is abandoned. It is at that hour that you have brought yourself to the precipice of greatest peril.
Satan is always one step behind you. He will urge you to touch the tithe, or to borrow it. To covet someone else's gifts. To sell your birthright for a quick reward. If you do these things, it is all over, as Esau learned.
An addiction, adultery, a mishandling of money, an attitude or acts of arrogance can destroy us. These can be overcome. But it will require confession, humility you've not known before and time to reach a place where you can have a new beginning.
Remember the old adage, "An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure." This is true in the lives and ministries of preachers.
I remember well the battles I faced. I made some mistakes I rue to this day. I couldn't handle success very well at first. For this reason, I can share with you. I've learned many principles through the years that can help you stay strong in your walk with God and in your ministry over the long haul.
My mother had the ability to get to the key issue of situations. My father knew her strengths and depended on her to discern what was going on, either good or bad.
Following are some truths I learned from them that proved very helpful to me in life and ministry.
1. Share your testimony. My mother would say: "Oral, make your sermons come alive with what Jesus has meant to you personally, what He means to you this very hour. Bring the Bible down to where people live." Thus, when you hear me preach on any subject, I am likely to bring in some part of my salvation, in-filling with the Holy Spirit or the miracles of my lungs and tongue being healed. I share not only my experiences, but also God's miraculous intervention in others.
That does not mean I do not spend countless hours studying and meditating on God's Word. My burning desire is for people who hear me teach and preach God's Word and bring healing as they did in Jesus' time and the disciples' time, to be able to relate to what I am giving in the most personal way. A preacher without a testimony is one without a "now" message, and that falls short of meeting people's needs in the "now" of their lives.
2. Stay little in your own eyes. My mother sensed in her spirit that when I began to be successful in my calling, I would be tempted to have a big head, to boast, to claim the credit as though I had done some great thing. She had seen this spirit destroy some other truly called men and women. So she would warn me to stay little in my own eyes.
I am far more afraid of praise than I am of the doubters, the scoffers, the ugly-acting ones toward me. A Baptist pastor friend of mine in Tulsa told me, "Oral, to smell perfume is good, but to drink the bottle is poison." I enjoy praise in small amounts, but I refuse to listen to more.
3. Ask the right questions concerning opposition. When opposition comes, ask yourself: "Just who is it, Jesus, coming against me so hard? Why are they coming against me? Is it true what they are saying? Right what they're doing?"
These questions will lead you to answer yourself honestly. Change--if the change does not change God's call on your life. If the opposition is untrue, consider the source and get on with your calling. Leave the outcome to Jesus.
4. The explosiveness of the anointing. My mother had the uncanny ability to share her testimony no longer than three or four minutes before an audience would open up and respond, even to the point of jumping to their feet to praise God. I saw this happen time after time, even in the last years of her life when she came before the Oral Roberts University student body and faculty at chapel services.
She was a woman of few words, but the anointing she had through her closeness to Jesus caused her words to penetrate one's soul quickly. In my ministry I have tried to make every word count. I have tried not to preach until I knew I had the anointing. When I have succeeded in doing this, God has done great things.
5. The priceless secret of loving the Bible. I remember my father with his chair leaned against the back of our house, his Bible in his hand and his concordance nearby. As a child playing around him, I noticed him reading his Bible. At times his body shook as tears fell from his eyes. Or I heard him give a whoop of praise to God. He had found something in the Bible that often made him leap or shout for joy.
My father was a gifted storyteller. When he preached, he made the people in those stories live. He did not just describe them, but through his words he took us where they were, and let us see and hear and feel them and their faith.
I did not know these Bible stories were having a lasting effect on me and that I, too, would become a preacher. I, too, would preach not only major points of the Bible, but also would take people to scenes in the Bible that could change their lives. I owe my father the credit for this powerful secret of molding my sermons inside a story.
6. Pastors must have integrity. My father's word was his bond. People could trust him in whatever he promised to do. He hated debt, refusing to borrow money except as a last resort. Even then, he could not wait to pay it back, and in most instances paid it back before it was due. He had an impeccable credit rating.
Without integrity, I never could have accomplished the things God called me to do. One preacher-friend told me, "Oral, I've noticed when you are approached by preachers whom you can't trust, you treat them in a manner that says, 'Get integrity or get lost.'" I had to admit he was right. As I have studied the lives of people in the Bible whom God used the most, their integrity and obedience stood out above all else. It is the same today.
7. The presence of Jesus. My parents usually awakened about 4 a.m., and we children would hear them talking to Jesus. That is among my most precious memories. I came to believe that Jesus lived at our house. Believe me, that marked my life. This secret of my father and mother has never left me.
I have proven to myself over and over, wherever I have traveled in the United States and abroad, that I could have Jesus in me and with me every moment and everywhere. There is never a time I do not know He is in me and with me.
I have loved no one so completely as I have loved my wife, Evelyn, and I have learned as much from no one. From the time we both were 21 to this hour when we are 84, we have understood this marriage is of the Lord, and He is doing a work in us of supreme magnitude. Let me share with you some of the secrets I value the most that I have learned from being married to Evelyn. These have helped fulfill me as a man, as a husband and father, and in my calling.
1. Putting family first. Evelyn reminded me that God created the family before the church. He expects us to lead our families to Jesus--not let them go to the devil and to hell while we are trying to reach the rest of the world.
It takes love, patience and time to nurture children. They watch every step we take. Many times they take their responsibility in life in the way they see us take ours.
At first our children did not understand why I had to be gone so much in my healing ministry; I was home approximately one week each month. Being so intense in my ministry, I made a lot of mistakes as a father. Had I known then what I know now, I would have done things differently.
We have only one opportunity to share quality time with our children while they are growing up. It is a miracle that as many preachers' children accept the Lord as do, even when their parents are so busy with the gospel.
In our marriage Evelyn had to assume the greater part of the load because I simply was not there. When I was home, I was so hungry to spend time with Evelyn that it seemed I ignored my children. They felt I did not pay much attention to them.
I remember one of the first serious talks Evelyn and I had about this. I called her into the den, closed the door, and said: "Evelyn, there's something wrong with our marriage. When I come home from the crusades, you and the children seem thrilled that I'm home, and for the first day or two it's just like we're in heaven. Then all of you go your own way and ignore me."
Evelyn said: "Oral, I love you with all my heart. I spend as much time with you as I possibly can. But our children have needs and daily schedules they have to meet. As their mother, I can't ignore them. You don't know what a normal marriage is like since you're seldom home more than a week at a time."
She hugged and kissed me, and let me know how much she loved me (which I knew was true). I said, "Darling, I'll try to remember that." We finally resolved to spend as much time together as we could. I carved out as much quality time with the children as was humanly possible.
2. Controlling my temper. I have always had a quick temper and reacted to circumstances or people I did not like without even thinking. How many times I wished I could call words back. I was explosive.
Evelyn would say to me: "Oral, keep your voice calm. Don't get upset, and remember what the Bible says, 'A soft answer turneth away wrath'" (Prov. 15:1, KJV). Oh, that was hard for me. I was so quick. Thank God, as I grew older I learned to take things a lot easier.
In those early days, I found myself talking to God about my temper and other shortcomings with which I seemed to have been born. I did not like any of those things about myself. Evelyn pointed out that at times I was rude but did not intend to be. I loved her even more when she was honest with me like that. I did not stalk out of the room, get in the car, and drive away sulking and resenting her.
In my heart I was trying to follow this truth: It is not who is right, but what is right. Believe me, I did not find it easy to do that. These sins of my personality seemed to be deep inside me and rose up at every opportunity.
Sometimes I would stop and say: "Evelyn, pray with me. I need your faith with mine so I can overcome these enemies to my life, my family and my ministry." Those prayers together, often with us hugging each other with tears, began to make a definite difference in me.
Finally, Evelyn was able to say: "Oral, you're getting more mellow. You have a much kinder spirit." I give God the glory for that. With His help, I learned we can harness anything.
3. My wife can meet all my needs. I admit that was the chief question in my mind as I became serious about getting married. There was a wide difference between my desire for women before I was converted and after I received Jesus as my personal Savior and received His call to preach the gospel.
It was like the difference between daylight and dark. Before my conversion, a woman I courted was someone I had designs on, what I could get from her. When I became a born-again believer, something miraculous took over my whole being. A woman no longer was little more than a sex object to me, but a lady in the class of my mother or my sister.
This change was so profound it surprised me. I could date a girl without the slightest desire to lead her astray. When I dated Evelyn, I was so unlike the other young men she had dated that it changed her attitude toward men. I made no pass at her.
She told me after we were married: "I felt so safe with you. I did not have to have my defenses up every minute. I could relax and express my love for you as the one I wanted to marry, the only one I had had the desire to marry."
I knew that I knew God had brought us together and she was the one for me. She told me I was the one for her. We were so comfortable with each other.
The Lord put it in her heart to say to me: "Oral, I want to tell you something very serious about me and our times together after we marry. It's this: I pledge to you I will meet all your needs that a wife is supposed to meet. There never will be any reason for you to be tempted by another woman or to doubt my loyalty or to feel any needs you have will not be met. The Lord has dealt with me on the responsibility and opportunity of a Bible wife for her husband. I hope you will believe me and will be at peace about it."
I looked into her eyes and saw purity, substance as a woman and sincerity in her face. It was one of the sweetest moments of my life, one that would expand into all the years ahead. I told her: "Evelyn, we will never forget this day. We know God has brought us together when we couldn't have done it ourselves. I receive your pledge as from the Lord, and I pledge to you by His help I will be faithful to you the rest of our lives together."
Now, 63 years later, with 4 children, 13 grandchildren and several great-grandchildren, I remember Evelyn's pledge. I can honestly say she has been a wife beyond compare, living up to Solomon's description in Proverbs 31.
I hope these thoughts encourage you. In my life I have learned that the only way to grow stronger is to be opposed, to have a powerful force to overcome and at the same time to keep your composure, your temper, a good spirit, a strong outlook on life, and an appreciation for your calling.
I did not grow stronger by facing weak forces, but powerful ones. Because I have stood my ground, refused to strike back, obeyed God and stayed little in my own eyes, I have survived. I encourage you, too, to release your faith and contend for the absolute best for God.
In an exclusive Ministries Today interview, Oral Roberts addresses issues the Pentecostal/charismatic church today must grapple with.
Ministries Today: You were one of the pioneers of healing ministry in this country. Do you feel the church today is being a good steward of the gifts of healing?
Oral Roberts: No. In Matthew 4:23 it says that Jesus taught, preached and healed. He had a threefold ministry, and we're to follow Him.
If you had to go across a lake, and you had to have three different abilities to negotiate the lake, and you did one, and you did two, and you didn't have the third, you would drown. So if you started across the lake that He crossed--which was teaching, preaching and healing--with teaching and preaching only, then you would drown. Or, if you took healing and teaching and didn't have preaching, you would drown. If you lift out any one of the three that Christ did, you would drown.
Everyone needs the teaching of Jesus, the preaching of Jesus and the healing of Jesus. And the 5 billion or 6 billion people on the earth are sick in some way. And the one thing that is missing is not teaching, not preaching but the healing.
Ministries Today: What changes in the Pentecostal/charismatic church have you seen for the better and/or worse?
Roberts: I'm told now that among the organized Pentecostal churches, half of the preachers no longer speak in tongues and no longer preach it to their people. Now, I don't know if that's 100 percent true, but I'm told on reliable authority. [But] in the charismatic churches, that's at the foremost.
Now I'm speaking on the [charismatic] churches I've been to: they all pray in tongues; they sing in tongues; they have a tremendous emphasis on healing; they use the word of knowledge; they use prophecy; they use tongues and interpretation.
If you keep the nine gifts of the Spirit out, it would be just as bad as if you left out the fruit of the Spirit. The fruit of the Spirit and the nine gifts of the Spirit are to flow together.
Ministries Today: We saw a sweeping move of the Spirit in mainline denominations in the 1960s and 1970s. But in recent years there has been such a moral decline in mainline denominations. Do you think a move of the Spirit in mainline denominations will happen again?
Roberts: That would be my desire. But it would probably take a sovereign move of God. I don't see the desire in the leaders for it. God would have to sovereignly move in, which He's capable of doing. He loves His people.
Ministries Today: In recent years a lot of independent groups have sprung up, but without much accountability. How can we provide accountability for one another?
Roberts: I think [that is] one of our largest problems, whether it's an independent church or if it's a denominational church. Based on my experience in a denominational church, the accountability tends to go into legalism. If someone goes astray, it is virtually impossible for him to have a second chance where there's legalism.
In independent churches you probably find a few egocentric preachers who want to dominate and rule and do whatever they want to do; I think that's bad too. But the ones that I go to sort of have an unseen fraternity, and they know one another, and they confer with one another, and I find that if I fell into deep sin, I'd rather be with them than with the legalism. I think I'd have a better chance of being restored.
Ministries Today: What do you see in the next generation that gives you hope? What might cause concern?
Roberts: Well, I'll tell you my concerns. No. 1, I think success without a successor is failure. And I find that in the full gospel movement, including the charismatic movement, there is not a strong emphasis upon Christian education other than K through 12. Colleges are almost nonexistent, especially ones with prestige.
As far as the future of the baptism of the Holy Spirit, I do not see emphasis upon it that was there several years ago. In the 1960s and 1970s, had it not been for the rise of the charismatic movement, I don't know what would have happened to the organized Pentecostal churches today.
Editor's Note: For a full, in-depth transcript of our interview with Oral Roberts, including advice to younger pastors, log on to www.ministriestoday.com and click on the "Web Exclusives" link for the July/August issue.
Oral Roberts, founder and chancellor of Oral Roberts University in Tulsa, Oklahoma, is the author of the new book, Still Doing the Impossible (Destiny Image). He is known worldwide for his evangelistic and healing ministry.
Adapted from Still Doing the Impossible by Oral Roberts, copyright © 2002. Published by Destiny Image. Used by permission.