Oral Roberts says he has heard the voice of God 23 times in his life, and this time it was unmistakable: Raise $8 million to keep the City of Faith medical center running or be prepared to meet your Maker.
“The Lord came to me, if I ever heard his voice. He really spooked me,” Roberts recalls. “He had my attention, believe me.”
For three months in 1987, he prayed, fasted and waited. Until three hours before the deadline, when a dog track owner came up with the final $1.3 million, Roberts did not know whether his time on Earth was nearing an end.
“I knew in my heart that I had heard God, and he meant what he said,” Roberts told The Associated Press. “It did occur to me that I might go, but I had done everything I could do, and I could have gone in peace.”
Since then, Roberts had refused to discuss the episode. He broke his silence recently with the publication of his autobiography, “Expect A Miracle: My Life and Ministry.”
The book is a heartfelt account of Roberts’ rise from the youngest child of a poor minister to one of the 20th century’s best-known religious figures.
Along the way, Roberts tells of being twice pulled from the brink of death by God. And he tells how he has fulfilled his destiny of being a “John the Baptist” of healing ministries - by personally praying for 1.5 million sick people individually by the laying on of hands, and by opening a university and one of the largest medical facilities in the world.
But what gives the book its emotional power is Roberts’ openness about the pain and disappointments he has suffered. Not even his considerable faith could save his oldest son from being killed by drugs or supply all the answers when his eldest daughter and a beloved son-in-law died in an airplane crash.
Two years after his dramatic plea saved the City of Faith medical center, it had to close for lack of funds.
At age 77, Roberts said he wrote his autobiography not to chronicle life on top of the evangelistic mountain but to show what can happen when God invades the life of a “normal average guy” who when he was young never considered entering the ministry.
As a teenager Roberts dreamed of being a lawyer and eventually governor of Oklahoma, and it was not until he contracted tuberculosis that he discovered the healing power of faith at a tent revival.
As Roberts tells the story in his book, the Rev. George Moncey, a traveling evangelist, laid his hands on his head and commanded the disease to leave him, and he felt his lungs open like a flower.
“I actually yelled, ‘I’m healed! I’m healed!’ Then I cried, laughed and praised God,” Roberts writes.
During his recovery, Roberts said, God spoke to him audibly, telling him to take God’s “healing power to your generation” and to build a university.
In his own career as a “healing evangelist,” Roberts would have remarkable success. A pioneer of electronic evangelism, by 1955 Roberts had a weekly radio program on 800 stations and had started a television ministry to spread his ideas on the healing power of prayer.
Oral Roberts University opened in 1965. The university opened a medical school in 1978, and the City of Faith Medical Center opened in 1981.
By 1986 the City of Faith had fallen $8 million in debt. In March that year, he spoke of the debt to his followers.
When the debt persisted, Roberts said the Lord gave him the message that he announced on his television program Jan. 4, 1987.
He had until March 31 to raise $8 million.
“If you don’t,” Roberts said the Lord told him, “then your work is finished, and I’m going to call you home.”
The announcement created a firestorm of attention, much of it mocking Roberts’ plea. He writes that at no time in his ministry had he felt “Satan had loosed so many of his forces against me.”
But within the context of his faith, and his belief God had spoken to him, the divine command “made perfectly good sense to me. It meant God was not playing around with his call on my life.”
What he had more difficulty understanding, Roberts said in an interview, is why two years later the City of Faith would still have to be closed.
“It hurt, and I’m talking about hurt. It hurt,” Roberts said. “It was like I was in a fog.
“I didn’t quite understand: Why did you tell me to do this?”
For a while, Roberts said, he did not hear an answer from God.
Then in 1992, Roberts said, God told him in his heart that ideas are greater than buildings.
“What you did, you captured the attention of the whole medical world,” Roberts said God told him.
It was the same year Roberts believed God would again bring him back from the precipice of death. He suffered a massive heart attack, one that would have caused 80 percent of people to die instantly, Roberts said. But he would recover with no scars.
His son, Richard, has taken over as president of Oral Roberts University, but Roberts still serves as chancellor. He spent five hours a day for nine months writing his autobiography.
At 77, Roberts says God still has a great purpose for him.
With all that has happened to him, he said, “I have decided I have to believe that.”