Power in Prayer

   Recently at the coffee bar I frequent, I ran into one of our own. It was a ‘chance,’ unscheduled meeting that morphed into extended conversation. He sat. I moved books off the table. We talked. I was surprised when the conversation shifted to my preaching. He said, “As you describe the gospel scene, it comes alive. I see facial expressions, I hear the murmurs of the crowds, the lapping the lake against the boats. I feel the breeze [now the breeze from my preaching I have heard about]. And most importantly, Jesus comes alive to me.” Fixing his eyes on me, he asked, “How do you do it? It's like you were there.”


   His question led to the topic of prayer and biblical meditation. We talked about whole-brained loving God, about the limitations of the academic study of Scripture, and about one or two of my experiences. I told him this little story, “In a ‘being known’ exercise, as Jesus came walking up the beach from my right, I was surprised when He went ‘off script.’ I saw Him stop His stride and dance. Remember Tevye in ‘Fiddler on the Roof?’ How he danced as he sang, ‘If I were a rich man?’ Jesus was dancing like that.” I laughed aloud because I saw it again, and Jesus’ dancing makes me laugh. 


   I pressed on, “Then striding again as He drew nearer, I heard Him singing. He was singing in Hebrew. The song was a psalm.” 


   ‘Friend,’ I continued, “it was over a year later that I read and studied Zephaniah 3:17, “The Lord your God will take delight in you with gladness. He will renew you with his love. He will rejoice (in the literal Hebrew: ‘He will twirl around’ or ‘He will dance’) over you with joyful songs.” 


   We laughed. 


   “More importantly, what I saw and heard transformed a lifetime of good theology and academic study into an experience with God,” I said as tears welled in my eyes. “He loves me so much He dances in delight and sings songs over me.” 


   As I reflect on this chance meeting, and … on similar conversations with a recent widow, and … long-distance calls with a pastor friend, all are people who have talked with me about prayer.  And all hunger for God. All are mature, and so all are well-versed in modernity's passion for knowledge that is objective, empirical, and logical and for language that is stripped of passion, drama and ambiguity. The 20th century Church adapted to those values of knowledge and language and formed Christians who know much and are suspicious of emotions. In these three, I see people who know a great deal of data about God. They are people taught to make prayer lists and recite items to God. The church that taught them taught that prayer is talking at God. Praise God that along the way, each of them also had an experience. Each fell in love with God. But the practices and approaches to Bible study and prayer that concentrate on one's head, practices characteristic of contemporary Protestant churches, moved them away from heart to head, from an intimate to a ‘commercial’ relationship with the Creator God.


   Yet each wants to fall in love with God all over again for a second season of intimacy, rather than to languish in the dry and parched land of left-brain theological and biblical knowing and its related, ‘transactional’ involvement with God in prayer. They want to love God with both halves of their brains, having both sides informing the other. For these three, the ‘falling in love with God’ consequence of experiencing prayer might be the metaphor to describe their longing. For them and maybe for you, too, I’m offering a six-week study with CCU’s Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI, a 55+ educational community in the Greater Grand Strand area) for learners to explore their interest informs of  prayer.  You can contact OLLI at https://www.coastal.edu/olli/or 843-349-4016 for information.  ‘Journey with Jesus,’ a six-week class begins early next month, but I wanted to give you time to find out more information.