Beve and I had dinner tonight down at the marina, at one of our favorite restaurants with two of our favorite couples. Beve and I didn't get the message that the time had been changed for our meal together, so we were a half an hour early, and wondered if we'd gotten the day wrong. Then just as we ordered, intent on enjoying the view, the food and each other, we were rescued from our own company by our friends.
One couple is about to embark on a new phase of their lives in a town a few hours away from here. We sat there tonight as the sun went down out over the water, and laughed together, reminisced a bit, and generally enjoyed the fellowship as well as the great food. Our lives have been pretty connected over the years, one way or another. Our kids were in the same youth group, the husbands were in a men's group together, and in some form or another, we've been praying with these people for the last decade. Praying for our children, for our spouses, for our church, and very often for our own lives. Prayingfor people is the life-blood of the Body of Christ. I've learned this a time or two along this pilgrimage of faith.
Almost half my life ago, I visited a country halfway around the world where an old friend was teaching English and coaching basketball. Because of one thing and another, I was in that cold, north country for a month just when sunlight began to disappear, not to return until spring. It was a rather gloomy place, though my friend and his older brother were gracious hosts, and as warm as the missing sun. During that month, as I watched my old buddy navigate a culture he hardly understood in a language he couldn't begin to speak, I felt the press of the Holy Spirit to pray daily for him. A simple thing, I thought, and it certainly was to begin with. But as I left that country, traveled south on the trains of Europe, then flew home to Eastern Washington, the impulse weakened. So I asked God to keep me faithful to those prayers, to wake me from a dead sleep if I hadn't remembered to pray for him during the day. And God did awaken me some nights. And as I prayed for my friend, an unexpected thing happened. I began to love him. At first, it was merely the love of a friend for a friend, but God used those prayers to create a profound agape inside that I'd never felt for anyone before. My friend was a treasure, I felt. A man after God's heart for whom I was simply grateful to know. That he was actually in the world--this was a gift to me.
You have guessed the punchline, I'm thinking. This old friend, this boy I'd known since I was 9, somehow morphed into a man I loved. Really loved. Those daily prayers became the vehicle for my falling in love with the man God intended for me, the one who's sitting right beside me petting our Springer Spaniel. It was prayer--not that he love me, but simply that he continue to walk in a manner worthy of the gospel--that was the foundation of our relationship.
And I've been called to pray for others in that same kind of disciplined way. The daughter and son-in-law of one of these two couples we broke bread with tonight (and it was mighty fine bread!), I committed to praying for for the first two years of their marriage. Now I didn't fall in love with that young couple as I had Beve, but I certainly love them, certainly feel a connection to them that I don't usually feel to kids of my friends, or friends or my kids (both of which describes this young couple). It's an investment that reaps benefits not merely for them but for the one who prays--that's what I've learned in the prayer closet. I've been privileged to be the support for folks, even when they didn't know it. And that's no small thing.
The other couple, the one that is packing up their beautiful home in the next week or so, I also had a season of praying for. Unexpectedly, one day as I stood in the shower (isn't it interesting how God speaks to us in the shower? When we're naked before Him, intent on cleaning off the grime of life? This is no accident!), I had the strongest impulse to pray for this couple. The strange thing is that what I really wanted to do that morning was pray for Beve and J. They were flying across the country that day, one day after Beve had spent ten straight hours in J's dorm room, spinning with a Meniere's dizzy spell. I was more than a little worried about the men in my life that morning. But as clearly as I've ever heard God's voice, I heard Him say, "Lift your hands from your family. Trust me with them. You pray for this couple." I physically lifted my hands off the shower wall, unclenched my fingers from the worry beads I'd been figuratively stroking, and told God yes to praying for this couple, these friends who were in the center of ministry, in the center of what would sometimes seem like a firestorm of ministry.
The daily praying for this couple (and for their kids, their areas of influence, etc) knit them into my heart. There were times when, feeling slightly foolish, I called one or the other of them to say, "I think maybe God has given me this scripture for you..." To their credit, they didn't laugh at me, listened, pondered, and God did what He did. I don't remember those scriptures, or the words He spoke through my voice. I don't know why I should expect to, He wasn't talking to me. I just had the privilege of listening in as He spoke to them. Well, I actually do remember one. I called my friend one day--probably over two years ago now--and said, "This may seem strange, but I think you're moving to T-town." Both my friend and I tried to figure out how that could be--maybe it was just a visit, just a quite trip to a conference or something. But here they are, and there they go. And though I will miss them, I'm here to witness that God has continually moved on their behalf, even when they didn't feel it. He used them in my life--through the amazing gift of JT's transparent, Holy-Spirit-filled teaching, and through M's inspiring, constant hunger to be more like the Lord, to be faithful in all her ways. And, maybe He used my little, foolish words in theirs. Knit hearts, indeed.
I know that for some people, such 'words' seem a little 'out-there.' Ok. But I'm here to say that I've stopped trying to limit what/how God will speak or work or move. He is God. I am willing to be foolish, if He asks, because the alternative is downright crazy. And the truth is, I'm grateful that He's called me to pray, full of joy at the love He's given me for those I've prayed for. The best things happen in a prayer closet!