A place to pray

The Bible tells us to “pray without ceasing”, which would necessitate the ability to pray anywhere and everywhere. That, in turn, would seem to imply that we don’t need a special place set aside just to pray.

So why do I have this in my living room?


To be honest, I don’t have a theological reason, or a particularly profound one. There is nothing particularly holy or sacred about anything in this picture. But I have discovered that I am the sort of person who benefits from having a place set aside for prayer. It is a constant reminder that I have committed myself to a life of prayer. It is both an encouragement and a gentle rebuke when I fall short. It is a place where I can shut out all (well, as many as possible) distractions and focus on God.

I need physical, visual reminders. I’m just that sort of person. And I am growing increasing aware of my need for places and spaces that are set aside…consecrated even…for prayer.


It’s a rather puzzling realization for a house church person to be making.

Under the shooting stars


Jensen Chapel at Thousand Pines was filled to capacity that late summer evening during the college-career camp I attended at age 19. There had been a few songs, an inspiring sermon by a preacher whose name I can’t remember, and then Bob Shepherd got up to lead more singing.

This was in the days before “worship music”. Yes, we had music from people like Keith Green, Randy Stonehill, Love Song, 2nd Chapter of Acts, and more — but Contemporary Christian Music was just beginning to be a thing, and it was not yet any way near as wide-spread as today, or as welcome in church settings.

Besides, Bob Shepherd was from a different era. He was a familiar and beloved figure from my childhood, from the unforgettable “song services” that he had led over the years. He was in fine form that night, and we sang hymn after hymn after hymn, exuberantly and whole-heartedly, with a number of favorite old choruses thrown in for good measure, until he was drenched in sweat, lost his voice, and left most of us exhausted.

I didn’t want to stop. That song, “I could sing of His love forever” was years off in the future, but on that wonderful night I really did feel as if I wanted to sing of God’s love forever…and ever…and ever…

Luckily my wonderful friend Diane felt the same way, and so did four of our new friends. We found ourselves in the outdoor amphitheater, under the stars, praying together, and singing until we finally ran out of voices and songs. There was an incredible meteor shower that night, the best I’ve ever seen. None of us wanted to stop praying, but we didn’t want anyone to miss out on particularly spectacular shooting stars, so we found ourselves pointing them out in our prayers — Praise You, God, for that huge falling star right over the mountain in front of us! — and then laughing at ourselves.

It was one of the most joyous, most deeply meaningful, most profoundly beautiful and precious times of worship and prayer that I’ve ever experienced. It was so sweet, so real, so intimate — and that last part seems all the more remarkable since Diane and I barely knew our new friends at the beginning of the evening.

There are a few things I think of as pinnacle life experiences, and that night was one of them. For awhile, in my youthful idealism, I thought that I could duplicate it. Given the right setting — out under the stars, perhaps — and the right people, maybe we could have that same sense of hearts knitted and joined together in an incomprehensibly mysterious way, feeling as if we were soaring high into the skies, the earth fading behind us. We could hold hands and hearts while marveling together that Heaven seemed almost within reach, so close that maybe we actually were catching a glimpse, a foretaste of it. Maybe if the right things came together in just the right way…

It was not to be. After a bitterly disappointing time half a dozen years later, when I tried to manufacture a similar experience with someone else, I realized that life’s greatest hours are better left as treasured memories. That doesn’t negate the fact that since then, I have experienced a deep bond of unity during some special prayer and worship times with others, and I value those very much. But that night under the shooting stars in Thousand Pines was one of a kind, a rare and priceless gift — really and truly a foretaste of Heaven itself.

Does God speak to us today?

Plug that question into your web browser, and you will come up with a dizzying array of differing responses. Near the top of the list, I encountered this one: Does God Speak Directly to Man Today? While I might like to think that it’s a bit on the “extreme” end, it is probably far more mainstream an answer than I could care to admit.

Bottom line: the author states, “If one wishes to know the will of God on a subject, he must search the Holy Scriptures. This is the only source of sacred information relative to things spiritual (see 2 Tim. 3:16-17).”

This is a satisfying answer, I suppose, for those who view Christianity as primarily a religion, a theological system, a set of beliefs. Answers like that are safe. They avoid potential problems, such as:

Finally, there is a very obvious flaw in the assertion that the Lord is speaking directly to people today. Such a view allows anyone to fabricate, out of thin air, any claim he or she wishes, with no demonstrative means available of either confirming or exposing the statement.

However, for those who like to think that, as I’ve frequently been told by fellow Believers over the years, “Christianity is not a religion; it’s a relationship”, the concept that God speaks to us only through the Bible is less than satisfying.

Imagine the following relationship. You never actually see the other person in the relationship. You speak to him on the phone, but he remains completely silent. The good thing is that you have a book he wrote that describes, among other things, how to have a relationship with him. However, even this marvelous book is not exhaustive and there are things it doesn’t cover. You ask him questions. Dead silence. There are parts of the book you don’t understand. You ask more questions. Dead silence. Finally you join a book club with other people, for the sole purpose of studying this person’s book. You form relationships with other book club members, but the person you really want a relationship with remains an enigma outside of the pages of his book, always silent, always distant, never speaking.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t think Jesus is that…well, that bizarre. In fact, call me a raving lunatic or extremely misguided or someone who fabricates stuff out of thin air, but the relationship I have with Jesus Christ is far more immediate, intimate, and real than the non-relationship I described — and I hope it will grow even closer and more real in the days and years to come.

I believe God “speaks” to us today, in a variety of different ways, some very subtle (“the still small voice”) and some more bold. I believe He speaks to different ones of us differently. I believe He “speaks”, perhaps most often, in ways that have nothing to do with actual words. At the same time, I believe that if someone is so fully convinced that God only speaks through the pages of the Bible, he or she will not recognize His voice, even if He were to shout loudly…which, in my limited experience, He tends not to do.

In fact, I’ve never heard an audible voice. Sometimes words and sentences have come to mind in a way that I knew was not my own thinking. Sometimes I’ve just known things. Sometimes God has spoken through other people, through circumstances, through memories, through music, etc. Sometimes I was sure it was Him; other times not.

Jesus told us, “My sheep recognize my voice.” I don’t think He merely meant that His followers in our current age would acknowledge that the red letter parts of the Bible were things He said while on earth, or that we would hold to the doctrine of the inspiration of Scripture. I tend to be somewhat concrete in my thinking (much to my far more symbolically-minded husband’s frustration) and I cling to the fact that Jesus spoke highly of the faith of children, rather than pointing out that they were not yet capable of higher-level, abstract reasoning.

Besides, I like to think that this particular sheep, prone to wander though I may be, has been doing a somewhat better job of following the Shepherd lately, and is becoming far more familiar with His voice.

Praying outside of the prayer closet

“She wants you to pray for her.”

And so I did, right then and there, in the restaurant. What she wanted and needed was not just that I would bow my head in silence, during which I could have been thinking of anything as far as she could tell. No, she needed to hear and see that I was praying, even if she couldn’t understand the language I was speaking.

That’s why I stood by her chair, rested my hand on her shoulder, and prayed aloud.

Recently I have come across some articles and blog posts taking issue with public prayer, claiming that Jesus’ words about praying in one’s closet meant that we should pray only in secret isolation and never where anyone might see or hear us. I’m not here to offer a theological rebuttal to that impractical and — I fully believe — unbiblical assertion. All I know is that it seems ridiculous to me that Jesus would have wanted me to respond to this woman, “I will pray for you just as soon as I find a secret hiding place.”

Other people in the restaurant might have found my behavior odd, wacky, or even offensive — especially when I raised my other hand towards heaven. I wasn’t putting on a show. I wasn’t trying to impress anyone with my piety. I wasn’t shouting out flowery prayers. I wasn’t “preach-praying”. Frankly, I didn’t give anyone else in the restaurant a thought.

It was all about her. 

She needed prayer. Her head had been resting on another woman’s shoulder as she wept and wept, a torrent of tears that had been held inside of her for a very long time. Her story was grim and painful, her situation tragic and desperate. I wanted to scoop her up in my arms and take her and her children — including the baby she had not been able to see for two months — back home to America with me.

She was a bar girl, a prostitute we had “bought” for the evening. The bar owner had lured her into coming to Pattaya and working there, with promises of better wages to support her children back in her home village. She had only been in town, working at the bar, for three weeks. She looked deeply sad…and shell-shocked.

I prayed for her. I knelt down by her chair, fighting back my own tears, looked her in the eyes, and said, “I came all the way from America to tell you that Jesus loves you.” Over the course of the evening, I told her more than that, and I spent even more time listening to her. (We had interpreters to help us overcome the language barrier.) But I meant my words. My trip would have been entirely worth it to me if all I had accomplished the entire time we were there was telling her about the love of Jesus — because she was worth it. She was that lost lamb Jesus told about, the one that it is worth leaving the 99 sheep in order to search for.

We did more than pray. She now knows about the Tamar Center and about the hope it offers her. My new friends there will follow up with her and stay in contact.

Now I’m back in the States. I want to be the type of person here who is willing to pray in restaurants — not to be obnoxious or to make a show, but to be there for those in need. I want to feel as free and open here as I did there in Thailand. I want to be brave enough to take prayer out of the closet and into wherever it’s most needed.

Reading on the plane

I grew up hearing stories about a German pastor in the 1800’s named Johann Christoph Blumhardt. My aunt recently discovered that a book about him had been translated into English, and kindly sent me a copy.

Wow. I’m being blown away. Talk about spiritual battles, victories, and learning to pray! It’s a mind-boggling account and — while parts of it resonate deeply with me — I’m finding some of my theological beliefs being shaken up or, at the very least, coming up for questioning and re-examination.

I devoured it on the plane, marked it up extensively, and would love to get other people to read it so we can discuss it together. Ever read anything like that?

Prayer in action

This evening I’m embarking on the first leg of a trip that will no doubt prove to be an adventure in prayer unlike anything I’ve experienced before.

It is also the culmination of prayers…mine and others.

In the morning, I will board a plane for Tokyo, where we will change planes for our final destination: Thailand. I will be part of a team ministering in Pattaya, partnering with local workers reaching out to those caught up in the sex trade. We will be doing a number of outreach efforts, and my prayer is that I might be Jesus’ hands and feet, His mouthpiece, to all those I meet.

I expect my heart to be broken. Irrevocably broken. In fact, that has been my dangerous, reckless plea: that my heart would be broken by the very things that break the heart of God.

It’s a dangerous, painful prayer that Bob Pierce prayed, and that I have made my own. There was a time when I greatly feared heartbreak, fully believing that I had already suffered enough of it, and that I could not bear any more. But now I no longer want a small, protected, stingy, hard heart. I want mine to be as much as possible like my Father’s.

I fully expect to see Him move on this trip. Even if it’s just to continue His work of turning my heart of stone into a heart of flesh, and of further liberating my heart from lovelessness and selfishness. But my prayer is that my being there will make a difference…a very small drop in a painfully enormous and overwhelming bucket.

Please pray with me…and for me.

Prayer is a mystery…part 2

Over the years, I have prayed with a lot of different people, from different cultures and different expressions of Christianity. I’ve prayed with older people whose prayers were spoken in quiet, somber, reverent King James English. I’ve prayed with Asian believers when everyone in the room was taking very seriously, all at the same time, the verses about “crying out to the Lord”. I’ve prayed, years ago, with newly-saved hippies in the Jesus Movement. I’ve prayed with people who spoke in tongues. I’ve prayed with people who were very staid and formal…very casual…very intimate…very exuberant…very passionate…very weepy…very joyous…I’ve prayed with people who knelt, people who stood, people who raised their hands, people who shouted and ran around, people who sang more than they prayed, people who wept, people who prostrated themselves face down on the floor…I’ve prayed with Catholics and Baptists and Jews and people from pretty much every Christian denomination…and even a cult or two…

All that various and sundry prayer experience is mainly because I’m not exactly a new kid on the block — and I used to get around a lot. Maybe I still do, come to think of it.

There are some seemingly extreme differences in how people pray, and even in how the same person will pray in different settings and circumstances. Certainly my “God, You are amazing and I want to worship You!” prayers are quite different from my “This situation is desperate!!” prayers. Not every conversation with my husband follows the same format and style either.

Sometimes I will use the term “prayer-compatible”. There are people you can pray with…and then there are people you can pray with. It’s not just that you can be real and uninhibited (in prayer, anyway) in front of that person, but that there is this mysterious sense of unity. You don’t have to pray exactly the same way or have the same “style” — it’s deeper than that. When you are prayer-compatible, it’s not just polite praying back and forth, or even all crying out at the same time — at that time of prayer, you are on the same page, in agreement over what you are praying, hearing some of the same things from the same God, and responding in similar ways. The prayers get real. Sometimes that other person will start praying for something that you were about to pray for…or you discover that something extremely important to you is also important to them…and you are not just praying together, you are experiencing that awesome mystery of gathering in Jesus’ name and knowing He is there with you, guiding those prayers. Your agreement with each other turns out to be agreement with Him….and you know that. Their prayers become your prayers, and yours become theirs, and they all become His.

When you find a group of people like that…or just one person…don’t let go of them. Pray your hearts out with each other. Enjoy the beautiful, powerful mystery.

It will change you.

It may even change your world.