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.

Prayer is a mystery…part 1

When I was very little, I learned that prayer was “talking to God”. I think it was a Sunday School teacher who encouraged us to “talk to God as if He was your friend”, but I’d already learned from my parents that “Hey, what’s going on? I heard a funny joke today” wasn’t considered an actual prayer. We were expected to be reverent, serious, with eyes closed and hands folded, and any silliness would have been unthinkable. After all, we were talking to God.

It was wrong to give Him a laundry list of requests, especially if they were for ourselves. My mother would remind us, in her humorous way, not to pray like the boy no one really knew who supposedly prayed, “My name is Jimmy; gimme, gimme, gimme.”

We were supposed to avoid praying by rote, but we did have a few formula prayers, mainly grace before meals. (Why is that prayer called “grace” anyway?) My bedtime prayers, for years, ended with me asking God to protect me from fire and flood — because fire terrified me, and I couldn’t swim. After my first earthquake, I added that.

Since my mother listened to those bedtime prayers, I felt somewhat inhibited about praying for some of the other things that scared or troubled me. How could I complain that I thought my parents had been unfair about something, or ask God to change their minds about something they had forbidden me to do? How could I confess something I didn’t want to get in trouble for? How could I ask God what to do about the weird, stinky boy who shared a desk with me at school? How could I admit my childish doubts? Somehow I got the idea that prayer had to be sanitized and proper, and meet with my parents’ approval.

Then, at age 10, I read the Psalms.

I was shocked some of them were in the Bible. All that lamenting and questioning and complaining! Why hadn’t God struck David dead for talking to Him like that?

That was the summer that I read straight through the Bible for the very first time. I was constantly bombarding my father with questions — and suggestions for how the Bible should have been written, to make it more understandable to kids. (For example, I wanted more editorial comments in the Old Testament, along the lines of, “Children, this was very wicked and evil, so don’t even think about ever doing anything remotely like it.”) Luckily, my father just so happened to be a pastor, with a scholarly bent — along with a great deal of patience with me — and he seemed to delight in answering my questions.

I still remember the twinkle in my father’s eyes when I expressed my outrage over the Psalms. “Oh, baby girl,” he said affectionately and with almost a chuckle, “you’ll understand when you get older.” Knowing that answer would not satisfy, he went on more seriously, “What you need to know is that you can come to God with anything. He can handle our toughest questions, and whatever we throw at Him.”

It took me years to learn that…really learn it.

In the meantime, I grew up with two praying parents, and heard about — and experienced — many answers to prayer. But I would often wonder how prayer worked. Why were some prayers answered and not others? What role did faith play? Could we actually get God to change His mind? If not, why pray at all?

I grew to appreciate this quote from C.S. Lewis:

”I pray because I can’t help myself. I pray because I’m helpless. I pray because the need flows out of me all the time — waking and sleeping. It doesn’t change God — it changes me.”

However, it didn’t — and still doesn’t — answer all my questions of why…and how…

Prayers without words

IMG_1176 Ah, but Gandhi was hardly a Christian, some might point out. His ideas of prayer and our ideas should be fundamentally very different. Aren’t we praying to entirely different Beings? I’m reminded of another Gandhi quote:

IMG_1175 And then there is a Bible quote:

In the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words; (‭Romans‬ ‭8‬:‭26‬ NASB)

Learn by doing

Every once in awhile, a new karate student will ask me excitedly about book recommendations. They will notice my bookshelf in the dojo and expect me to match their enthusiasm with a reading list or, at the very least, a book title to start.

Inevitably they are disappointed at my answer.

Karate is best learned by doing. I urge my students to get their feet out on the floor and train, to get the basics down before worrying about anything else. I tell my beginners that the book recommendations will come later, much later. First they need to do karate — practice, practice, practice. After they have matured in their training, the books will be helpful rather than a confusing hindrance.

I feel slightly hypocritical when I say that. My standard m.o., when embarking on a new endeavor, is to gather a bunch of books and resources on the topic. Karate was a rare exception for me, and I’m thankful for it.

It’s important, with some disciplines, to spend more time doing than studying. Sometimes it’s best to do first, read later. Sometimes a foundation of training and experience is needed in order to glean things of real value from reading.

I think prayer is like that.

When the disciples asked Jesus, “Teach us to pray,” he didn’t give them a lecture in different types of prayer, or why one should pray, or any of the other topics typically covered when prayer is taught. He gave them a model for prayer, and told them to do it.

I chose the title of this blog carefully. I want my “adventures” to be in prayer, not about prayer. This won’t be an academic discourse, or a bunch of theories. It will be mostly my story, my experience, my journey.

My parents made sure, when I was a little kid, that I prayed daily. Unfortunately, it did not become a lifelong habit — there were times when I was, sad to say, not on very good speaking terms with God. But now I am seeking more than just a daily habit or discipline. I’m not content with prayers that don’t make a difference, in me and in my world.

I’ve done quite a bit of training in basics. I’ve been breaking open a few books lately to supplement my own experiences. But, most of all, I need to remember to pray.

Just pray.

That’s the most important thing. Learn by doing.

Prayer can be difficult


Some people seem more naturally suited to a life of prayer. I think of monks or nuns, dedicating themselves to prayer numerous times throughout the day. I imagine them to be serene of temperament, easily given to peaceful contemplation. There are the elderly women in churches, the “prayer warriors” who quietly organize prayer vigils, meetings, and events — and who arrive early at every church service to pray. Then there are the fiery intercessors, who seem to have some unique “in” with God, with prayer lives that puzzle us lesser mortals. Of course, I also think of my parents, the go-to people for prayer in our extended family and circle of friends. My older brother and I dubbed them “the big guns”, as in, “This situation is desperate. We better call in the big guns to pray for us.”

I am not one of those for whom prayer comes easy.

So that’s what any potential readers of my blog need to know straight off. If you are looking for great wisdom borne out of decades of a wonderful prayer life, there are lots of wonderful books you should read instead. But if you are interested in my journey from someone who struggles with prayer to someone who…well, who does whatever it is that God has planned for me…then keep on reading.

I chose one word for 2015, as the thing I would focus my entire year around, and that word was prayer. My goal is to become the sort of “prayer warrior” God wants me to be. I know that will take much longer than a year. But here I am, determined and excited to see how far this year will take me.

Why a new blog?

Adventures in prayer? What kind of wackadoodle name is that for a blog? And why start a new blog when my other one (“Prone to wander”) is so sporadic?

The idea has been percolating for perhaps a week now, and today I finally decided to implement it. Two different blogs make sense, even though there may be some overlap in readership…assuming I get some readers! The content will be different; the focus different; and the types of people drawn to either blog may eventually end up being fairly different as well. We’ll see.

As for the title…I’m reminded of, as a small child, sitting through prayer meeting after prayer meeting in our tiny church, my older brother and I the only children forced to attend. The prayers droned on seemingly forever as we sat around the table in a Sunday School room. My head was bowed with the hopes that no one would notice the scandalous truth — I didn’t keep my eyes shut the entire time. In fact, I would scrutinize the table top, memorizing every blemish, every scratch, every pencil mark, every gouge, every name or set of initials carved in with ballpoint pen. We complained about this torment once. At least, I recall only the one complaint.

“It’s so boring! No other children have to attend!” we protested.

My mother was quick to reply, “Prayer is not boring! That’s because God is not boring. People might be boring, but God is never boring.” This was followed by a speech, actually more of a sermonette, designed to inspire us to repent over our prayerlessness and have more of a love and zeal for God.

I wish I could say that I took this speech of my mother’s to heart and that, as a small child in early elementary school, I embarked on a lifelong prayer adventure. Such did not happen.

Certainly, since that day, my attitude about prayer meetings has changed. I’ve learned the truth of my mother’s words. I’ve experienced some truly non-boring — even exciting! — times of prayer with others. But I’ve always been somewhat of a late bloomer, so it’s now, almost half a century later, that I am finally truly beginning to experience what a real adventure prayer can be.

That’s what this blog is about. It’s about one woman learning how to pray…how to really pray — the sorts of prayers that change me, and change others, and hopefully change my world.