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We Need to Quit Blaming the Media, Politicians, or the Infernal Them

We Need to Quit Blaming the Media, Politicians, or the Infernal Them

I call this group of (people | entities | circumstances) the infernal “they” or “them.” They are the people who cause all the problems. They have no moral compass. They are disruptive. They lie. They are apostates, perverts, stupid, deplorable, weak, losers, socialists, libertines (sometimes intended to include libertarians!). Disgusting, all of them. They are doing it to us.

This is one of the unfortunate results of individualism. There are many fortunate results as well. I am not one who wishes we’d get back to some sort of day when the individual didn’t really matter, and everything was about the collective. Like most “old days,” the reality of the old days is somewhat less [whatever we wanted it to be] than our imagination makes it. There has always been a balance between a view that values the society above all and one that values the individual. The emphasis varies; the elements are still there.

One problem with western individualism, however, is that we can so easily use it to find ways to blame someone else while separating ourselves. I am not responsible for anything but the things that I, personally, have done. I take no responsibility for what my ancestors did (though I’ll cheerfully benefit from their actions). I take no responsibility for the wrong actions of my church, my party, my social club, or my industry. I, personally, am blameless. In this, I am wrong.

In politics right now it’s popular to blame the media. Despite the fact that media outlets come from many perspectives, and you can find one as liberal or conservative, libertarian or authoritarian as you might desire (ain’t the internet wonderful), somehow, the collective media is responsible for whatever it is that I think is bad. They have lied and propped up one candidate, they have lied and trashed another. Within the same day I can read about how they have both completely destroyed and totally built up the same candidate.

This they, a “they” of which the speaker is not a part and does not carefully define, is the infernal they. It is the “they” that commits all evil acts. Besides being infernal it is also highly mobile. It is very hard to find this “they” and cause them to change or take responsibility for “their” actions.

I’m aware that neither you nor I are responsible for everything. But here’s a suggestion: Drop out of the game of assigning blame for the stuff you didn’t do and take responsibility for what you have done and can do something about. In addition, if you are—and remain—a member of a group, take responsibility for that group. Yes, you can distinguish what you support and don’t, but you are a part of what the group does. This means Republicans, Democrats, Libertarians, United Methodists, Baptists (of whatever variety), and so forth.

I would like to demote the word “they” in my vocabulary and promote the word “we.” The media is producing material that people watch and that produces sales for their sponsors. Yes, there are some things that the people in media want themselves. But there is little that motivates so effectively in our culture as money. For the media, readers, viewers, and listeners mean money. That’s the “we” I’m talking about.

We need to be more discerning in our viewing and listening. We need to be active in letting the media know what we do and do not want to see and hear.  But, you say, you can’t really change that whole mass of “them” out there. Don’t worry about it. Change you. Turn your TV off. Visit a different site. Read a good book instead (says the publisher!)

Try to find the “we” before you utter that critical word. What I can say for myself is that I am often much too fascinated by the seamier side of the world. It is too easy to persuade me to give views to a web site that is saying things that I really shouldn’t support. I can make the excuse that I am “checking out the other side” or “keeping informed,” but it really is just the receiving side of gossip, and the one who listens to gossip is just as responsible, I believe, as the one who speaks it. After all, if every time the gossiper said, “Do you know what widow Jones did?” the response was “No, and I don’t want to know,” gossip would die.

Wrong needs to be challenged, but let’s start with the wrongs we can challenge using the word “we.” Let’s take our example from the biblical Daniel. I’m reminded of his prayer in chapter 9. By all biblical accounts Daniel was a righteous man. No act worthy of blame is recorded of him. Yet as he begins praying (Daniel 9:5-6a), there is a powerful litany:

We have sinned, we have done wrong, we have acted wickedly, and we have rebelled, turning aside from your commands and your judgments. We have not obeyed your servants the prophets …

Yet Daniel had done none of those things. It was not a matter of feeling or being guilty; you can drown in the guilt of others. What he did was he spoke for his people as one of them.

I think our prayers would be more powerful and our actions more effective if we learned his approach.

Thinking, Praying, and/or Acting

Thinking, Praying, and/or Acting


Frequently when there is a crisis or any form of trouble, Christians call for prayer. These calls can take many forms. In addition, a common comment from Christians is that we will pray about a situation.

Now it’s quite possible that someone who says they will pray will limit their activities to just praying. It’s even possible that they won’t even bother with that. We are all human, and we often make insincere statements.

I think, however, that the majority both pray and also do other, concrete things. For those who have prayer as an important part of their spiritual life, it can be a critical part of action.

I discussed this with Dr. David Moffett-Moore, author of Pathways to Prayer, Life as Pilgrimage, and some other books, and I think he made these points extremely well.

It’s unfortunate that the common perception of prayer, a perception that is far too common in the church, is that prayer is primarily about getting God to do things our way, so that the test of the success of prayer is whether we get something or whether God’s (perceived) action changes. One of the primary ways in which prayer “functions” (a questionable word, but one that will have to do), is by changing us and driving our decisions and actions.

Here’s the video:


Seven Marks: Fervent Prayer

Seven Marks: Fervent Prayer

nt church booksThe sixth mark Dave discusses in Seven Marks of a New Testament Church is fervent prayer (pp. 39-42).

There are a variety of views of what it means to be “the church” or what it means to be Christian. For some, it’s a matter of holding the correct set of beliefs. One knows that certain things are true and one gathers with other people who know the same things are true, and this is church. Evangelism, in that case, is convincing other people that the things one believes are true and thus they should join this group.

I exaggerate a little bit here to make a point. I think prayer brings out a problem with this view, and it’s one that has been building through Dave’s book. Notice that all these marks of the church are activities. Dave quotes Acts 2:37-47 on pp. v-vi of his introduction. You might want to read that now. Notice that the description of the church is active. God is acting in the church and so are the people.

Now I don’t want to suggest replacing believing or knowing with doing. Doing must result from knowing in some sense or from instinct and habit. Even the idea that doing is important involves thought and belief. Often, however, we can tell more about what we actually believe by what we do than by what we claim.

I recall going to teach about prayer at one church. The prayer coordinator was dismayed at the low attendance of the conference. She told us that the church had determined that prayer was their second priority. In that case how could so few people attend a conference on prayer scheduled by their prayer ministry?

The answer, I suggested, was to observe what people did, and particularly how money was spent. In particular, look at your property. How is it arranged? What have you spent money on? How much of your money has gone to sports facilities? How much to education? How much to outreach?

Now I absolutely don’t want you to read that as a negative view of sports facilities. Used well, sports facilities can be a critical element of outreach, and in turn a focus of prayer. The question is what you are actually doing.

In fact, the measurement of the commitment to prayer should not have been attendance at a prayer conference, but rather time spent in prayer, a prayerful attitude, and ultimately establishing lives of prayer. A conference might help that. Since I have offered a few, I’d like to think so! But one can spend amazing amounts of time in a conference on prayer without actually praying. One can have a nice looking prayer ministry, while neglecting prayer.

Do we really believe in prayer? I’m not asking what miraculous things prayer can bring, but rather whether we believe prayer can provide communion with God. That, in turn, leads to asking whether we believe God is active in our lives, our churches, and our communities.

The evidence of prayer in the American church suggests that we don’t. We may believe in prayer as an occasional spiritual discipline on the one hand, or as a means of pushing God into doing things that we want on the other, but as a means of communing with God, either we’re not sure it will work, or not sure we want it.

Dave talks about an “attitude of prayerfulness” (p. 40). Such attitude is a reflection of belief and practice.

I want to illustrate this by quoting from one of the other books I’m following through this series:

Some congregations make a decision by voting; but many churches learn to choose through the process of discernment. Discernment, as it is used in everyday language, has to do with sifting through the information we’ve been given in order to decide a course of action. In the church, discernment describes the prayerful process of making a choice in light of the inspiration, leading, and guidance of the Spirit.

Discernment can be practiced by individuals or by groups. When transforming congregations make use of discernment as a decision-making tool, they place their choices in the context of God’s transforming activity, assuming that they are called to something larger than self-interest and partisanship. Through discernment, they imagine not just what they want to do, but how they might share in God’s New Creation through the choices they make. (Thrive, pp. 126-127)

This is a test for belief and practice. Can and will the Spirit guide our discernment? Will prayer help us in discerning what the Spirit is doing and where we can become part of that activity?

There is a huge difference between having a short prayer at the beginning of a meeting in which you then carry out the normal business of debating (or arguing) and then voting and one in which one seeks to hear the Spirit and come to a consensus. The latter requires a certain amount of trust!

In discussing the early church’s beginnings and prayer, Bruce Epperly (Transforming Acts, p. 26), under the heading “Don’t Do Something, Wait Prayerfully” says,

In the wake of the ascension, the apostles return to their meeting place and, for the next several days, constantly devote themselves to prayer. We don’t know the nature of their individual prayer practices. They may have been a blend of quiet contemplation, praise, intercession, celebration of Jesus’ last supper, and thanksgiving. But prayer was their priority as  a community before they undertook any action. They knew that God’s power was coming, and also knew that power without prayer is destructive to us and others.

“Power without prayer is destructive.” I fervently agree. Fervent prayer is a critical mark because it sets us up for everything else, just as it did the early church.

When My Father Was Healed

When My Father Was Healed

1893729222_adI was talking recently with a friend who commented that there are certain events that serve as anchor points for our faith. For me, despite all the drifting I’ve done since it happened, one of those points was the time when my father was healed. I alluded to this briefly in a comment on the Energion Discussion Network, and was challenged (or so it felt) to retell the story more often. You can get another perspective on this story from my mother’s book Directed Paths, which includes many other stories of God in action. I was 14 years old at the time and will tell this as I remember it.

It was 1971 and my parents were called as missionaries to Guyana, South America, where my father was to become medical director of the 54 bed Davis Memorial Hospital in Georgetown. Shortly after we arrived my father required emergency surgery. This took place during the night. The surgeon persuaded my mother not to wake me up, so anything about the surgery is not from my memory, but rather from what I was told. The surgery was on the large intestine and during the surgery there was considerable contamination. In addition, at one point my mother, who is an RN, was left alone as the entire team had to go to an emergency with a delivery in another room. Overall the surgery lasted for four hours, if I recall correctly.

Nobody wanted to tell me in the morning, so I was successively directed from room to room until I arrived in my father’s room in the hospital where he was connected to various tubes and devices. It was quite a shock.

He continued to be weak for some time, and his digestive processes and intestines would not restart their function. The surgeon said that he would never work again and would not live more than another 10 years. The mission board began to plan to bring my parents back to the states.

My parents, on the other hand, did not agree. They said that they had gone to Guyana to perform a mission and that they had not yet performed one. Their choice was to follow James 5, and call for the elders of the church. The elders anointed my father with oil and prayed for his healing and that he would be able to carry out his mission. I was actually quite disappointed with the results that day. It seemed that nothing happened.

But from that moment, my father’s recovery began. Within two weeks he took over as sole physician for that 54 bed hospital and was on call 24 hours/7 days per week for the next year before any relief came. He served there for seven years and still worked after he returned to the states. He has now gone on to be with the Lord, though since he was a Seventh-day Adventist he would say “to sleep in Jesus.” I have come to not see a lot of difference there. One breath here—the next breath there. Time won’t matter! But he lived into his late 80s, much more than 10 years and he continued to work through to a normal retirement. He was active as a Christian witness up to the time of his death.

I find that story challenging and encouraging. It’s challenging because my parents refused to leave and give up when everyone else was saying the situation was hopeless. It’s encouraging because when they stepped out in faith on their mission, God was there with them.

Thoughts from the Energion Tuesday Night Hangout: Stewardship and Worship

Thoughts from the Energion Tuesday Night Hangout: Stewardship and Worship

books tuesday 020216I enjoyed interviewing three different Energion authors last night. The first was Rev. Steve Kindle who talked about stewardship and the importance of starting from an understanding that everything belongs to God. Steve provided some practical steps that a church can use in caring for all of God’s creation. Steve’s book goes into this somewhat more: Stewardship: God’s Way of Recreating the World.

At about 7:30 pm, a half hour into the program, Dr. Jon Dybdahl joined us. Jon is the author of a newly released book Hunger: Satisfying the Longing of Your Soul. When he experienced this longing as a young missionary he started to pursue the presence of God and co-taught a class in college in spirituality. Jon’s PhD is in Old Testament, but he has a passion for serious worship.

For the last 15 minutes, he was joined by Dr. David Moffett-Moore. Dave is author of Pathways to Prayer, and has two doctorates, both a PhD and a DMin. It was interesting and challenging to hear two men with so much education of the mind nonetheless tell us that the intellectual paradigm of religion was not enough. Prayer is an essentially. Coming to know the reality of God’s presence and power is essential.

When I asked Dr. Jon Dybdahl how one would start this in a church as a pastor or other church leader he said the best way was to see your own need and start practicing it yourself. People will sense when your activities in leadership are powered by prayer and time with God whether you’re telling them all about what you’re doing or not. He also suggested a change in terminology that struck me, suggesting we might use “lead worshipper” rather than “worship leader” to take away the separation of the one on the platform from the ones in the pew.

The video is embedded below:

Pathways to Prayer Interview

Pathways to Prayer Interview

The Spirits FruitConsidering my recent posts, I wanted to call attention to my interview last night with Dr. David Moffett-Moore, pastor and author of five Energion titles: Life as Pilgrimage, The Spirit’s Fruit: A Participatory Study Guide, Creation in Contemporary Experience, Wind and Whirlwind, and of course Pathways to Prayer (in the Topical Line Drives series).

I asked Dave about going into prayer in such a way as to simply reinforce what I already think and want. He talks about how important listening is as part of prayer. It’s not a catalog of our desires sent to God. It’s a time of listening and learning.

I also asked him what to do if one wanted to improve the prayer life of a church congregation or community, and how one proceeds when someone asks for prayer for a specific purpose.

Dave is practical and down to earth. I really enjoyed the conversation and learned from it.

The interview is embedded below.

Praying and Studying to Change Yourself

Praying and Studying to Change Yourself

Yesterday I wrote a bit about using prayer and Bible study as a starting point for change. The problem is that it’s very easy to pray and study the Bible in such a way that it makes you a worse person.

I’ve found a relatively simple way to determine whether I’m doing this myself:

  1. If I’m studying the Bible to figure out what other people are doing wrong, how other people need to change, I’m making a worse person of myself.
  2. If I’m studying the Bible so that by beholding I can be changed, so that I can find out how to be a better follower of Jesus, I’m allowing God to make a better person of me.

I frequently hear (and have sometimes myself offered) prayers that ask God to fix someone else. If you’re praying for your pastor and asking God to make him or her see things your way, you’re on a dangerous path. Let God make the decisions. It might just turn out that what needs to change in your relationship with your pastor might be you.

In Bible study I’d take another step and say that one’s general approach needs adjustment. When I started studying biblical languages I imagined that I would discover the original text and read it in the original languages, and thus resolve issues, at least to the extent that I would be certain of what was right and what was wrong. Getting that information was my entire intent.

As I studied, I found that every aspect of that approach was problematic. Even the idea of an original text wasn’t easy to define. Was I looking for the text that came from the pen of the writer, however inaccessible that might be? Was it to be found in whatever sources were used by a writer? Perhaps the text actually used in the early church was more important than some earlier text that was beyond my reach. Having discovered (or pretended to discover) whatever text I was after I then had the problem with where and how it applied. The hard and indisputable facts were generally in dispute, no matter how long I studied.

Over time I have come to believe that there is value in studying all levels of the text. Those who prefer canonical criticism look down on form, source, and redaction critics, and claim that the canonical form is the “special” form of the text. Source criticism, just as an example, assumes that one wants to get closer to the roots of the text.

I find both approaches helpful. One is certainly on less solid ground looking at the prehistory of the text. While I may have doubt about the details of the canonical form of the text, I am frequently in serious doubt about the text’s prehistory. Yet when I’m studying the text to see God in action, I am always able to listen for the voice of God. Sometimes that voice will even get through the static of my own thoughts.

Talking to God and listening to God are about changing me. Only when I first focus this on me will I be in a position to help someone else. If I respect them and love them as I believe God loves me and calls me to behave, I have to allow them to behold and become changed (2 Cor. 3:18) as well.

Serious about Whose Faith

Serious about Whose Faith

I was mentioned by Ed Brayton (blogs at Dispatches from the Culture Wars) in a comment to a post on Facebook, and made a couple of comments myself. Here’s the Facebook post:

There are two things here that interest me. First is the claim that moderates and liberals don’t take their faith seriously. This is silly, sort of like the claim that atheists really do believe in God, they’re just rebelling against him. What these two things share in common is that the person making the accusation makes assumptions about the other person’s mental processes that are not justified.

I have spoken to people who called themselves atheists, but who were actually angry with God. They say certain things that tell you they actually believe. I also have spoken to any number of atheists. While they vary in the reasons they don’t believe in God, I have found their thinking quite clear. I have actually occasionally told someone who claimed to be an atheist that they sounded more like a deist or an agnostic (or a whatever to me), and asked them to explain their use of the term. It’s amazing what you can learn just by asking and listening to the response.

On the other hand my faith is my faith, i.e., I have come to believe certain things. I don’t deny that many of these result from my upbringing. I was born into a Christian home, and that does predispose me to be a Christian. On the other hand, I know atheists who were born into a Christian home as well. More importantly, I don’t believe the same things my parents did. My Christianity is somewhat different. They were (and are) Seventh-day Adventists. I am not. They accepted and taught me young earth creationism. I have rejected that and am, to the extent I can tolerate the term, a theistic evolutionist. There are parts of the Bible that they treated as historical that I do not.

How do you find that out? In my case, of course, you could read. But if you want to have dialogue with someone, it’s a good idea to find out what they actually believe. It may differ from your assumptions. I am probably more frequently accused of not taking my faith seriously by people who are more conservative Christians than I am. What they mean, generally, is that I don’t take their faith seriously, and generally I don’t. No, I don’t mean that I don’t take the faith of conservative Christians seriously. What I don’t take seriously is the faith of people who are so shallow as to make such accusations without bothering to investigate and learn.

Let me illustrate this with a more specific example. While guest teaching a Sunday School class I stated that I found prayer at public events questionable at best, and that if asked (unlikely) I would decline to participate. I emphasized that I was not speaking here of constitutionality.  This was not a political position, but a religious one.

One of the class members immediately accused me of not really being willing to stand up for my convictions because I would not uphold them publicly by praying there. But you see, those were his convictions about prayer, not mine.

My convictions say that prayer is communion with God. My prayer takes place most commonly in my office while I’m studying my Bible. My prayer time is largely silent. You might even think I’m sleeping. If I pray in a group setting, I want that to be in a setting where we, as a group or community, pray. My city, county, state, or country does not constitute such a community. I can guarantee that someone in that audience is being forced to participate in my spiritual activity.

I’d like to say that I don’t do it because I don’t want them to be forced to pray, and indeed I don’t want them to. But what drives me is that my own idea of what it means to commune with my heavenly parent is so contradictory to the idea of someone being involved involuntarily, that I find it offensive. I find it hard to pray. You may think I’m stupid, but those are my convictions, and they are the convictions that I will take seriously and uphold.

I feel the same way about public school prayer. I would find it personally offensive for my children or grandchildren to be drafted into a government organized (or any other imposed) form of spiritual activity. So when I oppose prayer in public schools, I am not refusing to uphold my faith. Rather I am upholding it against something that is offensive to it. In my view the place for prayer with children would be at home with their parents,  or in some sort of voluntary faith community, not in the classroom with a public official.

The second thing that interests me is the question of what the Bible actually is. Is it metaphor? Is it myth? Is it history?

The problem here is that the Bible is many things. It contains history, fiction, a legend or so, plenty of metaphors, liturgy, political discussion, and even occasional theological discourse. In addition, it contains literature that is not commonly found elsewhere, such as visions and apocalyptic passages.

Anyone who says the Bible is any one thing is either ignorant or not paying attention. The idea that there is a variety of types of literature in scripture is not a liberal or progressive idea. Conservatives are aware of it. Many fundamentalists will try to deny it. But where the serious divide comes is in determining what is what. Is Jonah some sort of historical story or is it fiction? (I would say fiction, and written to challenge the activities of some folks like Nehemiah, but it’s hard to pin down precisely.)

One of the big questions is whether the early chapters of Genesis consist of myth or history. Obviously, young earth creationists regard them as history. I’ve heard people use the question “Is Genesis 1 a myth?” as a sort of touchstone. If you say “yes” you’re a liberal, but if you say “no” you’re a fundamentalist.

Well, I say no, and yet I accept the theory of evolution. How can this be? Well, quite simply the question of whether a passage contains accurate history and science is quite different from the question of its literary genre. The genre of Genesis 1 is, in my opinion, liturgy. Liturgy does not need to portray accurate history. Genesis 2:4ff, on the other hand, shares most of the characteristics of myth. It’s a different story, told in a different way.

I’ve been asked why, if the two stories are contradictory, they appear side by side. The reason is that they function in such different ways that they cannot really contradict, any more than an Easter liturgy, celebrating the resurrection at 11 on Sunday morning in Pensacola can contradict an account of a missing body at about dawn near Jerusalem. They’re just not talking the same language.

I find it annoying that so much Bible study has to do with proving or disproving the Bible. This often results in people taking positions because of what they need the result to be. One person wants to believe that the gospels were written late because he doesn’t want them to be eyewitness accounts. Another wants them to be written early because he does. Neither desire is relevant to the actual dating. I wrote a post about an hour ago maintaining that I thought it probable that Paul wrote Colossians, a position challenged by some scholars. Does this make me conservative? No, nor does it make me liberal. It means that’s what I believe the balance of the evidence is.

Whether you are a Christian supposedly defending the Bible or a non-Christian who wishes to challenge it, contrived arguments aren’t going to help. Ultimately they’ll undermine your position with thinking people. I don’t mean every wrong conclusion is somehow a disaster. What I mean is every trite, contrived solution whose best evidence is the fact that you need it to be true, is going to backfire.]

Well, at least it will backfire eventually with thinking people.

Fervent Prayer and Praying in the Spirit

Fervent Prayer and Praying in the Spirit

Dave Black provides an extract from his forthcoming book on the Seven Marks of a New Testament Church. In it, he refers to praying in the Spirit, noting that some exegetes say this refers to praying in tongues. He doesn’t deny that possibility but says it is broader than that.

While I believe that praying in tongues is praying in the Spirit, “praying in the Spirit” is not a category of prayer, in that one might pray “in” and “out” of the Spirit in some way. Rather, it describes something that should be a characteristic of all prayer. There are those who elevate or diminish praying in tongues. On the one hand nobody, even the person praying, necessarily knows what a prayer in tongues is about. Is it not better that people hear the prayer? On the other hand, prayer in the Spirit is most definitely not under the conscious control of the one praying. Is it not better to be fully under the control of the Spirit of God?

Actually prayer, and any spiritual discipline can be verbal or non-verbal. I find I hear most from the Lord when I’m reading Scripture. But often it is not the words, or at least not consciously the words, that bring peace or direction. Sometimes I just study and come to some decision or other that I needed to. Sometimes I merely feel my anxiety relieved, even though I may not have been reading. This morning I was helped to a place of peace (I was worrying about something I had no business worrying about) while reading Leviticus 23 in Hebrew. I cannot think of anything in that text that related to my situation.

I would suggest that bringing the words of one’s prayer, when those words are spoken aloud and consciously, under the power of the Spirit is more difficult. It is definitely worth doing. But you won’t do it yourself. You can only hope and wait for the Holy Spirit to do it. And obey when He does!

Letting the Holy Spirit Teach

Letting the Holy Spirit Teach

I’ve been meditating a bit on letting the Holy Spirit be the teacher. There’s an interesting corollary to letting the Holy Spirit teach—letting other people learn.

You see, what we often want to do is to “let” the Holy Spirit teach other people what we already know, and what we think they need to learn. If they don’t learn that fast enough, or heaven help them, if they don’t ever learn what we know, we’re likely to start questioning which spirit they’re listening to. Letting the Holy Spirit teach involves not just trusting God, but also trusting other people to be able to hear from God. I think we frequently trust the Holy Spirit just so long as he doesn’t slip his leash. By which, of course, we mean that he has failed to keep other people in the proper order as we see it.

So I’m going to tell a story. This happened in 1999 just before I married Jody. I traveled to England with Perry Dalton and a fairly stellar group of speakers. (I’ll name Perry, but not try to list all the others.) We were to offer pastors’ conferences at a number of Methodist churches. I was very easily the least famous person on the team, and I didn’t figure I’d be doing all that much talking. Yes, there was the moment of pride when I told myself I had plenty of notes to use in speaking and I’d love to use them, but I reconciled myself to just going along. That wasn’t hard. After all, I was going to spend three weeks traveling all over England and Wales. What’s not to enjoy? Just for fun, I should mention that not a few of our friends suggested that I was getting cold feet about the upcoming wedding and had fled to Europe! But I came back, and Jody and I are coming up on our 14th anniversary this November.

The first conference—and no, I don’t remember the name of the town—was quite a rousing event as I remember it, though my expectations about not speaking were fully realized. Until, that is, it was time for the closing meeting of the evening. Now those who read this and know Perry will be unsurprised at this. As the singing finished for the final meeting Perry comes up to me and says, “Get ready. You’re going to wrap this thing up.” Getting ready involved something like 30 seconds. So I got up and wrapped things up. I don’t remember a thing I said, and I believe I can safely say that nobody else does either.

Then I closed with a prayer exercise I use. I invite people to begin in silence and listen for the Holy Spirit to direct them to somebody else in the room they should pray for. This exercise tends to scare conference leaders. They’re afraid of the chaos that might result, the crazy things people might do. And this fear is not unfounded. We’ve all encountered crazy people doing crazy things and blaming it all on the Holy Spirit. “God told me,” is often an excuse for the worst sort of silliness and abuse. On the other hand, I’ve done this many, many times, and have never regretted it.

It went well that time as well. People prayed for one another. There were the inevitable questions for me from people who are concerned about the rules. What if the Holy Spirit tells two people to pray for the same person? What if I’m supposed to pray for more than one person? What if I’m supposed to sit in my seat and pray for everyone?

Then it was over. Nothing spectacular.

As we were about to close, an elderly gentleman asked to give a testimony. (Knowing Perry, he may have been calling for testimonies. I don’t really remember.) The gentleman was grinning from ear to ear. He was fairly bubbling with joy and excitement. Then he started to talk.

He pointed to the first speaker. “I was reluctant to come here this morning,” he said, “but I did. I listened to your presentation, and I just about left. It did nothing for me.”

He pointed to the second and told him that his had done nothing for him either. He was so joyful, however, that nobody could really take offense. He said at lunch time, he had almost decided not to return to the conference. He went through the list of afternoon speakers and said the same thing about each one.

Then he said, pointing to me, “And you, young man, yours was all just rubbish to me too. It did nothing for me. But then you called for prayer. I was certain nothing was going to happen. I had a particular thing I wanted to hear about from the Lord, and I was sure this was going to be a failure. Then I felt someone put his hand on my shoulder and start to pray. It was my own pastor! I was disappointed. But then he started to pray, and I heard precisely what I’d been waiting to hear all day today and for a long time. The Lord sent all of you here all the way from America just so my pastor could pray for me!”

The question, of course, is whether those of us called to teach can handle having what we say called rubbish, and being sent on intercontinental flights so God can use other people to do his work.

Or is there too much pride?