A few weeks ago I was chatting with a pastor friend about daily prayer. I mentioned that to help me focus, I write out my prayers.
“When did you start doing that?” he asked me.
I answered by telling a story I had published in my first book, A Poke in the Ribs. Here it is:
A few years after Jo and I returned to Canada from our decades of Bible translation ministry in Brazil, we were assigned to work in a program to help young people become members of Wycliffe. I oriented the young people to Wycliffe policies and principles, but since Jo is far more people oriented than I am, and is gifted with the ability to discern personal problems, she served as a confidential interviewer and counselor with young women.
One morning I walked into the room where Jo was studying the responses to a highly personal questionnaire. As soon as she saw me, she closed her file to preserve confidentiality, and looked up at me with tears in her eyes.
“What’s the matter, hon? I said.
“Oh, I need to interview this girl and will need to discuss some painful things. I just don’t know how to handle this situation.”
With that, she gathered her papers and stood up to leave for the interview room. I hugged her and impulsively said,
“I will pray for you the whole time you are talking with her.”
“Thanks, hon” she said, we kissed and she walked out.
As the door closed behind her, I thought, What have I done? This interview will last an hour. I have never prayed for a whole hour about one thing in my whole life! Besides, I know nothing about the situation. I don’t even know the girl’s name.
I knew, however, that I could write for an hour, so I sat down with my laptop, and started a letter to God.
“Dear God, Jo just walked out to interview a girl and I promised to pray for her the whole time she is with her. I have never prayed for any one person for that long my life, so please put thoughts and ideas into my head that I can bring to you in prayer.”
As I wrote, thoughts did come into my head. I wrote, I thought, I reread, I cried a few times. I kept writing, thinking, and writing some more. Suddenly I heard the door open. Jo had returned! The hour was over, and I wasn’t done praying yet!
I showed Jo the prayer I had written. After she read it, she looked at me with tears in her eyes and said, “Wow! This is amazing! God really led you to pray about the right things, and our interview was perfect.”
“Ever since then,” is said to the pastor, “My private prayers tend to be written ones.”
Just recently I saw this pastor again. The first thing he told me was that he had been counseling a young couple a few days earlier. One spouse needed to confront the other in private. He promised to pray for them during that private conversation.
“I remembered your story, Jack,” he said, “so I sat down with my laptop and wrote a letter to God about the couple and the confrontation that was going on at that very time.”
I was delighted to hear that my story had helped him to pray in a focused way over an extended period of time. At the same time I felt a bit guilty that I hadn’t shared that “letter to God” style of praying with more people over the past twenty years. Then I thought of several other “God experiences” that had impacted me, but which I had failed to share with others.
Writing your prayers may not be your thing, but what have you experienced with God that you could share with others to encourage them?