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Post-NaNoWriMo 2014: The Book Preview

If you know me, you probably know I finished another round of NaNoWriMo approximately one month ago. And if you’re a reader of this blog, then you might guess my book’s subject. I have continued to pursue the calling I announced last February and March. NaNoWriMo gave me just the push I needed to finish the first draft. For your enjoyment/amusement/criticism, here is a long introductory excerpt from my book, The Prayer Group (working title).

The prayer group photo shoot at the end of the first year.

The varied wacky characters of prayer group by the end of its first year.

Prologue/Chapter 1

“’Pray, then, in this way: Our Father who is in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.’” Matthew 6:9-13

Praying out loud always felt awkward. I had grown up in a Christian family, but we only prayed together for holidays, dinners out, and the rare family emergency. I liked hearing my parents pray, and I would obediently bow my head and close my eyes. We usually held hands in a circle.

But when asked to pray for the group, by my parents or youth pastors, I got nervous. I don’t know quite why. Maybe I was afraid of saying something wrong or not having anything to say at all. My mind would freeze up. No one taught me how to pray, so I would resort to the usual, “Thank you, God, that we can all get together here. Please bless our food. Amen.”

In ninth grade, a few teenagers from my youth group, my sister, and the youth pastor took a trip to a district conference. We stopped at a fast food place, and when we had all sat down with our trays, the pastor told me to pray for us. I complained, trying to get out of it, but he held firm. He said I needed to learn to pray in groups, that it would be good for me. Something like that. I didn’t get his point.

Wasn’t it good enough that I prayed to God on my own? Why did other people have to listen in on my private conversations with my Creator? Was it any of their business?

I mumbled out some ragged prayer, and we all ate, the pastor seemingly satisfied with my compliance.

I slowly accumulated more practice praying in groups, but it still seemed awkward by the time I attended a private Christian school, Whitworth University in Spokane, Washington. When my theology professor asked for volunteers to pray, I avoided eye contact and instead bowed my head.

My first summer after moving to college, I became a camp counselor at a small camp in the foothills of Washington’s Cascades. There, every counselor led a daily Bible study shortly after breakfast with his or her cabin of campers. For six week-long camps, we read and discussed the story of Moses in Egypt. By the sixth week, I practically knew the story by heart and looked forward to sharing it with my campers. But I would still ask different campers to pray for us before lights out each night. This was done under the excuse of teaching them how to express their faith and connect with God. Really, I was avoiding praying myself. Most nights I would anyway, and there were times that I felt it necessary to pray with a camper one-on-one, but I still lacked confidence. I knew the campers looked up to me as a role model, so I often silently prayed for God’s spirit to supply me with the words.

Despite the growth I still needed, I returned to college eager to lead a small group on campus. Whitworth has a built-in campus ministry network that trains, equips, and supports students in spiritually leading their peers. I was partnered with a friend in my dorm to be co-leaders of a group. From the start, my co-leader would call on the group members to lead in prayer. He fully expected them to step up and fearlessly pray in front of the group. We teased him that he picked on us just so he could avoid praying in front of us.

We all did pray, though. As a leader, I again felt the need to set an example and pushed myself to get over my own fears. At the same time, it nagged at me that we should want to pray together. Why were we avoiding the privilege of bringing our thanks and concerns before our Savior? We were intent on studying the Bible and talking about God, but we hesitated at talking to Him, especially in front of each other. Why did it feel like I could only meet with God in private and not with my fellow believers, my brothers and sisters in Christ?

At the same time, a friend of mine was studying abroad in China. We exchanged a few letters and emails, and he mentioned in one that he had heard from some of his friends at Whitworth that they were having a lot of fun together, particularly in pranking each other. I didn’t take much note of it at the time since they were not my friends, and I didn’t know whom he might have been talking about.

Michael returned to Whitworth that January. He quickly made a point of reminding me of the friends he had told me about. He had found out that there was a solid group of friends who met together every night to pray.

“Every night?” I asked. “To pray?”

Michael was excited. He invited me to come see for myself. I had my doubts. A group fanatic about praying together didn’t sound appealing and certainly not something I could easily join. Besides, I had my small group to lead and enough other friends and acquaintances to have a decent social life. I didn’t think I needed another Christian social group. Didn’t I get enough of prayer between church and small group?

Then a mutual friend bumped into me at the campus coffee shop. Anneliese mentioned that I might be interested in a student group that met together to pray. “We’re upstairs every night if you want to come,” she said.

They’re recruiting, I thought to myself.

Within a week or two, I was chatting with Michael in his dorm room. It was a Friday night, but I didn’t have any other plans. The campus is generally quiet all of the January term since many students are gone for short study abroad trips or just taking the month off from school. After visiting a while, Michael said he would head to the prayer group in a few minutes and I was welcome to come along if I wanted to keep talking. Since I had nothing else to do, I decided to follow him and see what the hype was about.

That night, we prayed for at least an hour, possibly the longest I had ever prayed either by myself or with others. The security guard came around to kick us out so he could lock up the student union building. By the time I was back in my dorm room, I had caught the bug. I excitedly told my roommate where I had been and that they would be gathering again the next morning for breakfast and more prayer.

I went that Saturday morning to a room in a dorm across campus. Most of the group showed up, filling the double bedroom. Some group members had brought cinnamon rolls, muffins, clementine oranges, and bananas. We shared the food and sang several worship hymns together. And we prayed.

From then on, I counted myself as one of the group. I kept going, shocked at my own sudden eagerness. There was something that drew me in, something that stirred a longing in the deep recesses of my heart. I realized I was thirsty. The group offered living water. And I met Jesus.

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Posted by on December 30, 2014 in Books

 

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When God Opens a Door

Bad Alley

Credit: Bad Alley, Creative Commons (https://flic.kr/p/7zhC67)

“If I hadn’t been on board, I would have just missed out on a blessing.”

One semester after the prayer group began, my friend Anneliese volunteered to keep the nightly meetings going while the founder studied abroad in China. While she felt called to the task, Anneliese also thought she would be the only person to show up at all.

Her roommate committed to come with her, and soon Anneliese began inviting other friends from the campus. By the time the group’s founder returned, the group had attracted a core of students.

“They wanted to have that close-knit friend group where they knew each other intimately and wanted to be able to not only pray together but live together and live out what God was calling us to do,” Anneliese said.

She realized volunteering had been a small act of obedience to God’s will that had blossomed, but she knew the prayer group would have happened somehow, with or without her. “It might not have looked the same way,” she said, “but God definitely wanted some people to be gathering in prayer, because there were just so many aspects of students wanting to reach out more, to come into a deep relationship with Christ…through prayer specifically.”

When the Jews in Persia were threatened with imminent death, Queen Esther was in a unique position to appeal to the king on their behalf. It meant risking her life, but her adoptive father warned, ““Do not think that because you are in the king’s house you alone of all the Jews will escape. For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?” (Esther 4:13-14).

Esther had a choice. She could use her position to save God’s people, or she could ignore God’s call and stay where it seemed safest. But without her help, the roles would reverse. God would still rescue his people, and she would be the one who would suffer.

Anneliese told me, “I’m so glad that I did not miss out on the blessing and to realize that tiny acts that I might not realize now…that those are opportunities to continue to get on board with what God’s doing.”

Lately, God’s put several choices in my lap. But it’s been clear which ones were doors God, like a modern gentleman, held open for me. If God’s will is “good, pleasing, and perfect,” then it’s just stubborn ridiculousness to turn away from his open doors (Romans 12:2). As Paul argues, “‘I have the right to do anything,’ you say—but not everything is beneficial. ‘I have the right to do anything’—but not everything is constructive” (1 Corinthians 10:23).

I don’t believe God will curse me if I don’t take the open doors offered to me. Then again, it might be enough of a curse to miss out on God’s plans.

 
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Posted by on April 2, 2014 in Other thoughts

 

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When Some College Kids Prayed Together

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It was January of my final year in college. A friend had just returned from a semester studying abroad, and he told me there was this group of friends that he wanted me to meet. Another mutual friend said the same, inviting me to check out the group. They told me the group gathered upstairs in the student union every night of the week. Their one goal? To pray.

“About what?” I asked, a bit wary of religious fanaticism.

They replied, “Personal struggles, family needs, our campus, missionaries, unreached people, the world at large—anything and everything.” So one night I agreed to come.

I never left.

My latest book project is dedicated to that group, a strange conglomeration of college students who I never thought to meet—students passionate for pursuing God, understanding the Bible, living like Jesus, and praying always. Students who geek out over the prophecies of Isaiah and get excited to sing old hymns in public locations. Students who spent a week-long road trip together and never once started a fight through cold campsites, irregular meals, or getting lost several times. Students who pray for hours until the campus security guard kicks them out to lock the building and who then continue to pray in the night air. Students who confess their strongest temptations and worst fears and hold each other accountable as they grow together. These students became my closest friends and most admirable inspirations in my relationship with God. They are, in short, the most beautiful people I’ve ever met.

I realize we enjoy a rare community. Not everyone has friends who stop you and say, “How are you doing really? Tell me. What’s on your heart?” Instead, I’ve met many students who crave intimate spiritual community and don’t know how to find it. They suffer from loneliness and stagnation. They may have a relationship with Jesus, but they are cut off from their brothers and sisters in Christ.

Young adults need mentorship from older generations, but we also need fellowship with our peers. We need to commiserate with those going through our same life situations. We need friends we can rely on for encouragement and support as we walk alongside one another. And together, as the body of Christ, we are strengthened.

I’d like to share our story with you. That’s why I am in the process of writing a book about how God has worked in and through the prayer group over the three years since its start. New people have joined while others have left. The atmosphere of our prayers have transitioned through different seasons. There have been nights of tears and days of celebration. Sometimes God was tangibly present in our midst; then there were times when we cried for his guidance and healing.

The deep intimacy you desire is possible. It isn’t a far-off dream. It’s real. I’ve experienced it. You don’t have to be alone. You can have life-giving relationships with a community of people and, most crucially, with God.

 
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Posted by on March 18, 2014 in Books

 

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