In my first appointment as pastor I had a friend named Denny. Denny showed up unannounced at the door of the parsonage one day and asked if this was where Pastor Greg lived. He then informed us that he would begin worshipping at our church. Out of curiosity, my wife Robin asked him how he had heard of our church. With a strange uncomfortable look on his face, Denny said that God had told him to come and that he was supposed to pray for me. It seemed a bit spooky and supernatural at first, but over time I would see God speaking to Denny in more dramatic ways than this. We became friends and prayer partners, meeting every Sunday morning before worship to pray together for each other, the services that were about to begin, and for the parish as a whole.
It became clear why God had sent Denny to pray for me. I would never have survived my first appointment without it. I was a full time seminary student, serving three small congregations, with a daughter in kindergarten and one that had just been born. The stress of holding it all together began to take a toll on our marriage. It was a Wednesday morning and after we got our oldest off to school, we began to argue about how difficult things had gotten. I was given an ultimatum. I had to choose between ministry and marriage because the two could not peacefully coexist. I called my District Superintendent who came and counseled with us all afternoon. Our problems weren't solved but we were working things through. By late afternoon we just wanted to enjoy each other and our kids. We parked the car where no one from the parish could see it, took the phone off the hook, and closed the curtains. We would get a pizza, watch a movie, and hide from the world.
Then the doorbell rang. When Robin opened it, we saw Denny. He was standing, not on the door mat, but back off the steps on the sidewalk. He had a bouquet of flowers in his hand. We invited him in but he declined and simply said:
"I don't know what has been going on here today, but since 9 am this morning God has been beating me up because of you. It lasted all morning until mid-afternoon. I don't know why, but I know I'm not supposed to come in. I just need to give you these flowers and tell you everything is going to be OK."
He did and he left. That remains to this day the most powerful experience of prayer I have ever been a part of. Denny knew things he could not possibly have known. His timing was beyond coincidental. Over time, praying with Denny, I saw many more things that were hard to explain. That may not be proof of God in the empirical, scientific sense, but it convinced me that God is real, attentive, and active in our lives. We do not prove God through excellent debate techniques or infallible logical arguments. We experience God. Once you have experienced God moving in your life, no one will ever be able to convince you that God is a myth. Our experiences of God are not automatic. Everything doesn't magically turn out OK every single time just because we are people of faith. Life is not a TV sitcom where everything is settled in thirty minutes or less. We will take a closer look at the harsh realities of life that we cannot change and simply must endure tomorrow. I will say for the record, I am still happily married and I am still in pastoral ministry. In the meantime, here is just one step you can take to experience God for yourself.
I've been posting a lot about prayer. Prayer is the way we tune God in every day, live life together, and talk. Prayer can be amplified in our lives by praying with someone else. There is only one Denny, but everyone should have a prayer partner like him. Having someone praying for you every day is a powerful thing. Praying for them in return is equally powerful. That much concentrated prayer tends to open lives up to experience God like never before. Choose your prayer partner wisely. You want someone committed to prayer, who is dependable, and will hold you accountable when you need it. It helps to pray with someone who shares your belief that God changes lives and makes the world better. Pray with someone who expects God to come through in a big way and meet regularly together to pray. Put it on your calendar as a standing appointment. Make it a priority. We rarely experience these breakthrough miracles on Day One. Sometimes prayer is like water pressure that builds gradually over time until something bursts. If God doesn't deliver that person to your doorstep, then find someone willing to grow in this experience with you. You will not regret it.