Thursday, May 23, 2013

What's the point of being here?

Note: We have a backlog of stories from Oaks of Righteousness that we wanted to share with you. This story is from a couple of months ago.

Why did God call us to North Troy? What's he doing at Oaks? Is he doing anything?

All of the volunteers at Oaks Cafe reach a point where we begin to ask questions like these. We wonder if telling the kids in the Cafe "no" roughly every two minutes does anything for their spiritual lives. We recoil at the names people call one another and the celebration of violence. And we begin to wonder -- in our more cynical moments -- if all we're doing at Oaks is handing out brownies.

Months ago, I was asking God these questions in a rather angry tone. I was about to do a Bible study with Hannah, a few of our girls, and kids from another church. But when we arrived at the other church, no one was there. They'd canceled and hadn't told us.

So we decided to have the Bible study anyway with the people we had. Angry at being forgotten by the hosting church, I went out to my car to get my Bible and took the opportunity to fume at God. I asked whether any of my work had made any difference. Looking back, it seems I'd gotten it into my head that "my work" was what mattered instead of the transformative work God was doing, steadily and invisibly, in the hearts around me.

At any rate, I went back inside. We sat in a circle and Hannah gave the girls a challenge: tell us a Bible story, and then we'll tell you a story. And then it happened.

The girls told three stories. One described Jesus' crucifixion. The other described Jesus calming the storm and feeding the thousands. And, I knew where they'd heard those stories -- they'd learned them from me and from Hannah.

Tears filled my eyes, and I knew God was gently answering my angry diatribe. He was showing me that the kids really don't know anything about the Scriptures, and they won't know unless someone tells them. They won't know about a powerful, beautiful, joy-filled, holy God unless someone tells them.

Then it was our turn to tell a story. I'd thought of telling about Jesus raising Lazarus from death, but I felt strongly I was supposed to tell the story of him forgiving the woman caught in adultery. I told the story. The girls listened. Then it was Hannah's turn.

"What story are you going to tell?" I asked.

"The story you just told," she replied.

So there was the Holy Spirit again. Guiding us, steadily and humbly, right down to our story choice. Apparently, of all stories in the entire Bible, that was the story the girls needed to hear. The Lord put it in both my and Hannah's minds just to make sure we got it right.

Is God doing anything? More than I can see. More than I can ask or imagine. Apart from him, I can do nothing. And with him, nothing is impossible.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Prayer Does Stuff

Last Sunday, I spent about an hour praying outside Oaks Cafe for the neighborhood. A few of the local boys were bored, so they hung out with me. They talked to me about scary movies. Then, as I continued to pray silently, they talked to one another about sports. At one point, I turned to one of the kids and asked, "You know why I pray?"


"Because it actually does stuff. If it didn't, I wouldn't waste my time."

That's the Bible answer, right? God actually listens to us when we talk to him -- divine-human communication being the first thing that happens in prayer. Abiding in the divine presence through Jesus' intercession. That's the first flabbergasting miracle.

But there's even more to prayer than that. Sometimes, God tells you to pray stuff and you can't really see much happening. On Sunday, I felt called to walk around North Troy for another hour. My mission: to softly say Jeremiah 29:11-13 over and over and over again as I walked to prophetically speak the heavenly reality of God's agenda into the place he's redeeming.

I know that probably sounds pretty weird to some of you. And I didn't see anything dramatic happen with my eyes. Just tried to be obedient because being obedient is never a waste of time. It's a way to show the Lord I love him.

Then, other times, you pray and you see God do stuff.

Yesterday was one of those days. I went on a prayer walk -- a stroll around the neighborhood, praying however I felt the Holy Spirit led me. I ended up beside an apartment where I heard a horrible, profanity-peppered screaming fight taking place. I stood there and prayed softly in my prayer language (because I wasn't sure how to pray). After perhaps five minutes, the screaming gave way to civil tones.

Then I heard someone say, "Excuse me. Are you waiting for someone?" It was a woman peering down at me from the second floor of the apartment building. I told her I was praying for the neighborhood and that I'd move on shortly.

"Could you pray for me?" she asked. "I've been through a lot."

I said I would. She gave me her name and said she was grieving the death of a friend -- that very day was the 5-year anniversary of the death. She smiled at me.

"Having you show up here today to pray is a real blessing," she said.

"I guess God's looking out for you," I said and smiled back.

Sometimes I see it. Sometimes I don't. But prayer does stuff.