The Seed of Hope

A gift for tomorrow

A Prayer for Death and A Prayer for Life

Some memories are so painful that we try our best to “bury them” in the farthest recesses of our memory banks. Still, every once in a while, an event triggers the memory and we relive the pain again. It’s almost like ripping the scab off of an almost healed wound, but only worse. That being said, there are those rare occasions when reliving a painful memory ultimately proves to be a blessing. This phenomenon happened to me a year ago, and I’m sitting here trying to figure out why it has taken me this long to share it…

 

For the past two years I have had the privilege and honor of leading or co-leading a group of young men through an eleven-week curriculum in our church called LIFE (Living in Freedom Everyday). My group is only one of more than one hundred other LIFE groups that meet on different days and in various locations throughout our church community each semester. The LIFE semester culminates with a two-day retreat that’s ingeniously designed to “seal the deal” of removing barriers between people and God.

 

I’ve had the blessing of serving as an Anointer at three of these retreats. An Anointer’s role is to pray for an individual to be freed from a burden that he’s been carrying for years, such as addictions, forgiving others, shame, and self-condemnation for mistakes in the past.

 

I love to witness the transformation of people being released from bondage. I don’t know if I can adequately describe what it’s like, but I’m going to press on and see what comes out… 

 

Sometimes it’s a gradual process, and as I pray I both feel and see the weight coming off. When the person walks away, I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that they’re on the way to freedom and a new relationship with God.

 

At other times, the reaction is immediate. The moment that I begin to pray, there are tears and slumped shoulders and a palpable release of the burden. I promise you that it’s almost miraculous as a metamorphosis unfolds before me. Amazing…humbling…at times overwhelming. Sometimes I find myself on the verge of forgetting to pray as I get caught up in the moment of watching God work.

 

Then there are those times when I don’t know that the individual has been touched at all. Their demeanor remains the same, and when they walk away I don’t know if they’re any better off than before we prayed. When that happens, I can only hope that a seed has been planted that will eventually bear fruit in the life of that person.

 

In any case, I pour everything that I have into praying for those people, as I’m sure do all of the individuals serving as Anointers. There’s a dynamic going on here that’s hard to explain. I’m saying the prayers, but the Holy Spirit is giving me the words. God is doing the healing, and I’m blessed enough to witness it. Jesus won the forgiveness, and I’m there to serve as a reminder of that forgiveness for those who have forgotten it or have never known it at all.

 

What I’m trying to say here is that it’s all God, and not me, that is transforming the lives of these people. My role in the entire process is to be a vessel, or a conductor, if you will, of what God wants to give to the person in my path. The pressure is off of me, or at least it should be, right? The answer is yes.

 

So why do I feel as if an individual’s life hangs in the balance of my prayers? Perhaps it’s the burden, imagined or real, that I feel because I know just how life-altering LIFE can be.

 

Wiped Out.

 

That’s exactly how I felt after praying for other men for a day and a half. My voice was nothing more than a whisper, and my brain felt as if it were pulp. As I sat in one of the chairs in the back of the Sanctuary, I realized that I was exhausted, both mentally and physically. I was ready to go home and crash.

 

There was just one problem.

 

One session remained, and it had nothing to do with baggage, or bondage, or forgiveness, or freedom. This one was about receiving the Holy Spirit. In fact, it’s referred to as the Baptism in the Holy Spirit, and unlike the Baptism that most often first comes to mind, this one has nothing to do with water. It’s all about prayer.

 

I’ve said on more than one occasion that one day I was going to broach the subject of the gifts of the Holy Spirit, not because of the gifts themselves, but because of the controversy and questions that surrounds them, and especially one in particular, the gift of Tongues. Relax. I’m not going down that trail today, but I will before too very long.

 

Because of that apprehension, not every Anointer is expected to take part in the Baptism in the Holy Spirit. In fact, it’s optional. You can pray if you want to, or remain seated if you don’t.

 

When the cue came for Anointers to take their places around the Sanctuary, I told myself that I was gonna pass on it because I was so tired. After all, it looked as if there were plenty of other Anointers taking their places to pray. I would just sit this one out. Or at least that’s what I thought, as I closed my eyes and began to drift off into La-la Land.

 

“You need to go up there.” I sat up as straight as a board and looked around for the person who had told me to “go up there.” Seeing no one anywhere near me, I settled back into my seat and once again closed my eyes. Once again I heard a voice saying, “You need to go up there.” And once again I searched for the source of the instruction that I’d been given, only to find no one. I closed my eyes yet again, but this time I didn’t settle in because, well because I was a bit unsettled.

 

“You need to go up there.” When I heard it the third time I bolted right out of my chair and headed for the front. This time I realized that the voice was inside my head, and I didn’t know if God was telling me to get up there or if it was my own conviction, but it didn’t matter cause I was on my way to the front of the Sanctuary to pray!

 

I took my place in the front and waited for the first man to step forward. I didn’t have to wait long. Samuel, one of the young men that had been in my Life group, was approaching, and he was being escorted by two of his friends who had also been in the group. Actually, the guys were almost dragging Samuel to the front. As they did, my friend Samuel had the look of absolute fear on his face.

 

A brief word about Samuel… He came from a Jewish background and had accepted Jesus as his Savior as a teenager. While his parents didn’t agree with Samuel’s beliefs, they nonetheless supported his decision to attend a Christian school of ministry, which I found to be quite remarkable. That being said, Samuel enrolled in Highlands College with an eagerness to learn and to grow spiritually. That eagerness, though, was tempered and tested by stepping into a culture completely foreign to what he was accustomed to, and by a fear of the unknown. Throughout the course of the semester, whenever the subject of the Holy Spirit came up, Samuel’s fear was so strong that it was palpable.

 

And so it was on that Saturday evening, when a kind-of-willing yet terrified young man stood before me in church, battling his fears to receive what God had in store for him.

 

At first we just talked. I told Samuel that all I wanted him to do was to invite the Holy Spirit in. Nothing more. And I asked Samuel if he would allow me to pray for him to the end, to which he reluctantly, yet willingly agreed.

 

I placed my hands on Samuel’s shoulders, closed my eyes, and began to pray for him. Initially, I just began to pray for him to calm down. His heart was pounding so hard that I could feel it through his shoulders! I prayed for his fears to be gone and for him to release everything that he’d ever heard about the Holy Spirit that was negative. As I prayed, I became aware of other voices praying, and of hands on my shoulders. Opening my eyes, I saw that we had been surrounded by at least a dozen other students who were lifting Samuel up in prayer.

 

With a renewed sense of vigor, I closed my eyes and prayed even harder than I had before. I was praying for Samuel to let go, and for the Holy Spirit to fill him, and for God to take control of the moment and to give me just the right words for this young man to let go and let God. I don’t know how long this went on. It could’ve been a couple of minutes or it could have been fifteen. I was totally caught up in the moment, and caught up in prayer. Everything else faded away.

 

At some point I became aware of the fact that the other voices had died down, and that Samuel had actually relaxed a bit. Opening my eyes, I realized that during my prayers I had placed my hands on Samuel’s chest, and that I had been crying. A lot.

 

As Samuel walked away, it was one of those instances where I didn’t know if the individual had actually received anything, but I was certain that a seed had been planted. I was also certain that for some reason, I had been impacted greatly.

 

The Last Supper 

 

The next day, all of the guys in my group gathered at my house for what I jokingly refer to as “The Last Supper.” It’s an opportunity for us to gather one last time as a group to eat, to share, to review our semester together, and to “unpack” the Life Retreat. No curriculum. No agenda. Just the overflow of the heart.

 

After dinner, the eighteen of us gathered in a large circle in our den, and a few shared some things that were on their hearts. I went last, because I knew that what I had to say was gonna “mess me up.” I’d had an epiphany in the twenty-four hours since the retreat had ended, and I wanted to share it with them.

 

And especially with Samuel. Turning to him, I told him of my reluctance to step forward for the Baptism in the Holy Spirit, and jokingly informed him of the one-way conversation that I’d had with either God or myself. Everyone laughed.

 

I then I told Samuel of the blessing that I’d received by praying for him, a blessing that caught me totally by surprise. I thanked him for allowing me to pray for him, and I told him the story of why it was so important to me…

 

Ron

 

The last time that I had my hands on a man’s chest and was praying so hard that I’d lost all sense of time and space was over twenty years ago when I had been praying for my younger brother, Ron.

 

Ron had a brain tumor that was inoperable. The tumor’s location was interrupting the signals that his brain was sending to his body to function and he was slowly but surely wasting away to nothing. In the course of a six-month period, we watched my brother’s motor skills and muscle control diminish to the point that he was a quadriplegic, completely paralyzed and dependent on my Dad and Mom for everything. The heartbreaking and inhumane part was that while Ron’s body was dying, his mind was totally alert. Ron knew that he was going to die, but was just afraid to let go. He fought it with all that was in him to stay alive.

 

At the moment of his death, my hands were on Ron’s chest, and I was praying with all that was in me for Ron to get past his fears and to let go. I didn’t know that he had drawn his last breath until someone in the room put a hand on my shoulder and informed me that he was gone. I didn’t even know that he had stopped breathing. It was the hardest that I’d ever prayed.

 

As I finished telling the story of my brother to the young men gathered in my den, I thanked Samuel once again for the blessing of praying for him. And I was reminded of my Dad’s saying that “God works in mysterious ways.” In 1991 I had placed my hands on my brother’s chest and prayed for life to leave him. Over twenty years later, I placed those very same hands on the chest of one of my brothers and prayed for him to be filled by a Spirit-filled life. A prayer for death, and a prayer for life. Only God could have arranged that. A life-giving moment for that Samuel. A healing moment for this one.

 

Today…

 

Samuel is indeed Spirit-filled. He’s passionate for God, for people, and for living, and he impacts the life of most every person that he meets.

 

And because of a few minutes of prayer, he’ll hold a special place in my heart and mind forever.

3 comments | Categories: Faith    Life   

Faith of Our Fathers

I guess that this could just as easily have been titled Faith of Our Mothers, or Faith of Our Grandmothers. I believe that I was inclined to go with “Fathers” because my Dad was indeed a man of faith, and also because boys and young men have a natural tendency to see their dads as being the strongest, the bravest, and the best. Apparently, even all these years later, my Dad was the first person that came to mind when I got the idea to write this post…

 

Growing up as a child, and even through my adolescent and adult years, I always knew that someone was praying for me. How did I know this? Well, because they told me!

 

My maternal great-grandmother lived to be over 100 years old, and she spent most days in prayer saying  “Novenas” for a particular person or intention. A Novena is a Catholic form of devotion consisting of offering a special prayer or petition for nine successive days. Whenever I’d visit, “Mama” would inform me in her broken English (thick with her Italian accent) that she’d said a Novena for me since I’d last seen her.

 

My maternal grandmother, Mama Rosie, lived to be ninety, and just like her mother, spent the majority of her later years in prayer for others. Mama Rosie loved to say the Rosary, another Catholic form of devotion offering a specific series of prayers for an intention, keeping count of the prayers using a string of beads that were quite fittingly called Rosary Beads. Mama Rosie was always saying the Rosary, especially for her family and friends. Through the years Mama Rosie said Rosaries for my education, my career, my marriage, my health, and anything else for which I need prayer.

 

My Dad, Paul, spent the majority of his later years, not only in prayer, but also in church. Around the age of sixty, Dad began going to church just about every morning, and did so until he died at the age of seventy-four. My Dad would always ensure anyone in need of prayer that he was “storming the gates of heaven” with prayers for them. I know that my Dad was always praying for me because he told me, and even if he hadn’t, I knew that he was praying for me.

 

What I’m saying here is that someone was always covering me in prayer for my every need most all the time, which was an absolute blessing. I mean, who wouldn’t want to have a litany of prayers being said for them, right?

 

But wait…

 

There was one thing wrong with this scenario: I got complacent. You see, I never really learned how to pray, because I didn’t need to. Well, I did pray, but at the time I believed that they were desperate pleas for help that God may or may not have heard. I really didn’t know, and I didn’t have to. I mean, everyone else (including my Mom, who still prays for me) was sending up Novenas and Rosaries and prayers for me. Why should I have to pray? My great-grandmother, and my grandmother, and my Dad, and my Mom were praying for me, and they obviously had a better relationship with God than I did because I never knew the God that they talked about all the time. Somehow I must’ve missed something along the way, because I just didn’t know this “amazing God” that they did. Of course, that never kept me up at night. I figured that was okay. I didn’t have a connection with him, but they did, and they were praying for me, so it was all good.

 

Then the inevitable happened: One by one, the people who were covering me in prayer died. And with the passing of each one of them, I felt a little more “uncovered.” 

 

My great-grandmother died when I was in my late teens. My grandmother left us when I was thirty-seven. My Dad died quite unexpectedly at seventy-four in April of 2002, five months before my fiftieth birthday. We were all devastated, and especially my Mom. They had been married for over fifty-years, and the death of my Dad shifted her world off its axis.

 

Suddenly, there was no one praying for me, or at least not someone that had a hot line to heaven. And you know what? I felt vulnerable, almost childlike. I’d never had to really pray for myself, because someone had always done it for me. I had convinced my self that I’d never pursued having a real relationship with God because I didn’t need to. (I came to realize years later that the real reason was that I didn’t believe that I was worthy of having one with Him.)

 

Someone had to pray, and I figured that I was that someone. Consequently, I found myself offering seemingly hollow prayers for my wife Jackie, our sons, our families, our business, and myself to a God that I neither knew nor understood.

 

November 5, 2006

 

It was my Mom’s seventy-fifth birthday. It was the day of my “epiphany,” and it’s documented in an earlier post on this site. It was the day that I began reaching out to God, not only for His help, but more importantly, to know Him. I wanted to know that God that I’d always heard about, the God that my Dad and my grandmother and my great-grandmother turned to for everything. The God upon whom they were able to cast all their cares and concerns, the God that they   raved about all the time. That God. I wanted that.

 

I didn’t just want the faith of my father. I wanted my own immovable, unshakeable, unwavering faith. I wanted to know how to pray. I wanted to know Him. I wanted. I wanted. I wanted.

 

And every morning at four o’clock, for the next seven months, I’d sit in a chair, in my chair, in our still-dark kitchen and ask God to show me what I needed to see, to teach me what I needed to learn, and to fill me with more of Him. Every morning. Back then I didn’t read the Bible, and I didn’t know what worship music was, and I really didn’t know how to pray, and it really didn’t matter because I was hungry for the God that I never knew.

 

We often hear of people “finding God” in church, or in a life or death situation, or in the midst of a crisis. Strangely enough, I found God at a time when my life had never been better, when everything was on the upswing, and when I seemingly had all the trappings and surroundings of a full and happy life.

 

I did, but there was still one thing missing:

 

The Faith of Our Fathers.

 

And now it’s mine.

 

It is my prayer that you have it too.

 

 

0 comments | Categories: Faith   

A footnote to "We have an enemy."

My last post ended with the statement, The battle was over, but not the war.

 

Actually, that wasn’t the end of the post. For some “mysterious” reason, the software program that I use wouldn’t accept the last few paragraphs. After several unsuccessful attempts to include the post in its entirety, I decided to give up and settled for where it ended. The battle was indeed over, and I figured that at least it closed on a positive note.

 

My frustrations were only beginning. It took me five tries to get the server to post on my home page, and when it finally did, it had mysteriously omitted the last paragraph that I’d “settled” for, abruptly ending in the middle of a sentence.

 

Undaunted, but growing evermore impatient, I pressed on until I finally got it to work, only to find out that the link the subscribers to The Seed receive announcing a new post led to a blank page! Aaagghhh!!!!

 

I have to share two of the several responses that I received from readers.

 

The first said, “And he stole your post! Sorry, but sometimes you have to laugh to keep from crying! Love you, Sam. Linda”

 

The second said, “How interesting. I clicked on the link to ‘We have an enemy’ and the post message came up ‘the blog post we have an enemy was not found.’

I guess we have no enemy. ‘Greater is He that is in you than he that is in the world.’ Love you, Annie”

 

Okay, since I have the tenacity of a bulldog, I’m trying this one more time…

 

Now, in the words of legendary radio personality Paul Harvey, here’s “The rest of the story.”

 

The battle was over, but not the war.

 

Today I’m still standing, still smiling, and still asking God for those opportunities each day, with a renewed sense of anticipation and determination. Most importantly, I’m filled with God’s peace. Funny, when I’m filled with that peace I sometimes take it for granted, but I miss it the moment that it’s gone.

 

With God’s help, I’m still waging war against the enemy every day. Every day. And I suspect that there’ll be another battle, and another, and another. That’s okay. You see, I know that the enemy isn’t gonna back down. But he knows that I’m not going to either.

 

There’s one more thing that I know. God already dropkicked the devil’s rear end when he cast him out of heaven! That battle lasted no longer than a nanosecond. BAM! It was over.

 

When God thinks that I’ve battled long enough, and am worn out, and am literally on my knees from fighting the good fight, all He has to do is think it. And my battle is over.

 

You think that I’m gonna quit fighting?

 

Not a chance.

 

 

3 comments | Categories: Faith    Life   
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