Thursday, November 09, 2006


There were more than 300 letters in the flowered plastic shopping bag that an insurance adjustor found bobbing in the surf off Atlantic City, NJ last week. The bag was filled with letters to a pastor, now deceased, of a church in Jersey City, as well as with cards and notes apparently intended to be placed on the altar and prayed over.

One note asked God to make a certain someone “leave me alone and stay off my back.” Many more were written by anguished spouses, children or widows, pouring out their hearts to God, asking for help with relatives who were using drugs, gambling or cheating on them. One teenager begged God to forgive her and asked for a second chance. “Lord, I know that I have had an abortion and I killed one of your angels,” she wrote. “There is not a day that goes by that I don’t think about the mistake I made.” Apparently someone cleaning out the pastor’s home after his death found the letters and threw them on the beach in Atlantic City. [“Unanswered Prayers Wash Up Onshore,” Wayne Perry, A.P., 11/3/06].

There is something quite lonesome and aching about these little prayer missives floating together on the ocean, perhaps prayed over at one time, perhaps not, reflecting peoples’ hurts and struggles and yearnings brought to God in the desperate hope and faith that he answers prayers. I have had occasion to reflect recently on how much pain people carry in their lives. I read it in the note a man gives me in confidence about how depressed he is. I hear it in a man’s anger as he rails against troubling circumstances in his life. I see it in the eyes of people who smile wanly as I greet them on Sunday morning, willing themselves to summons a measure of cheeriness amidst their burdens.

When we began our “Garden of Prayer” time in worship last week, it was an attempt to live out what we often profess but often find difficult: that we worship God together, that we bring our burdens and struggles and joys and victories to him together, and that part of what it means to be the body of Christ is to lean on and lift up one another. Indeed, our mission to “Seek God and Share Jesus” refers not just to sharing Jesus (i.e., the Good News) with non-believers but sharing Jesus (i.e., the living presence of Jesus) with one another. The apostle Paul puts it this way: “Praise be to … the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God” (II Corinthians 1:3-4). The word for “comfort” (paraklesis) is a very broad word that can be rendered “comfort, encouragement, solace, exhortation,” etc. It is the same word Jesus uses to refer to the Holy Spirit in John 14-15 as the “Comforter” (or Counselor, Advocate, Helper, Friend). The Holy Spirit is the One whom God sends to “come alongside us” in our lives. In our desire to be Spirit-led and empowered, we also are called alongside one another to encourage, exhort, comfort, advocate, help, and be a friend.

I am told by certain teenagers in my life that “Garden of Prayer” is somewhat of a “hokey” name for spending 5-10 minutes in worship praying with one another and personally encouraging one another. I’m open to suggestions! I just know that I want peoples’ needs and concerns floating on the prayers of fellow Christ-followers, not in the ocean surf off Galveston.


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