Many years ago I read a book that offered this imaginary account of a woman who’d just passed into the heavenly realm.
As she met St. Peter at the gate, she took a final look back at the earth and noticed an array of dotted lights across the earth, just as stars would look, some radiant with clear bright light, others so faint and flickering they were barely visible. As the moments passed, some lights would appear from nowhere, and others would extinguish altogether.
Before walking further, the woman asked Peter about the strange phenomenon she saw.
“The lights represent prayers from the earth,” Peter said. “Because of the different situations from which they come, God hears some with great clarity. Others, as you can see, are quite muffled.”
The story raises the often-asked question, “Does God hear all prayers?”
The simple answer is that God can do anything He wants, but scripture makes it clear there are many things we can do to get in the way of clear communication.
And I believe, also, there’s a matter of spiritual gifting. Prayer is one of those giftings, or at least closely related and essential to a few of those gifts. And the fact is, some are more strongly gifted in prayer than others.
An earlier post about preparing for the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage mentioned I was being prayerful and meditating about a group of people I’d ask to pray for me as I prepared and walked the journey. To date, it’s something I’ve thought about as much as anything else on the “to-do” list. Slowly and over time, the five people I would ask became clear. A few days later, I sent a group email to these five people making my request, and one-by-one, they each replied that of course they’d pray for me. A couple of them said that they already did, which greatly touched my heart.
I could cover a list of so many reasons why this is important, and such an essential part of the pilgrimage, but it’s a lengthy list , so I’ll try to summarize it in a sentence or two.
I’ve learned when you go about something that you know has a purpose for the higher, greater good – a Kingdom-purpose we’d call it in The Church – the spiritual forces that oppose that higher good will come against you, and they will come against you relentlessly. Now, there’s a lot to unpack there in that last sentence, and it’s a little “churchier” than I usually like to write, so maybe another time. For now, I’ll just let it sit there, but I think most people do, in fact, believe in some form of a negative spiritual force. Some just call it “negative energy.” Others believe in a fallen angel known as Lucifer. The point is, that many people relate to that negative presence in their lives. It’s very real.
Because for me this journey included such a higher purpose, I knew I’d experience that darkness, and that it would be important to have a group beyond family praying for me … a group of mature warriors I could count on to have my spiritual back and pray those prayers of clarity in my behalf. I’ll tell you they honor me by sharing their individual and collective strength. It’s difficult to describe my feelings of gratitude.
So I want to tell you a very brief bit about each of them. Not to mention names, because they’re the kind of people who do things absent of agendas without shouting their good works from the mountaintops. It’s probably the thing I love and admire most about these three men and two women.
Interestingly, the first man is someone I’ve never personally met. Our introduction came a couple of years ago via the internet as he researched and found some of my writings about living in Ecuador. He wrote me a few times, and called me a few times. The first thing I quickly discerned about this South Carolina man is that he is smart in a super smart sort of way. I liked him a lot right off the bat. He labels himself a “reformed lawyer” who’s been engaged in full-time ministry for the greater part of his life. He strikes me as an extraordinary family man, with a broad, mission-focused view of the world. I like this guy, and I like him a lot. He’s a model for so much of what I aspire to be. One day, I’ll shake his hand, and hug his neck.
The next person is someone Dana and I actually met in Ecuador. During our first four months in Puerto Cayo, our relationship with her quickly grew into something really special. I often joke with her that sometimes she’s known by the locals as “el chihuahua” standing for the good, and eating local injustices alive. Let me tell you, this woman has a special spirit. She is much how I think I would feel about an older sister. After four months, when Dana and I left Puerto Cayo in 2013, I was still experiencing some moderate depression, torn about leaving versus returning to the states and not knowing exactly what our future in Ecuador would be – not knowing what our future in the states would be for that matter. In the moments before we drove the rental car back to the airport, I wept in her arms with sadness. Then she began praying out loud. With her hands in the air she continued to pray as we pulled out of the driveway and out of sight. My eyes are watering now just remembering it. I knew for sure at that moment that this woman would forever be a part of the life Dana and I live. And she is. She’s a mighty warrior.
The last time I actually tried to put myself back in the corporate world was 2010 at a local technology company that works primarily with banks across the country. It was a small, but powerful and progressive company of only about 20 people, most, by far were men, and what I enjoyed most about my time at the company, was that every guy who worked there was brilliantly entrepreneurial. It was a really special environment. Shorty after they hired me and before I came to work, the man who became my immediate supervisor invited me to dinner just so we could get acquainted. He was one of the kindest men I ever met, and I later realized what an important role he played at the company as someone for whom everyone had the greatest respect. We talked often about church, and our frustrations with it. We talked about things that were real. My relationship with him was kind of a bonus perk for working there. He’s the model for a servant-leader, and I will always be grateful for our introduction.
The second woman was born, raised, and still lives in my rural, Arkansas hometown. Every small town really needs people like her. Her family still farms there, where my family actively farmed years ago. She’s actually not someone I’ve spent a lot of time with, but it’s not necessary because she’s undeniably good and laser focused on higher things. She’s a wife and a mother and a grandmother and an undeniable advocate for youth in her community. I can guarantee you that she’s a person of routine, much of that routine focused on prayer for the sake of others. She’s compassionate, determined, unshakable. She was on my list from Day 1.
The final man I mention is someone I view as a lot like me. Closer to my age than all the rest, a seeker, a fixer, a man who has questions and looks for answers. Ironically, I met him working in the same technology company as the other man. It just goes to show you God can have a great purpose in all things. At a time in my life when I was really struggling with my relationship with the church, he introduced me to a book titled “Pagan Christianity.” It was a great read, and gave me some insight into things I’d considered, and above all, it helped me understand that it’s okay to have more questions than answers. That’s just the journey. This guy’s a good man. I think he can probably relate well to my reasons for undertaking a journey like the camino. That insight is why I asked him to pray for me. I know that he is, and will. It’s so great to have that trust in someone.
I’m thankful to these people for being such a special part of this moment in my life. They’ll be with me everywhere along The Way.
I wonder if they’ll pray as much as my mother who says she’ll have to buy knee pads for so much kneeling on the hardwood floor while I’m gone.