We were beginning our weekly prayer time when "Bart," a 20-year-old street youth, plopped down on a pillow. "How are you?" I asked. He responded, "I don't know, but I came to pray." Bart had never expressed interest before, so I waited to see what would happen next.
We began a prayer concert, patterned after an idea advanced in 1744 by a leading Scottish revivalist. In a prayer concert, people each contribute brief thoughts to a shared prayer led by the director. The prayer focuses on a moving set of topics offered by the director.
I began, "God is..." "Love," offered one youth. "Powerful," answered another. "Elusive," responded Bart. I continued, "I'm thankful for..." "Life." "Breath." "Everything and nothing" was Bart's contribution. "What's going on is..." "I'm struggling." "I'm enjoying the holidays." "Drama." "Running away from God." The last answer came from Bart. I signaled the portion that is confession. "I admit that..." "I've been unable to say away from alcohol." "I'm angry." "I've been lustful." "I've hurt people to help myself." Bart uttered the last two statements.
We began to ask God for action. "I want You, God, to act in my life to..." "Give me strength to resist drugs." "Help me find a job." "Give me a warm place to stay this winter." Bart interrupted: "This feels like we're treating God like Santa Claus." This caught everyone's attention. I responded, "We can sometimes begin to treat God like Santa or some religious genie. And you're right--that's not good. However, the Bible tells us to share with God what we need. And it's full of examples of God answering the prayers. The Bible doesn't promise God will always answer--and definitely not exactly--but it does promise that He hears and responds. And this gives us hope. There is a difference between building up hope in God's ability to provide things and mistreating God like a personal genie. But we have to dare to let hope live in our hearts. And sometimes that's hard. Especially on the streets. Especially when people have hurt us so much."
Bart stayed after the prayer time was over. "What's really going on?" I asked. He pointed to his necklace: "I wear half a cross because I'm only a half-way Christian. I believe, but I don't. I want to be good, but I'm not. I talk about Jesus, but I don't try to convince friends that He's real. I'm not even sure myself." I assured him, "Everyone has doubts. A wise man once said, 'If you don't occasionally doubt, you're probably not believing big enough.' The more your relationship with Christ means to you--the more valuable it becomes--the more likely you are to doubt once in a while." Then Bart shared, "Lately, I'm feeling called to become a street minister. That's crazy. I can't even help myself. I've never even known a home. How could I help others?"
We prayed together, "Father, show me the way. Guide me on Your path for me. Help me to learn to help myself. Turn my past pain and troubles into help for others. We thank You for how You're changing Bart's life so much that we won't even recognize it in five years."
I asked, "Does praying give you hope? Does it make you feel like it could really happen?" He shrugged, "I'm not sure what I feel. Maybe. Just a little." Bart isn't sure what the future holds for him, but he is wrestling with a relationship with his creator and his savior. Bart is asking big questions about the source of hope. In this Advent season, I pray that Bart and everyone discover afresh that hope comes directly from a relationship with Jesus--from His unending and limitless love. And that we can lead lives worthy of Him in response to His love.
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