Tuesday, 9 January 2007

Pray Without Hesitation (Alpha in Prison II)

I told you about the experience of one of our Alpha leadership team following his impression that God was leading him to pray with a particular inmate in our prison ministry. I promised at the time to relate an experience of my own, so, whether you have been waiting for it, or hoping I would forget, here it is. It involves a Native Canadian inmate named Ralph. Ralph actually had prayed the prayer I wrote about in the previous post. In fact, I came to suspect he may have prayed that or a similar prayer several times, in any number of ministry situations.

In any case, one Wednesday evening, Ralph seemed particularly troubled. I asked him why. He told me that his entire family of 12 brothers and sisters had been drinking at a family get-together and that one brother had shot and killed another. He was distraught not only at the death of his brother, but that his other brother now faced a murder charge. He wanted more than anything to be with his family at this time and to attend his brother’s funeral, but there was no possibility at all of doing so. The prison authorities just did not release prisoners for any reason whatsoever, even a situation such as this.

Well, along came a “God told me” situation. Without hesitating to think it over, I said, “Let’s pray about it.” I put my arm around his shoulder right there in the middle of the meeting room and prayed a prayer to the effect that God would open doors, align circumstances and touch prison officials' hearts to allow Ralph to get out on a pass and be with his family. “In Jesus’ name, Amen.”

You have heard of buyer’s remorse. Immediately I finished praying, I was hit with Prayer’s remorse (a term I just coined for this post). It is the sudden certainty that you have just embarrassed God and yourself by praying a prayer that could not possibly be answered. After all, prison officials did not do this type of thing. They never had before, apparently, in the history of the jail released a prisoner under the circumstances at hand. I had, “put God to the test”, so to speak, and I was about to be brought down for doing so.

Again, I worried and prayed all week, wondering what I would say to Ralph when he found this terribly serious prayer by this gung-ho Alpha leader went unanswered, yet praying intently that God would indeed answer it. I even, now, have the impression that I may have asked God’s forgiveness for praying the prayer at all, as I was certain to bring dishonour upon His Name.

Well, Wednesday night finally came, and I entered the prison chapel looking for Ralph. I didn’t see him, so I imagined he had refused out of anger or disappointment not to attend this evening’s meeting. I asked another inmate where Ralph was. “Oh, he got a pass and he’s at his brother’s funeral!”

All I could do was lift my hands, look upwards and laugh. Laugh at myself, really, for my lack of trust. Laugh at my not remembering that God will cause His Name to be honoured; that He is the Sovereign LORD and He will do what He will do; that His will is good and pleasing and perfect. Laugh for joy that we have such a great and wonderful God!

The following week, Ralph was absent again. I asked someone where he was this week. “Oh,” was the answer, “He’s over doing the sweat lodge tonight.” I laughed again, but this time I looked down at the floor and shook my head. This time it was in disbelief.

Did you ever see the movie, "O Brother, Where Art Thou"? I thoroughly enjoyed it, mainly because of the Gospel music soundtrack and a completely off-the-wall storyline based on Homer's "Odyssey". (there are some language issues with the movie though). I can’t tell you the whole story, if you haven’t seen it, but a character played by George Clooney is always pooh-poohing the idea of God and miracles. Even at the end when he is about to be hanged, he “gets religion”, drops to his knees and prays for God to save him. And of course, there is a most amazing “coincidence” whereby the lives of him and his friends are spared. Afterward, his friends are giving credit for the miracle to God, but Clooney’s character, now safe, just attributes it to perfectly natural events. It reminds me of this episode with Ralph. God got him that pass out of jail, but he just didn’t seem to get it.

But it is an episode I will always remember, as that of a young enthusiastic Christian (myself) leaping with both feet into a chance to pray without stopping to question whether it really was the right or “proper” thing to do.

Tim Challies quotes from a book by Jim Elliff, ‘Led By The Spirit’,

“God may use the sincere individual who gets his guidance the illuminist's way. He may bless him. He may honor his faith more than his method. I am quite sure that God always condescends to our imperfections. And if there is immaturity, we must realize that God will often use in our zealous immaturity what he disallows in our maturity. “

I sometimes find myself wondering if I am not, in my own “maturity”, merely becoming more cautious, self conscious, even jaded to a degree.

I pray not, but sometimes I fear so.

Take Care

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