I know no place I would rather be on a rainy Wednesday evening than at Abel House. I find friends there, definitely snug, gathered around Robert’s father’s table with the rain’s sound lost beneath chatter, its fresh smell overcome by the aromas of peaches and cinnamon, pasta and fried chicken, pea soup and beans in vinegary broth, and chocolate. As the chatter gives way to prayer, I relax into communion with God and the others through thanksgiving and a shared meal.
Although we have always prayed at Bible study and Abel House gatherings, Robert has recently combined our prayer life and another facet of our Abel House mission—our life of service to each other. Formerly, when prayer requests were solicited, we seemed reticent to make them, perhaps because we were already praying privately for those we judged to be in need of prayer or perhaps because we thought the prayer for unspoken requests adequately covered all situations. Only rarely did we request prayers of gratitude for God’s splendid gifts. And though it was valuable time spent gaining knowledge of each other, we did spend more of the prayer time explaining the background of the requests than we did in actual prayer to answer them.
Then, one recent Wednesday evening, Robert distributed to each of us an index card, a bold, felt-tipped marker, and instructions to write a prayer request for ourselves personally and individually. Having made assignments to students to start writing what they were thinking hundreds if not thousands of times only to see them spend several minutes just doodling or finding other ways to avoid beginning, I was surprised to see almost all those in the room start immediately to write a thanksgiving, perhaps for what God had already done in their lives, or a supplication, perhaps for God’s intervention, continued love, grace, or help.
We wrote and then sat there with poised markers for the next instructions: Write a prayer request for someone else close to you—not for the sister-in-law of someone at work who has cancer (though that is a prayer that should be prayed) but for someone whose well-being or joy is important to you. Again, markers penned heartfelt pleas—just as they do when the prison ministers distribute prayer cards for requests at the various correctional facilities in Central Florida. We do all need prayer for ourselves and for those we love, no matter where we are at the time of petition. The cards we covered with requests, some signed and others not, were placed into a 4Rivers paper bag, shaken to stir, and then presented for retrieval.
Two weeks later, we again accepted our index cards and, this time, filled out one prayer request—for ourselves individually only. I guess the request could again be for someone else because the answer to that request would also be for us, but from what I saw, most of us made an immediate-to-mind decision, perhaps because our prayers during the last fortnight had created a change in us as Christians.
No, I do not know that my prayers transformed the life of the gentleman for whom I had prayed all that time, over and over again. I do not know that his wife has had the benefit he requested I petition for her. I, therefore, continue to keep him and her in my frequent prayers.
What I do know is that before the Abel House prayer initiative, I had rarely, if ever, prayed the same specific prayer many times a day for two full weeks in my whole life. Perhaps thinking that God gets it once I have voiced it, I had usually voiced a prayer once. I had mostly prayed for guidance with a problem, the nature of which could and did change not just weekly but, sometimes, hourly. I may have had a putting-out-fires kind of prayer life or a scatter-shot one in which I sent either a quick entreaty or thanksgiving and moved on.
Yes, I did also frequently thank God for whatever was before me—the beauty of the sunset, the joy on a little red-haired sweetie’s face, the bounty of whatever graced my life at the time—but I did not thank God several times a day for one particular moment, person, object that had passed and was no longer straightway before me, for the continuing joy the memory brought me.
For my prayer-request-card friend, I did that. I thanked God for him, for his wife, and for their having found each other. I thanked God for his request and the knowledge and love it evidenced for God and God’s grace. I thanked God for his relationship with his wife and his desire to make himself more worthy of it and her. And I petitioned as requested on his behalf—the pointed, clear, focused petitions he had so boldly declared to be his desire. Repeatedly.
And in the doing of that, in the praying, I changed in my relationships with God and with that Abel House prayer-request friend and with my husband and with myself.
My relationship with God changed because I became more aware of His presence in my life and of His work in the lives of those around me. I became more willing to join with Him in the work I had prayed for Him to do for my prayer-request friend.
My relationship with my prayer-request friend changed because I came to recognize his anguish, his fear, his trust in God, his love for his wife, his gentleness. I came to appreciate him more as a Christian and a husband to his wife. I became concerned for his well-being and more willing to serve him and with him in our Abel House community.
My relationship with my husband changed (though he may not have realized it) when I looked for God’s response in the gentleman’s life but found it in mine! I became aware that He had answered the man’s prayer in my own life by bringing new awareness to me of what is happening in my marriage, by making me ask if it were possible that my husband has those thoughts for me, by revealing answers to my marriage relationship questions, and by revealing possible “husband ideas” of marriage and how insecure a seemingly assured husband can be. I became more willing to serve with him in the couple role we play together.
My relationship with myself changed because my focus changed. I began to look more at the overall picture than at brief moments, single objects, one-time events. I became more patient and more grateful for the whole inclusive of all the details. I, too, recalled my own prayer request—not knowing who had drawn it—and searched my writings for evidence of God’s grace.
But God is not finished with changing me by Robert’s prayer initiatives. This week, I drew again the prayer request of a gentleman who seeks to overcome anguish visible only to him. I am adding my prayers for him to my prayers for the other gentleman. Clearly, I have not learned all the Lord has to teach me about serving Him through my help to and with others with whom He has surrounded me.
Prayer is uniting me with my Abel House family. It is providing me an opportunity to serve them and God. It is revealing them to me. It is changing my life as a Christian. It is uncovering my personal life to me. And it is leading me to be more thankful for what can seem to be negatives, such as the admission that we need help, such as the rain that accompanies us as we move inside to renew our relationships with God and each other in prayer and in Abel House.