You always remember the first time, don't you?
I have a personal library upwards of 4,000 books. I have not read them all, but I have read a lot of them. I am a constant reader who loves to spend time on Amazon almost as much as I like actually reading books. We have a new Barnes and Noble Booksellers opening in our mall this spring and I can hardly wait. But, I will always remember the first time.
I was not one of those kids that grew up reading. In fact, I am a little embarrassed to admit this, but I did not read my first book (outside of school assignments) until I was halfway through college. My friend, Bill Sloan, made an off- hand comment that forever changed the trajectory of my life. “Josh, you are just cutting yourself off from so much knowledge. You really ought to read books.”
“O.K. Name one you recommend.”
“Prayer, Conversing with God, by Rosaland Rinker. Great book. You will love it.”
So, I curled up around my first book. My life has never been the same. Both because of the practice of reading and because of that particular book. It has marked every group I have been in since then. I saw it happen last Tuesday night.
I meet with a group of singles who meet in my home on Tuesday night. It is a hodge-podge group from a variety of denominations. Some Catholics, some new-agers, some self-described atheists have come on occasion, some immature believers, some would honestly be described as backslidden. A few come for some reason other than the Bible study. Oh, we also have a few Baptists who come.
The group has been meeting in my home since last fall. My schedule was taking me away on more and more Sundays and I really do love group life and wanted to be a part of a group that I could meet with most every week. We started meeting every other week with about six in attendance each week. We now meet every week with about twice that.
I have met with a lot of new groups over the years and have found it takes a while for the group to gel. The group has to get to know one another and develop a certain amount of trust before the conversation and atmosphere really feels like a group. For this reason, I have been a little slow to introduce conversational prayer to the group too soon. I wasn't sure they were ready. This last week we dove in. Boy, did we dive in.
I explained briefly how conversational prayer works, “It is like a conversation. You can pray for as long or short as you want; feel free to express a brief prayer." We don't go around in a circle. (I was almost certain some would not want to pray.) "You just pray whenever you feel like it. If two of us speak up at the same time, we do what polite people do in any conversation, one backs off and says, 'You go ahead.' You can pray more than once if you want, once again, just like a conversation. I will close. Who wants to start?" I was really surprised by the answer.
A man who hardly ever speaks, spoke up. “I will start.” He volunteered. He is a bit of a gruff guy on the outside with a teddy bear heart underneath. I think owing to his poor hearing, he doesn't contribute to the conversation very much. I am not sure how much time he has spent in church.
His prayer was not graced with the usual collection of church-eze that I am used to—you know those familiar sounding, often repeated phrases that end up in prayers, regardless of the topic, circumstances or setting. They are often said with the same tone and rhythm so that no matter who prays them they sound alike. Frank's prayer had none of that. Just the honest communication of a heart that wanted to touch his God.
There was silence. I was tense. Would anyone else pick up the ball? More silence. Then, someone spoke up and offered a prayer. Then another. Then another. They seemed to be getting the hang of this. This was getting fun. I closed the time before everyone had a chance to pray just in case there was just one person who didn't want to pray but didn't want to be the only one who didn't pray. I was really nervous about this whole thing.
When I said Amen and looked up, everyone seemed to have this little grin, a kind of glow that said, "That was neat." It was good to come into the direct presence of God together.
Whenever people pray together, it makes them closer. We cannot both get closer to God without also becoming closer to each other.
I think I will remember for a long time the first time this group did conversational prayer together. It will not be the last.
You Can Double has the potential of being one of the most significant books of this decade. It is a breath of fresh air. Once you get started, you cannot put it down. You may even shout "glory!" It is one of the best books I wish I had written. If the advancement of the Gospel means anything to you, you'll be thrilled with the insights of this book. Josh Hunt will stretch you to the limits.