- During my time at Regent College I took a class on Prayer from Eugene Peterson. One of the assignments he gave us was to write a paper on “the soil of our prayer lives.” His intent was to have us reflect on the various aspects of our lives out of which we learned to express ourselves to God. It was a helpful exercise for me and I recently enjoyed reading the paper again. I’ve re-written it here now in three parts, entitled, “Early Prayers.” Below is Part Three.
It is not that my parents ever ceased to be an influence on me or an example for me. They have always remained very much actively involved in my life. They are still among my most faithful counselors. But some of the most important lessons I needed to learn about faith and prayer required me to step out from under their wings and engage myself in a more personal struggle.
I found the environment for this in Youth With A Mission (YWAM), an international missions organization. I was with this group, as a student in their training programs and then as a staff worker, for the better part of eight years between 1985 and 1994.
I arrived at YWAM with a rich spiritual heritage, but I had not yet come to terms with my own sin. I knew sin was present in my life, but I had not experienced repentance. I had felt some remorse over my sin, but had no grasp of the reality that it was a personal offence to God. This obviously affected my life of prayer. God was always there, but distant. He heard my prayers, but I could not hear his voice.
When God granted me repentance, my world changed. My sins were forgiven. A weight was lifted. It felt to me that God had come near. Though once offended by my life, God was now, through the atonement of Christ, pleased to accept me as his son. For the first time, I had assurance of my salvation. I knew the love of God in a deeply personal way. I began to understand what it meant to have fellowship with God. He was no longer the God of my parents; he had become my God, my Father.
This conversion, or re-orientation, was a process, but there were events along the way which stand out as markers on the path. One event, in particular, summarizes well the effect that all this had on my life of prayer. It was an evening class in the discipleship school. The lecturer had spoken on the Father Heart of God and afterwards we were having a corporate time of prayer, responding to what we had been learning. We sang songs. Many of my fellow students were praying aloud. Some were crying. Others were silent. I was compelled to respond. I needed to pray something, to say something aloud, to address God and affirm the reality of his work in my heart. From the back of the room, in a moment of quiet, I opened my mouth and spoke these simple words, “God, I love you.”It was a prayer of intimacy. It was as genuine as my earlier prayers, “O God,” and “O God, help us,” but now it was personal and direct in a way that was entirely new. This was more than an acknowledgement of his presence or a cry for help, it was a prayer of friendship, characterized by gratitude, freedom and familiarity.