The Forgotten Altar - Part 5 - A Pilgrimage of Prayer
How God used the conflict of innocence and abuse to create a passion for authentic prayer.
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by Lowell Snow
Part 5 – A pilgrimage of Prayer
My father was saved and delivered from alcohol addiction while I was still a baby. From then on, he loved God and believed in prayer. Our family prayed before every meal and had family devotions at bedtime.
My earliest memory of family is those evening vespers which were held in the den just before my bedtime. Dad sat in his favorite chair, Bible in hand, dog curled up on the ottoman at his feet. He read the Bible references while Mom read a daily devotional from a little periodical. My brother and I sat next to her trying to stay awake. I must have succumbed fairly often because I remember being carried to bed many times. After the Bible reading and devotional; Mom read the names of missionaries who had birthdays that day. Then we’d all pray. I don’t remember ever being ‘too young’ to pray.
Mom and Dad also believed in going to church - a lot. Worship services, prayer meetings, visitation, mission groups: it didn’t matter. If the door was unlocked at the church, we were there.
In the conservative Protestant church where I literally grew up, prayer was predictable.
Until my high school years, I had no reason to think there was any other way to do prayer in the church. Then some Pentecostal and later Catholic friends invited me to go to church with them. My prayer horizons broadened.
My first out-of-comfort-zone prayer experience came when the youth quartet I was in was invited to sing at a Pentecostal church. Now those folks knew how to make a quartet stand up and sang. I had a great time, but the most amazing thing to me was their prayer time. The band kept right on playing and when the preacher said, “Let’s pray.” everybody did – out loud and at the same time.
Then a man started praying really loud in words that sounded foreign. After he finished, the preacher prayed the interpretation, which was just as fascinating to me as the speaking in tongues. Needless to say, I had a hard time keeping my eyes closed during that prayer time.
Later, I was invited to attend mass in a Roman Catholic church. It was the other end of the spectrum from the Pentecostal service. I was impressed with their reverence for Jesus, but thought the service was ritualistic and spiritually dead. Of course, it was dead to me because I had no idea what the rituals meant.
One thing in particular about the Catholic service that offended my evangelical upbringing was the reading of prayers from the little prayer books that resided next to the little hymnals in the pew racks.
These experiences convinced me that, though I was satisfied with the denomination of my parents, there was a lot more to prayer than what I’d been experiencing in my home church.
About that time, my youth pastor taught a book by missionary Rosalind Rinker - Prayer, Conversing with God. Rinker’s book gives several guidelines for conversational small group prayer. Generally, the group members pray multiple short prayers about one topic at a time rather than long monologue prayers.
This was prayer that seemed real to me and it gave God the opportunity to really move in our youth group. Over the next several months we experienced revival. A number of kids were saved and several of us surrendered to the ministry.
I was on fire for God and excited to be right in the middle of His plan for my life. Little did I know that the devil had a plan too. A minister, whom my family had admired and trusted, got me into a situation where he abused me sexually.
Of course, he said he’d never done anything like that before, couldn’t imagine why he’d done such a thing, and asked me not to tell anyone. I didn’t. It became a repressed memory and secret root of bitterness in me that began eating away my spirit like a hidden cancer. The first thing to die was my prayer life. I kept up the appearance of a super-Christian, but inside, my faith was slowly evaporating.
I married, led a successful youth ministry in a large church, finished my undergraduate degree, and was half way through seminary before I hit bottom. One afternoon, I admitted to my wife that I no longer believed in God. I was walking the walk and talking the talk, but had gradually become a closet agnostic. I could say a public prayer as fine as anyone even though I hadn't talked to God in years. I left the ministry and went to work in construction for my father.
As I continued to sink into bitterness, I came to the point of hating God. One Sunday I agreed to attend worship with my wife and had to literally sit on my hands during the sermon to control my anger. I wanted to jump up and yell at the preacher that everything he was saying was a lie.
Three things protected and sustained me during the spiritual darkness that engulfed me for the next few years:
I had no joy during that period of my life. I was on a quest for truth, but science and secularism kept leading me to dead ends. There were numerous miracles along the way as God answered the prayers offered up for me – but in the end, it was a longing for the truth and joy of my earlier relationship with the Lord that brought me back to my knees.
One afternoon, alone at home, I got on my knees and prayed a simple prayer something like this, “Dear God, I don’t know for sure if You exist, but if You do, I’m sorry for the things I’ve said and done against You. I still have a lot of questions and some day I wish You would answer them, but if You don’t, I’ll accept that because I’m ready to let You be God in my life again.”
That was it. No flashes of lightning or exhilarating emotion. My faith had been shredded to the point that there was only a thread left, but that was enough for a quiet renewal in my spirit as I re-established my conversational relationship with God by confessing my sin and submitting my will to His.
Next time we’ll see how God led me step by step into a crusade for authentic prayer.
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