May 1, 2010
Bringing the Message Back Home: Week of Prayer
Those that know me well already know this about me, though I don't think I've ever said it aloud: I really enjoy public speaking. So the prospect of a week of speaking every day was far from daunting. Still, Week of Prayer is no ordinary speaking engagement and I felt distinctly my need for the Spirit of God to elevate my talks above the ordinary. On the one hand, I knew that ultimately it would be God that would convict hearts and touch lives, not me. Yet at the same time I keenly felt the responsibility of my position to represent God well, and basically not get in His way.
The theme for the week was "Going the Distance with Jesus"--I used the story of my marathon run last summer as the organizing metaphor for the week. I decided to focus on what I felt were the most vital and basic aspects of an authentic relationship with God. On Monday, I talked about what I consider the single most important fact of the Christian faith--that God loves us, and nothing can change that love. Tuesday, I talked about recognizing our need for God. Wednesday, I talked about accepting the gift of eternal life because of what Jesus has done for us, and on Thursday I talked about process of growing in our relationship with Jesus. Friday rounded out the week with the topic of heaven.
Because it's easier to listen to a story than a sermon, I told a lot of stories. Some were Biblical parables, like the Prodigal Son, which I retooled on Monday as the story of the Prodigal Daughter as told from the father's perspective. In a homage that only a few recognized I named the father and daughter after Jerry and Jaimie, respectively, last year's Saipan SDA School week of prayer speaker and his daughter who taught at the preschool. Other stories were parables of my own making such as Aaron and Joyce's Big Race,comparing training for a big race to the spiritual discipline of prayer and Bible study. (Once again I utilized names of Saipan teachers of old--rather than use the shopworn Johnnie and Jane for my stories, I used the names of former teachers like the Jaimie Nickell and the Knowltons as well as Jessica, Britni and others). Still others were true stories from my own experience such as the time Grant Graves and I got lost in the boonies of Saipan and of course, the San Francisco marathon.
Our theme song for the week was "Mighty to Save", and each day echoed a part of the songs verses or chorus. Don't the kids sound great singing it?
There were many moments when I felt completly dependent on God to make the moment His. For example, there were a few days where I knew the lesson I wanted to convey, but wasn't sure what story or illustration to use. I also felt for much of the week, that the younger kids at SDA were getting the "warm-up." My rockiest talks were the first ones of the morning with grades K-4, and the second round with the older kids always seemed to flow more smoothly. The Spirit had to gently remind me that how I felt about how I did wasn't as important as the quiet work He was doing in each heart.
On Wednesday, I felt convicted to do something I'd never done in all my years of speaking--to make an appeal and invite the kids to make a decision. I was petrified. For years, I'd been rather skeptical of altar calls, and now here I was, about to make a call myself. As wary as I'd been of those emotionally charged "come to Jesus moments" I couldn't shake the sense that providing an opportunity for the kids to make a decision was important. I kept remembering what one of the previous week of prayer speakers at Saipan SDA School, Pastor Glenn Aguirre, had told us about his wife, a Marshallese woman who'd gone to all of elementary and high school at an Adventist school run by missionaries. She said that though she'd wanted to take a stand for Jesus, in all her years at an SDA school, no one had ever asked her if she'd like to make that choice. I wanted the kids in my audience to have a chance to make that choice. So on Wednesday, I invited the students to raise their hands if they wanted to accept Jesus sacrifice on their behalf. I made the invitation to the older kids group with my eyes shut tight during prayer and refused to let myself peek. Then the next day, I invited those who had raised their hands on Wednesday, along with anyone else who had given their lives to Jesus before to stay by after chapel to pray and to get more information about what to do with the decision they'd made. I expected a brave handful to stick by, and I intended to pray with them and plug them into the Bible study that one of the teachers, Sacha Kravig, had going. So I was nonplussed when virtually everyone in grades 5-9 stayed by after chapel that day. I struggled with the temptation to judge the response, to question the sincerity of so many kids, but in the end decided to leave the judgement to the One who knows, reads, and loves each heart.
Near the end of the week,I actually began to run out of "talking energy." I was speaking four times a day--twice at the elementary school to the younger and older kids, and twice at the preschool for two age groups there. Add to that staff worship and at least one class a day and it all totaled up to a lot of talking! By Thursday or so, I was beginning to wear down. Once again, I found it necessary to rely on God to keep the energy in my talks--especially when I was asked to speak for youth church on Sabbath (I'd already preached at the main church the Sabbath before--also at the last minute. Ken had asked me during a brief phone conversation while we were in Hawaii on a layover en route to Saipan!). God provided both the content and the strength for that one last message on our last day in Saipan.
In the end, only God knows what impact each song, and story, and prayer had that week. I'm just glad that one more time, for just one short week, I had a little part to play in the big work God is doing in the lives of each young person at Saipan SDA School.
The kids get on their feet for song service.
"J" still the stalwart on guitar.
The kids enjoy a short skit by REAL Christian Theater
This is a short video clip of that drama standby, "The Bus", in which Jesus is slowly shunted to the back of, and ultimately, out of someone's life. I've posted photos of Saipan's REAL and CAA's Shadow performing this skit over the years. Here you can see how it ends.
At the cross: A scene from REAL's performance on Thursday of "Molding Jesus." The theme for that day was "Growing with Jesus."