Put Yourself in Their Shoes

shoesI’m not a child. I’m not a boy. I’m not destitute. I don’t speak Hindi. I don’t live on the streets of Delhi. But recently I was asked to pretend all of that.

Sue, a YWAM trainer who attends my church, was preparing a bunch of us for an upcoming city intercession event. I assumed her Saturday morning class would be mostly a refresher for me. But it ended up being more than that.

Instead of handing out lists of prayer topics, Sue challenged us to get cues from the Holy Spirit and our sanctified imaginations.

She started by telling us about friends of hers in India who have made a home for boys they rescued off the streets of Delhi. She passed around a photo of them and very briefly described what life was like for these kids if no one rescues them.

Then, she divided us into two groups and instructed the first to form a circle. I was part of the first group. Then the second group formed a larger circle around our circle. Those of us in inside circle were to pretend we were boys living on the streets of Delhi. Sue handed volleyball to one of us.

“Say out loud something that you need as a young Indian boy living on the streets,” Sue directed.  “Then toss the ball to someone behind you and let that person pray for your need.”

The first person was a bit tentative. “I need food.”

He tossed the ball to someone behind him who prayed a simple prayer asking God to provide nutritious food for the homeless boys. That person tossed the ball to another “boy” in the inner circle who stated a different need, and the ball kept moving in similar fashion.

As we intentionally put ourselves in these kids’ shoes, it surprised me the breadth of things we prayed about. We covered the obvious—food, shelter, clean water, and spiritual salvation.  But then, as we continued to listen to God and to let the Holy Spirit guide our imaginations, we began to pray for less obvious things. We prayed for God to give the boys hopes and dreams. To give them godly role models. To provide opportunities for them to play and just be kids. To learn trades or vocations. To pursue wives and families. To have vision correction. To learn to read—especially the Bible. To remain pure in mind and body. For God to redeem their difficulties in kingdom-expanding ways.

We prayed like this for a good 20 minutes—and could have gone on even longer. I think I can safely say that by imagining ourselves in the places of these young boys, every one of us was moved to compassion. And for sure, we prayed passionately for a group of people we’d never given any thought to before.

Since that Saturday morning exercise, I’ve tried putting this same idea into practice for other types of people who live in worlds far removed from my own.

This morning, for example, I put myself in the shoes of Afghani and Syrian refugees who are flooding into Europe. Tomorrow I might pray for

  • Government officials in developing nations
  • Minority-race people in your community
  • People in Africa who recently lost family members to Ebola
  • Families with special-need children
  • Missionaries working in restricted-access countries
  • Young people sold to human traffickers
  • Orphans who are about to age out of the system

What about you? Want to try it? If you do, would you let me know how it goes? How does God expand the way you pray? The types of people you pray for? How are you changed in the process?

Don’t Think about Pink Elephants

ElephantHave you ever tried to not think about pink elephants? If you have, I can pretty much guarantee that you couldn’t do it. Once you decided not to think of them, your head was probably filled with crazy images of pachyderms in shades of flamingo, fuchsia, and bubble gum.

I thought about this recently while watching a video based on Dallas Willard’s book, Hearing God*. John Ortberg was interviewing Willard about the topic of sleep. The classic advice for people who struggle with insomnia is to “stop thinking about” whatever it is that worries them. If the advice-giver is a Christian, he or she might add “and pray about it.”

The problem is—and Willard acknowledged this—it is nearly impossible to simply “stop thinking about” something. It’s like trying not to think about pink elephants.

But there is a way around this problem. Willard said that can release something only by grabbing onto something else. To use the pink elephants analogy, if you don’t want to think about pink elephants, then focus instead of purple cows.  

What Willard was saying, I think, is that while you can’t just stop thinking about something that matters deeply to you, you can intentionally focus your thoughts on something else—like the Lord.

As he talked about this, I realized that he was offering a truth God had led me to more than a year ago. I’d had a string of sleepless nights. I tried praying about all the stuff that cluttered my mind, but in reality I was just worrying my prayers. I wasn’t really releasing anything—I was just rehearsing my problems to God (with my helpful suggestions attached).

So God taught me to use “Alphabet Praise” to help me focus on Him instead of the concerns that preoccupied me. The idea is simple: I think of attributes and praise Him for them, one at a time from A-Z. Usually I fall asleep long before I get to “Z.” (See “Worship for Sleepless Nights.”)

Since then, I have tried many variations on that theme. Sometimes I intercede for people whose names start with A, B, C, and so on. Or I pray for countries in the same manner. Sometimes I pray blessings on people, offering a different blessing for each letter of the alphabet. Sometimes it’s petitions, with 26 different requests based on the letters as they come in order. Sometimes it’s thanksgiving. You get the idea.

Usually I fall asleep before somewhere in the first third of the alphabet. Sometimes I wake up again—but when I do, I just pick up where I left off and usually drift off again quickly. But even if I don’t—which sometimes happens—I still feel rested. Because I’ve focused on God and not on my personal “pink elephants,” I rest, even if I don’t REM.



It’s Not My Job to Change the World

I like to have a positive impact on the world. In fact, sometimes I feel like it’s my job to win friends and influence people. The trouble is, if that’s my job, I’m not always that good at it.

This fact hit me pretty hard recently. I’d invested prayer, energy, time, and emotion into several different situations—and I failed to have much effect in any of them. This troubled me. A lot.

I decided to talk it over with God. He invited me to have our conversation in a quiet spot beside a cascadiMountain Streamng stream on a lovely fall morning.

“I should be able to have more influence,” I explained to God. “But I’ve failed. And I feel a heavy weight of responsibility.”

After a bit of silence, He spoke gently to my heart. Are you responsible? Who said? Who said that you need to influence others? Who said that you are responsible for how things turn out?

“I thought You did,” I said. I sat silently for a while, pondering this. Was it possible that I’d misunderstood? Did God truly not expect me to change the world? I thought that was our mandate. Yet, I couldn’t actually remembering Him telling me that.

While I was still pondering, I sensed Him leading me to open my Bible. So I turned to the bookmarked place where I’d been reading in Psalms. Here’s what I read:

“My people did not listen to me. Israel wanted nothing to do with me. So I let them go their own stubborn ways and follow their own advice. If only my people would listen to me! If only Israel would follow me!” (81:11-13).

I was flabbergasted. If anyone can influence, it’s God! Yet, sometimes He actually chooses not to. Sometimes He steps back and allows people to go their own way and follow their own advice. He doesn’t always “succeed” at bringing change, either.

After a long silence, I finally spoke. “So changing the world isn’t my job” I said. It was more a statement than a question. “Then what is?”

I didn’t need to wait for His answer. I already knew it. My job is to be faithful. My job is to obey God, to follow His lead, regardless of outcomes. My “success” is linked to how closely I walk with Him, not to how much influence I have.

I’m still getting used to this idea. It is a paradigm switch for me. But I think if I can really get it, I’ll be more relaxed. I’ll be more able to find that rest that Jesus invites me to (Matthew 11:28). And that sounds even more inviting than a mountain stream on a fall day.

The Power of an Anonymous Pray-er

There once was a prayer so powerful that God came to earth personally, just so He could check to see if things were really as bad as the pray-er said they were.

What did this person pray? We don’t know.

Who was this intercessor? We don’t know that, either.

Did the intercessor ever find out how God answered his or her prayer? Sorry, we don’t even know that.

All we know is what Genesis 18:20-21 says:

So the LORD told Abraham, “I have heard a great outcry from Sodom and Gomorrah, because their sin is so flagrant. I am going down to see if their actions are as wicked as I have heard. If not, I want to know.”

Lots of people have had lots to say about these verses. Don’t worry, I’m not going there. I only want to point out that God hears prayers from people who are concerned about evil. Someone was grieved by the wickedness that was taking place in these cities. This person believed that a righteous and just God cared about it. So he or she (or they?) made an outcry to God about it. And God did care. And He did respond.

There is a lot going on in our world that troubles me. Injustice. Oppression. Poverty. Exploitation. It encourages me to know that when I cry out to God about it, He hears. He cares. And when the time is right, He will address it. He may even come down and do it personally.

Now that’s something to think about.