We are sort of like your average church. Our Sunday service outline is basic with slight changes week to week.
Sunday after Sunday will look like this:
Welcome & Announcements
Doxology sung before the offering is collected
A Call to Worship will be read responsively
Someone will read selected scripture
Another song will be sung
an invitation for prayer at the altar
Amazing Grace will be sung as the benediction every Sunday
Some weeks we’ll have a special music presentation or add a video. We’ll mark special days with the proper recognitions.
We’re not that different except….except that our chairs are filled with men required to be there (most of them), men who are living in this rehabilitation center. A free program for men who’ve lost their way in life and found themselves with no place to go so they come here. It’s free. It’s clean. They will be fed well and receive many services including counseling but they have to attend Sunday chapel. These weekly services that are conducted like many church meetings anywhere.
Except….except when they pray.
It was one of those weeks when we veered a bit from the usual and our time of prayer was going to include them. After the prayer was started, it was open for any of the men to offer their prayers. Spoken for all to hear. And that’s when the ordinary became extraordinary. That’s when I was leaning forward, craning to hear their voices, that’s when my heart filled with gratitude and joy. That’s when I joined them in silent prayers of affirmation as I heard these words:
thank you for waking us up today
thank you for a second chance
save me from myself
give me a long life living right and save me from an early death
don’t let us go
when I came through these doors I begged you to take away my cravings and addictive behavior and you’ve done that.
thank you for giving us a new life.
thank you for the brotherhood around me
thank you for teaching us how to love others around us the right way
thank you for showing me it’s not about my performance but it’s about you
thank you for showing yourself to us, you came to me because I never came to you
show me the lesson in everything, in the trials and tribulations, show us the way to live
thank you for the opportunity to make a decision to turn my life and will over to you
We’ve pastored the traditional congregation. We’ve had times of corporate when others were asked to join with their spoken prayers and we’ve waited, and waited, for the first person to utter words aloud. But with these men who are struggling through addictions and battered by self-doubt and bitterness, their prayers poured out one after the other like the water lapping on the shore.
And that’s what their prayers are, water, life-giving water flowing right to the heart of God.