When I was thirteen years old, I wasn’t sure I was buying all the Jesus stuff. I was a curious kid, but I wasn’t an easy sell. Look, if this story is real, I want in. But if it’s a fairy tale, I’d prefer to find out sooner than later so I don’t waste so much time singing mediocre songs and sitting through all these meetings. That was my logic.
Naturally, when a mentor approached me with an experiment of sorts, it caught my attention.
“What do you think God would do in the lives of your unbelieving friends if you spent every day this summer walking a circle around your school in prayer for them?”
“I have no idea.”
“Why don’t you find out?”
I liked that idea. My older brother had just turned sixteen, meaning any reason to drive anywhere was a good one. Every single day that summer, he drove me to the one place I planned to avoid: school. I wore a dirt path into the thick summer grass walking the school grounds with a folded-up student directory in my right hand. This was back in the day when they gave everyone in the school everyone else’s phone number. What were they thinking? Never once did I use the school directory until that summer, when it became my personal “book of common prayer,” guiding the whispered words of my uncertain, pubescent voice while I paced around the outside of that familiar building, holding every last name in my soon-to-be eighth-grade class before the God I only half believed in.
Something happened to me that summer. I fell in love with the God I wasn’t sure was listening.
I discovered that I didn’t just “need” God in some ultimate sense; I liked God. I enjoyed his presence. I looked forward to his company. That’s all I knew for sure.
On the first day back to school, I asked to speak to the principal. I walked into the office I’d narrowly avoided the previous two years and came right out with it. I just asked him,
“Can I start a new extracurricular school program—one about Jesus?”
“Well, you’ll need a teacher to sponsor it. Every school club has to have a teacher sponsor.”
That’s how I ended up leading a Christian outreach meeting in a fluorescent-lit, white-tiled math classroom at Brentwood Middle School. We met at 6:30 a.m. on Wednesday mornings, an obviously convenient time. What twelve- or thirteen-year-old doesn’t want to explore existential questions of origin and purpose before the sun comes up?
My entire strategy for hosting these meetings was simple. I’d sit in my bedroom on Tuesday evenings, open the Bible at random to a page somewhere in the middle, pick a paragraph on that page, read it with absolutely no other context or hint of biblical literacy, jot a few thoughts of my own interpretation on a sheet of loose-leaf paper, and then read and explain that passage to whomever showed up the following Wednesday morning. It was a recipe for disaster, not revival.
But I had one thing going for me.
I went to school an hour early on Wednesdays to lead that group, so I went to school an hour early on Tuesdays and Thursdays to keep thumbing through that now pocket-creased, heavily frayed, and worn-out school directory, praying name by name for my classmates. My mom, the believer who led me to faith, actually sat me down and asked me to chill out with all the prayer because she was losing too much sleep taking me to school so early—true story.
A couple months into these meetings, so many students were coming that we had to move from a math classroom into the school’s theater. By the end of that school year, approximately one-third of my eighth-grade class had come into relationship with Jesus in the darkness of the early morning, with all the atmosphere of hospital lighting, through the potentially heretical sermons of a thirteen-year-old skeptic.
It’s either completely ludicrous or utterly breathtaking to think that in the midst of all the insecurity of a thirteen-year-old boy—the nervousness of going out for the basketball team, the awkward (and slightly late) arrival of puberty, the sweaty palms of school dances—there was also the Spirit of the living God bending history in loving response to the prayed mumblings of a kid. And not because he finds that kid particularly brilliant or his suggestions on how to run the world innovative, but simply because he finds this kid in all of his insecurity, awkwardness, and adolescent nervousness to be irresistibly lovable.
That’s ludicrous, or it’s breathtaking.
taken from Praying Like Monks, Living Like Fools by Tyler Staton