Committing to attend a pre-dawn prayer service can draw the worst, and the best, from you.
The alarm on my clock cracked the morning silence like a fighter jet splitting the sound barrier. This was Lori's fault. She was a college friend who'd asked me if I'd be interested in joining a group of fellow students who were getting together for prayer at her church. Every morning. For an hour. Starting at 6 a.m. I told her she was crazy and that God could hear me perfectly well at 10 o'clock, which is 6 a.m. in Hawaii or Japan or someplace to the left of us on the map.
Then she dropped the w-bomb.
"Oh, come on. Don't be such a wimp."
Look, I'm not a wimp. It's just that for my whole life, excluding Saturday morning cartoons and Christmas, I have vehemently abhorred waking up early. My mom had to turn lights on, pull my blankets off and threaten to hose me down before I would pry myself out of bed and get ready for school.
As a non-hunter, I'm viewed with great suspicion by my fellow southerners. It is not because I'm opposed to hunting; I'm merely opposed to its hours, with all that pre-dawn creeping around in the woods. Once, when my friends talked me in to a hunting trip, I fell asleep in the woods at my assigned post. They awakened me by sneaking up and blasting numerous rounds of 12-gauge buckshot all around me. This display of male affection deafened me for about 30 minutes.
If not forced to rise early by school, work, or natural disaster, I will likely just lay there until that verse about a door turning on its hinges comes to mind. There have been those rare occasions after the New Year when my exercise resolutions got me going early for a while, but then I'd read one of those news stories about Americans not getting enough sleep and soon I'd be back to my old ways.
Lori's invitation was about more than waking up early, though. It was about praying. For an hour. I'd done a little praying in my life, but 15 minutes was pretty much the max for me in one sitting. I couldn't imagine praying for an hour. I just didn't have that much material to work with.
I wasn't sure if she thought I was a wimp about the 6 a.m. part or the praying-for-an-hour part, but either way I had to make sure that no word would ever spread among her gender that I was wimpy about anything. I'm not sure what, if anything, was ever said about me among the women, but being known as a wimp could not be helpful. So I agreed to join her.
That brings me to the alarm clock. I hate alarm clocks. When that thing went off at 5:30 I slammed it and pieces went flying. It was dead. Good. Lori was crazy if she thought I would do this every morning, and a broken alarm clock was a perfect alibi. My roommate, who already suspected I was a little kooky about the whole Jesus thing, was becoming convinced.
"What the heck are you doing?" he mumbled into his pillow.
"I'm meeting some friends for prayer," I said as I fumbled around in the darkness for shoes and keys.
"Did somebody die?"
"No. Nobody died."
"Is someone sick?"
"No. No one died. No one is sick. It's just a time to pray about whatever we need to."
"Pray that I don't kill you the next time you wake me up this early."
"Don't worry. I don't plan to ever do this again."
Lori's strategy for making sure I wouldn't wimp out was to have me pick her up on the way to the church. It's a strategy that worked, by the way, because the only reason I got out of bed was because I knew she'd be waiting on me for a ride. I pulled up to her dorm and she trotted out to the car in sweats, a ball cap and no makeup, like she was just finishing up a morning jog.
"You made it!" she said, hopping into the passenger seat. I grunted something about not being able to do this anymore because my alarm clock was broken, and we were off. She chatted about this and that and how refreshing it was to get the day started early. I had already started praying silently — that coffee would be available at the church.
We got inside and there was no coffee. I was already 0 for 1 on answered prayer. I grabbed a Styrofoam cup, filled it at the drinking fountain and sat down with the other ball-cap wearing warriors for a quick thought from the pastor before we got started.
"I know this is a whole new thing for some of you," he said. "Don't be intimidated by it. You're probably wondering what you're going to do for an entire hour." He had been reading my notes. "As a guide, why don't you use the Lord's Prayer. Work your way through it and think of things you can pray for that relate to each part of it."
"For instance," he said, "When you pray Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, pray that God's will would be done in your life, but also think of someone who you'd like to see have a closer walk with Christ, maybe even someone who's not a Christian. You could pray for God's will to be done in his or her life."
"When you get to Give us this day our daily bread, thank God for His provision for you, for your tuition however it's being paid, your rent, your food, your transportation. The list goes on and on."
The pastor dismissed us and we each found a spot where we wouldn't be distracted. I went upstairs and chose the blandest, most boring room I could find and closed the door. Time to pray.
But what if I get thirsty? Maybe a refill on water first. Good. O.K. Now I'm ready. Hmm? What's that over there? Oh, a penny on the floor. Better set that somewhere in case someone comes looking for it later. There. Good. Here we go. Wait. Bible. Need my Bible nearby in case I need to, well, I don't know, it just needs to be nearby. Good. Now. Let's see, to stand, kneel or lie prostrate? Prostrate is not good. Stand. Stand and pace. OK.
I prayed like a wild man. I prayed for my friends, my family and all God's children of the world who are precious in His sight. I prayed for my roommate and my professors. I prayed for my grades, and then prayed for them again. I prayed and prayed and prayed.
I got sleepy and dozed off for a minute and woke up praying for Isaiah. I didn't know any Isaiahs, so I'm not sure what that was all about. I finally ran out of things to pray about and looked at my watch. I had prayed for 10 minutes.
This was crazy. I could never do this every morning. I started over again. I thought of more things. I was reminded of more blessings. I got more specific. I opened my Bible and read some Psalms. A couple of old campfire songs came to mind and I sang them. Someone knocked on the door.
"Time's up," came the voice on the other side. Huh? Time's up? I looked at my watch and sure enough, the hour was gone. Wow! I headed down the stairs and out to my car where Lori was waiting in the church parking lot. We jumped in and drove back to campus. We were both quiet, thinking about the last hour.
We pulled in front of her dorm and she hopped out. "You going back to sleep?" she asked.
"No. I'm going shopping."
"Shopping? What for?"
"Well, looks like I'm going to need a sturdy alarm clock this semester, one that isn't so ... wimpy."
She smiled. "I'll see you in the morning."
Copyright 2005 John Thomas. All rights reserved.