“Do you mind if I don’t ask you how to pray, but just let the Lord touch you in the way He would choose? It’s really not about what I pray anyway. It’s about your heart reaching out for Him and His heart connecting with yours.”
Those were the words I found myself saying over and over as I lay my hands on the shoulders of the men of the Teen Challenge program at the Benedict Castle in Riverside last Thursday night. As I quietly prayed in my prayer language, I saw the Holy Spirit fall upon each man as faces were lifted up to heaven and tears ran down their cheeks, sometimes splashing on their outstretched, tattooed arms. I knew Jesus had indeed come and was touching them in the way only He knew they needed to be touched.
Every month, I join with Prince Philip and a great team that this month consisted of Jerry and Jody Kirkwood and the Rev. James Linton, my Anglican priest colleague and friend from Christ’s Church in Yucaipa to minister to men who have left behind a life of drug and alcohol addiction to become “new creatures in Christ Jesus” (2 Cor. 5:17). Teen Challenge began in 1958 when country preacher David Wilkerson read an article about seven teenagers who were on trial for murder. Touched by what he read, Wilkerson sensed God calling him to reach out to troubled youth and what began more than 50 years ago now reaches out to men (and women) of all ages, races and life experiences. Last Thursday we ministered to a former racist with Hitler’s image tattooed on his forearm, an Hispanic man whose dad was murdered when he was 7, and a Middle-Eastern man who will be sentenced this week for charges filed against him before he came to Teen Challenge. It is always a profound experience of sharing the Gospel with men who know how much they need a Savior. And in that environment of need, hunger, and desperation for God — Jesus always comes and ministers in great power. How I wish I could transplant that same hunger into our Sunday worship services!
Always after our time in Riverside, I ask the Lord — “Were You pleased, Lord, with our offering? Did we preach and pray and minister what You desired for these men?” I ache to know that we didn’t preach our own message or pray and minister according to our agenda, but only what God had for these dear, desperate men.
JUST John the Baptist, Lord? You declared in Luke 7 that John was the greatest prophet who ever lived and he was filled with the Holy Spirit even in his mother’s womb (Luke 1:15)!!!!! What do You mean — “JUST John the Baptist”?!
Then the Lord reminded me that John’s job was (just) to be the Forerunner of Jesus Christ — to go ahead and “prepare the way” for Jesus to come as the Savior of the world and to do His redemptive and holy work. John was not a savior — he just prepared others to recognize and receive the Savior. It was all about Jesus and His great work, not about John! And in that sense, John was JUST John the Baptist, the one who went ahead to prepare the way for the Christ.
The Lord also brought to my mind the 70 (or 72) followers of Jesus who He sent into all the towns and villages where He was to come. Their job, like John the Baptist, was to prepare the way for Him to come and again, to do His redemptive and holy work. They were not the saviors — they just prepared others to recognize and receive the Savior. It was all about Jesus and His great work, not about the 70! And each place they went, they could promise that because they were faithful to prepare the way, Jesus would come.
That’s all we really did last Thursday night. We just faithfully went where God called us to go and we just prepared others to recognize and receive the Savior. We just preached the Gospel and prayed for folks that they would grow in great anticipation of the promise that JESUS WOULD COME. We were not the saviors. It wasn’t really about what we said or the words we prayed. It was all about JUST “preparing the way” for Jesus.
Maybe that’s why the Lord led me to pray like I did for the men, without English words, but just encouraging them to let their hearts reach out to Jesus. Because just as surely as Jesus followed John the Baptist and as certainly as He came to each town or village visited by the 70, He came to those men last Thursday.
So now I understand a little better. When I’m called to preach or pray or minister to others, my job is really quite simple. I am just to “prepare the way” for Jesus to come and to do his redemptive and holy work. I DO NOT DO THE WORK of myself. After all, it is only the Savior Jesus who can touch a life, heal a body, transform a mind, or save a soul. I simply and faithfully go where He calls me. I am JUST a John the Baptist who prepares the way for HIM.
It’s good to remember that my job can be that simple … and that sweet. Almost a week later, the sweetness still lingers.
After more than 25 years in parish ministry, Rev. Cathie retired in early 2018 to pursue a quieter life with her husband Philip in the mountains of Central Oregon. Although no longer a leader in congregational life, she continues to follow her calling and passion to minister to those who suffer, especially those with cancer and other life-threatening illnesses.