This post is a follow-up answer to my previous post: Where have you seen God at work lately?
Sometimes when I pray I’m tempted to wonder if it makes any difference.
I know the promises Jesus gives throughout scripture such as “Ask and it shall be given to you, seek and you shall find” and “You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.”
Yet, countless times I’ve prayed kneeling at my bed, standing next to a hospital bed, or crying on the floor and I’ve had no clear or immediate answer. Much ink has been spilled trying to understand/explain this phenomenon. But instead of looking at the question of unanswered prayer, I want to tell you about a time in the past year when I prayed and knew that it made a difference.
During the first month as a pastor at my church, I met very few people my own age.
Atlanta is one of those cities that seems to sprawl endlessly down the interstate system, and my house and church are located at the outer edge of this sprawl on I-85. My house is surrounded by large neighborhoods and excellent public schools built over the last fifteen years. There’s even an Apple Store six minutes from my door. Yet, the movement of young people back into urban areas over the last few years has left the area devoid of an abundance of twenty-somethings like myself.
You can do life and ministry for a little while without close friends. However, living without community puts you in danger—danger of isolation, burnout, hidden sin, and loneliness. I knew all of this when I moved into the area, so I quickly began trying to meet friends–preferably at least a few my own age. I met the handful of twenty-somethings in the church last summer before most of them left to return to school. I visited the local park for afternoon runs. I walked through the mall on a regular basis. And I frequented Starbucks hoping to meet some people typing-away on their Macs just like me. I’m not one who has a track record of easily striking up conversations with random people in public, so these places didn’t bear much fruit.
As my quest for friends my own age continued, I talked to friends spread out around the country who graduated with me. I discovered that I wasn’t alone in my search for friends. However, none of us had any great solutions.
So I did what most people do when they don’t know where else to turn. I decided to pray about it and ask God for some friends in the area. One particular Sunday night, I prayed, thought, and wrote about this a great deal while eating at a lake-side restaurant alone. Here’s what I wrote:
“Last night while I was praying before bed, God impressed upon me that while I may not find a ton of friends here like myself—young, super-educated, passionate for Christ, white, Southern, fraternity men—that’s okay. And good. New possibilities open when we step out of our comfort zones. The word put on my heart was about befriending those with no friends. And “fast food” was impressed upon me. I’ve been searching for friends at Starbucks, but perhaps it’s McDonald’s I should frequent.”
Sidebar: Some of you just got nervous reading about these “impressions” in the last paragraph. When I say or write that something was impressed upon me, I don’t mean that it was some authoritative word from God. However, in these cases the impressions (or thoughts) I had while praying—to be friends with people different than myself and to visit places where these people may be—clearly aligned with scripture and the life of Christ, so I attributed them to God.
The following Tuesday night I decided to go to McDonald’s instead of Starbucks to work on a blog post. While I was in line buying an ice cream cone that would help me not feel guilty about using their wi-fi, I noticed three young people in front of me. They all had sandy legs, and somehow a conversation arose from this odd fact. They quickly told me that they play sand volleyball nearby on a regular basis. After discovering that I was new to the area, they invited me to come play with them.
The next night I ventured to the volleyball court and 2 out of the 3 people I met the day before were there. I’m not good at volleyball, but I’m good at the internet, so I watched serving and spiking tutorials on Youtube before I went. I held my own while I played for 3 hours, and they were very encouraging to me given my skill-set. I kept returning for the next number of weeks. And today, nearly a year later, my closest friends in the area are directly connected to my prayer for friends and my trip to McDonald’s.
That same week, someone from my church invited me to go to Phillips Transitional Center (a Correctional Facility for the State of Georgia). For the last year I’ve been co-teaching a weekly Bible study there and many of the men inside have grown to be my friends as well—friends who are very different than me.
Around Easter this year I happened to flip through one of my old journals and came across this entry from April 2012:
“Lord, when I need to be reminded of your power, remind me to visit the sick, feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and visit the imprisoned. Provide me opportunities and the ability to make them at my future appointment.”
Who knew that I’d meet some of my best friends at McDonald’s and a correctional facility?