We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, because we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love you have for all God’s people— the faith and love that spring from the hope stored up for you in heaven and about which you have already heard in the true message of the gospel that has come to you. In the same way, the gospel is bearing fruit and growing throughout the whole world—just as it has been doing among you since the day you heard it and truly understood God’s grace. Colossians 1:3-6
These words bring to mind two authentic women that have influenced me far beyond the time I spent with them. I was the director of a Crisis Pregnancy Center in California about 25 years ago and part of my responsibility was to pray with each new shift of volunteer counselors before they met with clients. Two of those volunteers were women who profoundly changed the way I saw Jesus and the way I prayed. They were real women of God and they showed me what an authentic believer looked like.
These two women, at face value, had nothing in common, except that they were both soft-spoken. They were the opposite of me: an outspoken, brash, too-loud, too-full-of-herself young believer who had a college degree and thought she was going to change the world on her own. Claire was about my mother’s age (in fact she’s the one that introduced my Mother to Jesus) and had four grown children. She was a nurse at one point in her life, but had chosen to be a stay at home parent while her husband, a surgeon, worked more than full time. Her family was affluent, but Claire was never one to flaunt her wealth. She was white and originally from England, and her accent was charming. Sheila wasn’t much older than me, but I always felt that she was much older. She was black, a single mother, and had no college education that I was aware of. Looking back, I realize that I have no memory of why she was a single mother; whether she had her daughter out of wedlock or was divorced or widowed young. Although that may seem odd, it had no bearing on our relationship at the time, and the facts surrounding the situation seemed to be of no consequence, except that Sheila was also poor. She had food stamps and government assistance, but she wasn’t working the system. She was using the system as it was originally intended, to help her get on her feet and overcome the poverty in which she found herself and her young daughter.
These two women may have “worked” for me, but God used them to work in me and show me authentic Christianity. They showed me Jesus in a way that I will always be grateful for. Their genuine love for God’s people, all of his created humanity, changed me. Another part of my job was to meet with clients when there were no volunteer counselors on duty and I had a hard time being in small rooms with some of our clients because of the horrible odor that comes with homelessness; but Claire and Sheila embraced these women and their children as if they were bathed in the sweetest perfume. I fought the judgment that welled up inside of me when I heard their stories; they accepted everyone that came through our doors with unconditional love, but they also demonstrated a true compassion for everyone that caused that person to feel that they had just been with Jesus. I lashed out at God because he could have kept these young girls and grown women from getting pregnant in the first place…these children were doomed from the beginning. Claire and Sheila lifted each client up in prayer, expecting God to do miraculous things in their lives, thoroughly confident that God would bless and provide all that was needed.
These two women taught me how to pray. When I first took the position as the director the only part that intimidated me about my job was praying out loud with the volunteers. Although I had great organizational skills, training, and a college degree, my faith was immature and untested. I shouldn’t have been in the position I was in, but the Lord had a plan to grow me.
These two women prayed from a deep sense of awe and wonder at who God is. They prayed from wisdom gained in adversity and an understanding of grace that I didn’t yet fully understand. I can’t remember the words, but I remember how I felt and even now, 25 years later, tears well up and I am there with them, head bowed and heart open to the Spirit’s leading. There were some days that we had no clients waiting and we would pray for their entire 4-hour shift. There were days of hurried prayer with a waiting room full of women and children. But there was always prayer. They never went in without the powerful cover of prayer.
These two women prayed in different voices, with different words, from different perspectives. Yet they were one in the Spirit, one in Jesus, one in the Lord God; and they came alongside me and spoke truth and life into my heart that forever changed me. They were spiritual “mothers” to me and the Lord used them to grow me up and set me on the right path. Today when young women ask me to pray for them, or ask me for advice, I can’t help but picture Claire and Sheila praying for me and sharing their advice with me. I am in awe of God’s work in my life so that he can work through me in others’ lives…
These two women will always be with me, even though we haven’t been physically in the same space for years. Their relationship with Jesus has been an example of authenticity that I pray I will emulate and pass on to others until that day we are together again, here on earth or in the Lord’s presence.
These two women are my visual representation of prayer warriors. I can hear their soft voices raised in adoration, confession, thanksgiving, and supplication. One of the many things they taught me was to pray scripture. To literally speak the words from the Bible as my prayer. For many years now I’ve prayed scripture in different situations, but one of my favorite scriptures to pray is Ephesians 3:14-21. It is a daily prayer for my biological children as well as the “children” the Lord has brought into my life as a college instructor. Maybe it will become one of your favorites as well.
For this reason, I kneel before the Father…I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge – that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.