Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Taking Off in Prayer

This post is part of a continuing series about the School of Christ in Cochabamba, Bolivia. All posts will be tagged "Bolivia." Read all Bolivia posts here.

As you may already be aware, a part of the daily rhythm of the School of Christ is praying for two hours every day (from 6:00am-7:00am and 6:30pm-7:30pm, respectively), no exceptions (not even on Sunday!). I must say, this was actually one of my favorite parts of the school. But it wasn't at first.

I think many friends and family of mine can attest to the fact that I am not a morning person. In the evenings I lay out my clothes, pack my lunch and purse so that when I wake up, I can get dressed and go without having to "think." I've got it down to a science: once I get the wherewithal to actually get out of bed, I can be ready on 20 minutes (leaving maximum time to sleep).

So when on the first morning of the school we were woken up with a piercing siren not unlike a dormitory fire alarm, followed by a voice on a megaphone yelling, "Get up, get up, get up!"* I groaned and grumbled to myself, "It figures." It would still be dark outside at 6:00am when I would enter the classroom to pray and by the time we concluded the sun would be up, illuminating the high, snow-capped mountain peaks that surrounded us on every side.

The style of prayer at the school is very much different from the kind of "typical" prayer in an American Presbyterian church (which is the tradition I grew up in). Whereas in the States, most corporate prayer is led by one person praying over a microphone with everyone else agreeing silently until the "Amen," prayer at the school can, at the outset, appear to be a disorderly, cacophonous mess.

A strong memory I have of prayer is walking in at 6:00am (I was usually one of the last to arrive because I was herding in my fellow roommates to get there on time, see my older blog post for more info.), and the first thing I noticed is the low-grade sound of murmuring. You see, in the School of Christ, everyone prays out loud at the same time. For an hour.

Add to that baseline layer of whispered/spoken prayers (1) the oftentimes assertively loud worship music in Spanish being transmitted by large amplifier speakers (one at the front of the classroom and one at the back), and (2) the prayers of the pastor on the microphone up front and well, it's a party!!! I can't imagine what it was like for my teammates that didn't know Spanish; at least I could understand the lyrics of the songs (and even sang along with a few that were also popular at my church in Mexico) and could follow along and agree with the pastors' intercession up front.

In the School there were about three different options for physical postures of prayer: on your knees with your face to the ground, kneeling over a chair or standing. That first week I found myself standing quite a bit because, well, if I hadn't been standing, I would have straight up fallen asleep in those intensive morning sessions. One morning as I slowly got down onto my knees to pray, I sighed into the ground and said out loud to the Lord, "Okay... Here we go." Little did I realize that my teammate Heather was nearby, listening. She laughed out loud. I'll tell you this, prayer at 6:00am is not glamorous! At first I was seriously dragging to get there. But by week three I would walk into the room, that low-grade murmuring would hit my ears and I would be comforted. And then I'd get down on my knees and get to work.

Pastor Fernando, who taught for the first week, explained to us early on that praying in the Spirit is like a plane taking off. He even conceded that sometimes the first 45 minutes can seem utterly fruitless, and a struggle to concentrate and focus on God. "But when you take off..." he explained, with somewhat of a wistful look, "That is when you soar with God." He added further that prayer in the Spirit does not necessarily take on a certain "form" outwardly. Some students would yell out in prayer, cry, weep, groan. Yes, Pastor Fernando affirmed, this can be praying in the Spirit, but even someone who is completely still and silent, they too can be praying in the Spirit. "I can just look at people and know," he explained. There's no getting past him!! :)

For me, praying in the Spirit was like going underwater. It was immersive. I would just submerge myself in prayer, not opening my eyes once until the pastor said "Amén" an hour later. Sometimes I would have lots to say to God but other times I would run out of things to say and just worship him the rest of the time. I would wait before him in silence, thanking him. Sometimes the Holy Spirit would bring to mind a certain passage from scripture, or a picture, or a brief little phrase. Sometimes he would highlight a mindset or actions that I needed to repent of. Sometimes he would break my heart to pray for someone in particular. Other times I didn't really have a clue what God was doing in that hour other than sanctification in general terms. But I knew something was happening.

After most prayer sessions I would check-in with my teammate DeAndrea, trading notes on what God had been speaking to us. We were in total agreement that in that first week with Pastor Fernando, the presence of God filled that classroom in such a sweet and powerful way that it was undeniable. "It almost makes you sway," DeAndrea observed. I mean, it really did hit you when you entered the room.

One of my favorite memories from the school is when, one evening for prayer, Fernando asked those who had a special calling from God over their lives to come forward. "You know who you are," he said, with a serious look on his face, referring to those over whom he had prayed earlier in the week (during prayer he would usually set down the mic and then go to pray for people as the Holy Spirit led him). Of course, then just everyone in the school pretty much got up and stood in the front (I mean, who doesn't want to be chosen?) but he reiterated again, "I'm going to pray for those with a special calling in God, those on whom he will place his burden on and use in a significant way."

So everyone began to pray (that comforting thrum resuming again), and Pastor Fernando started "making the rounds." I realized, however, that many of the American team wouldn't be able to understand what he was praying because they haven't studied Spanish. So I started following him around, interpreting his prayers so they knew what he was saying. And man, I would just cry as I was translating because God was truly using Pastor Fernando to bless my American brothers and sisters! Through the Holy Spirit Pastor Fernando spoke such words of insight into folks' hearts, things that could only come through revelation--and they were such specific words of truth, love and encouragement that one after another would break down in tears as he prayed. God was healing them and building them up spiritually before my very eyes.

So like that airplane, praying was a struggle to start and get going (especially in the mornings)... But once I got into the rhythm of it, I grew to treasure it. It was, in fact, one of the only opportunities I had to "be alone" with God (albeit in a group of a bunch of people but trust me, I am and expert at blocking noises out). I would just get "in the zone." And afterwards I would frequently leave the room, remarking to DeAndrea, "That was just nuts..."

"And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints" (Ephesians 6:18).

*Thankfully after the first morning they used the doorbell to wake us up from then on.

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