Below is another post in what is becoming a series about my own life. I rarely write autobiographically or in memoir style. But I want to start doing more of it. I want to be more open about my past experiences and about the things that have shaped me. In line with the conventions of memoir writing, I have changed names and fudges details so as to protect others from unwanted attention.

I wrote this piece about a year ago, but didn’t feel until now that I should publish it. I wanted to make sure that, before I put this on the Internet, I no longer held any bitterness for some of my past experiences.

This piece is about me. It’s not about a church. It’s not about other people. It’s about me and what I learned.

* * *


I sit up in the darkness.

“You guys up?”

Fuzzy memories. A lamp turns on.

“Guys, we need to get going if we’re going to go.”

Right. I remember now. We have section prayer this morning.

* * *

In the college ministry of the church I attended on and off during undergrad, the students were members (or this was the idea) of small groups called lifegroups. These groups met one evening during the week and were designed to foster Christian community. The lifegroups were grouped into larger divisions called sections. Mirroring the leadership style of the lifegroups, each section had two leaders (a guy and a girl).

In any case, the section that my lifegroup was a part of met to pray on Friday mornings. Early.

* * *

I walk in to the living room and sit down with a cup of coffee. I nod to the others around me–eighteen-year-old kids like myself.

“Get in small groups and pray for the person on your right. When you have a word, share it! Remember, guys with guys and girls with girls.”

I look to my right and see the wannabe missionary. I had heard him talking, the other day, about wanting to go to Africa to preach the Gospel. I think he knew somebody in Africa and was hoping God would call him there.

I close my eyes and start to pray. “Lord,” I mutter “Give me a word for your son, Lord. Let me share your love with him.” With my eyes closed, numbers and faces and scriptures swirl.

* * *

Before I went to college, I had never heard of praying for “words” for people. On occasion some youth group kid would share what God had “laid on his heart.” But that assumed a mysterious quality to God’s intervention in daily life. And, in any case, that was only a few people.

But the church I attended in college read from the book of Acts about the messages God gave people through other people. This was the gift of prophecy, we were told–the prophecy that the Apostle Paul said all of us should desire. The trick to discerning God’s voice amid the din of one’s stream of consciousness was looking for what seemed strange–what you wouldn’t ordinarily think. What didn’t sound like you.

* * *

The wannabe missionary looks at me, asking me God’s will with his eyes.

“I saw a map,” I say slowly, “with arrows pointing east to Africa. The Lord plans to send you there. Soon.”

A grin splits his face. “Yes! He is! I got word last night from the missionary there. He wants me to come in September!”

I smile, “Isn’t God good!” He nods, “I wasn’t sure if I should go, but this is confirmation! Thank you, brother!”

I nod, uncertain.

Did I pick out the right message?

* * *

I never meant to lie to anyone, least of all myself. But here were people telling me that God could speak directly to us–that we could have our own personal revelations. All that we had to do was wait and listen.

I often wondered, through my time at this church, about the veracity of the words I pronounced. Was I merely assembling the bits and pieces that I knew about people, mixing that knowledge with church words and scriptures? Was I just a common fortune-teller–a con-artist? Or was God speaking?

“Faith,” I was told, “only the ears of faith can hear the voice of God.”

How would I know what His voice sounded like if I didn’t even know my own?