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“Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.” (James 1:17)
This week, I am beginning an online book study with some people in the church on the book Celebration of Discipline by Richard Foster, a classic on spiritual growth. One story in the introduction really moved me. As Foster shares about the origin of the book, he talks about a time when he felt led to have Bill Cathers, a former missionary and a man of unusual discernment and wisdom, pray for him. He didn’t know what to have him pray for, only that he felt the need for him to pray. Foster writes:
When Bill arrived, the very first thing he did was to begin confessing his sins to me. I sat there astonished. ‘What is he doing? He’s the spiritual sage.’ These were my inner thoughts, but I waited in silence. Finally, he finished, and I spoke over him those liberating words of 1 John 1:9: ‘If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.’
Then Bill, looking right at me – and right through me – asked ever so quietly, ‘Now, do you still want me to pray for you?’ He had seen into my heart! He knew that I had put him high on a pedestal as some spiritual guru, and he was pulling all that down in a crumpled heap. Sobered by his discernment, I replied simply, ‘Yes, I do.’
He then laid his hands on me and prayed one of the deepest prayers I have ever received. The power of that prayer is still with me today. I cannot begin to convey to you the height and depth, the length and the breadth of his prayer, but I will tell you one word he spoke – a power-filled word, a prophetic word. ‘I pray,’ he said, ‘for the hands of a writer.’
I love the humility of Bill Cathers, who through his confession made it clear to Richard Foster that any spiritual power that he possessed was from Christ and not from his natural abilities or his prayers. It can be ego-building to let others see us as the spiritual sage, as someone who is wise and holy. But it is much better to point people to Jesus.
This week, I have been in Hartford with one hundred teens and tweens, learning about God, worshiping, and serving in the city of Hartford as part of The Hartford Project. With the story of Bill Cathers in my head, I have been making it a point to ask for prayer from those who may feel they are my spiritual inferior, just as Richard Foster did with Bill Cathers. I had the students in our church pray for me tonight. I had one of the interns pray for me last night. And even as we have been out in the streets praying for those we meet, I have realized that I would be wise to ask people to pray for me, not just to offer to pray for them. The spiritual power I need is found in Jesus, and I need the prayers of others in order for God to move in me.
All that was good within Bill Cathers, all that is good within me, and all that is good within you, is a gift from God, not a creation of our own will. Instead of pointing people to ourselves, let us instead lead others by pointing them to Jesus.