At the end of every day at Urbana, I would have the same feeling. The feeling made my stomach turn, a throbbing in my throat, with my heart about to jump out of my chest and my mouth uncontrollably releasing sighs of tiredness. My job at Urbana was to do one on one prayer ministry every day from 2-5 (which turned to 1-6:30 easily). I would see God’s power as He spoke to students and even brought significant healing and direction to them. It was amazing to see God work so much. I was in awe of what God would do each day. But I prayed for so many people each of days. I kept track one day- I prayed for 15 people. And this wasn’t your 2 minute prayers of blessing… usually at least 20 minutes for each person, sometimes going up to 45 minutes-1 hour. It was exhilirating. But it was draining, as I poured myself into each person’s brokenness. By the end of each day, I would find myself in a horrible contradicting state- I was so spent pouring into people that I did not want to talk to anybody, but at the same time felt an extreme lonliness and thirst for community.
“I have been very zealous for the LORD God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, broken down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too.”- Elijah (1 Kings 19:10)
Whenever I read this passage, there’s part of me that thinks that Elijah is so narrow minded! Just one chapter before, Elijah had witnessed God use him to be part of an awesome display of power and glory. Fire came down in power on an altar, rendering the acts of religiosity by the priests of Ba’al insignificant and a sham, as the true God displayed His authority. Elijah, how can you lose perspective so quickly?
But the part of me that scoffs at Elijah’s lack of faith is small, because really, that was my complaint at the end of every day at Urbana. In the midst of my lack of energy, motivation and joy, I was in desperate need of God’s whisper, that gentle, yet earth shaking sound of His voice. The cool thing was that that I did get to experience those whispers. Every time I came to the end of myself, God came at the right moment to pick me back up. Here are 2 “whispers” I encountered during my week at Urbana.
“Larry“ (changed name, don’t know if he’d be embarrassed to be written about)
I stumbled into the staff lounge. I was ready to just eat a cup noodle, munch on a PB&J and disappear into a couch and sleep. I had spent the whole day praying for people who had never heard the voice of God. And although it’s actually my favorite group of people to pray for, it gets tiring when you have to repeat your same pep-talk encouraging the person that God actually might have something to say to them every. single. time. I was in desperate need to hear from God for myself, but was too tired to seek for it by the end of the day.
Just as I was grabbing my cup noodle, a man approached me and tried to get to know me. I was tired and wanted nothing to do with meeting a new person. Worse, it seemed like he was talkative. Usually I don’t mind, but I really didn’t want it.
But I looked at him. First of all, he was significantly older than the rest of the staff. Especially being in the San Diego region, it’s rare to find somebody over the age of 35 still doing our job. Not that elders are any worse than younger people, but honestly, being an IV staffworker is tough work, and if you stay at the job for longer than 5 years, something must be different about you. There had to be something different about this guy to still be doing this job at his age.
So I investigated. and what I had expected to be a short cursory conversation turned into a treasure box of stories and deeply held passion for college students. He had been everything from a farmer, an engineer, a seminary student, on staff at a church, in charge of a camp, and finally working on campus. He spoke of seeing God work in powerful ways among his students. And you could see his awareness of God’s goodness. Then he looked at me and talked about how he had lost his arm. He probably knew that I had avoided talking about it, sensed my inability to engage it. There was a richness of Larry’s experience of God’s grace that was formed from his recent battle with cancer that led to the amputation of his arm. I was in awe… I could only imagine myself becoming bitter and angry… but in this man, there was joy and faith… amazing.
I looked at my watch. I had listened to him for an hour. And it didn’t tire me out- i came out refreshed, inspired, and full of praise at how good our God is. That man was an amazing man of humility and grace, when I think about him, a silent thankfulness takes over me. And in that silence, i realize that I did more than listen to a man’s stories… I heard the whisper of God.
It was the last day. I was fried. My friend Maghan found me in the prayer room with a blank stare into nothing. I felt totally depleted. If I had to pray for another person, I felt like my body would lose its form and turn into a puddle of tired and dilapidated will. People were calling me and I ignored all of them. I just stared. And she yanked me out of the seat and made me go out and look for something to eat with her. I probably needed it. And I was dragged into the cold St. Louis air, where the pleasant snow had turned to a light drizzle. We needed to find something quick, because the plenary was about to begin.
As we walked quickly to find something that was open, a man approached us. He was homeless. I had seen him earlier in the week and had tried to ignore him. “Hey guys, i’m an aspiring hip hop artist, and I’m trying to see what people think of my rhymes.” I was about to tell him I had no cash (I wasn’t lying), and that I didn’t want to hear him. But Maghan annoyingly told him that she’d love to hear his stuff. Oh God, why won’t you just give me a break already? was what was running through my head.
Then Tony spit out his rhymes, about how much he tried to escape the streets, but they kept calling him back. I don’t remember most of it, but the line that really stayed in my memory was “God, send your rain on me, send your rain on me”. I started to feel compassion for the guy, although my tiredness didn’t want to feel it.
Finally I relented to the Holy Spirit and we invited him to eat with us. At first, we were just going to find some fast food, but everything was closed for new years eve. Quite the night to look for food. Even Hardee’s (Carls Jr, for us westcoasters) was closed. The only restaurant open was… TGIF’s. I felt this was cruel of God, to force me to keep giving, to keep listening to this man, who really needed God but I felt like I had no strength to engage.
The three of us rushed into the TGIF, shivering from looking for so long for something that was open. We sat down and I told him price was not an object, and that we were going to treat him. And as we sat there thawing our numb cheeks, I think something else was thawing in the process- my heart. As we sat and listened to his stories and how he ended up on the streets, i felt my heart of frozen stone start to beat. This tired heart, tired from hearing people’s problems and crap… was somehow finding life in hearing about somebody’s problems and crap. It didn’t make sense. We made jokes, talked about how ridiculous our table looked in the restaurant- a chinese man, a black man and a white woman. Laughter. I didn’t realize how much I needed laughter after a day of praying for all the burdens that people needed to bring to God.
When Tony had finished his full rack of ribs (haha it was a lot, but we were both horrified that Maghan never liked ribs, so it was only right that he would order them), we got up and walked to the door. And I unbelievably felt that I needed to pray for him. As I told him I wanted to pray for him, I was chuckling to myself that just an hour and a half before, I didn’t want to pray for one more person. We prayed for him, and walked out the door, expecting to part ways as we needed to get to the last plenary session. We said goodbye, Tony said he needed to find some other people to demo his rhymes… and then an awkward silence. He was lonely. We told him to walk back with us.
When we got back to the convention center, we made our final goodbyes (for reals), maghan gave him her bible, with Isaiah 40:28-31 marked out for him, the verse we prayed over him.
And as I walked back into the convention center… I was still physically tired. But something in my spirit was alive. The verse we had studied earlier in the day came to my mind as I was wondering about why I wasn’t about to collapse, “‘My food,’ said Jesus, ‘is to do the will of Him who sent me and to finish His work'”. I smiled at His whisper.
I am constantly in awe of how God knows exactly when and how to refresh my heart. His whisper is constantly coming to me, trying to catch my attention. In the midst of all the tiredness I experience in ministry, I wonder how many times I simply ignore His whisper and wallow in my tiredness. But I remember, I must continue to wait on the Lord. As I reflect on God’s goodness and how He continually replenished my tired heart, I remember the verse God gave me to tell Tony:
Do you not know?
Have you not heard?
The LORD is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He will not grow tired or weary,
and his understanding no one can fathom.
He gives strength to the weary
and increases the power of the weak.
Even youths grow tired and weary,
and young men stumble and fall;
but those who hope in the LORD
will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
they will run and not grow weary,
they will walk and not be faint.
– Isaiah 40:28-31
Perhaps in the midst of my tiredness, the verse wasn’t just for Tony, but a reminder for myself. It’s funny how when we are tired of listening, we find replenishment by listening even more to the Lord. It’s strange that as a minister of the gospel, listening, the very thing that brings weariness to my impatient heart, can surprisingly give me life, just as Larry literally snuck up on me in the midst of my deepest fatigue. Even as there will be so many opportunities in this next semester to check out in fatigue and emotional weariness, I remember to hope in in the Lord, and that he will make me soar on wings like eagles. Lord, don’t let my weariness keep me from noticing Your voice, the source of true rest.