“Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Matthew 28:18-20
On Fridays a group of us head out to the streets of Inverness and other towns nearby. The offer is there to pray with people, sometimes for healing, sometimes for a blessing and often sharing a gospel message or a testimony.
I am not good at fishing. The times when the enemy would whisper in my ear about being a waste of space because I rarely initiate conversations, I tell him that someone needs to be praying. OK it sounds like a cop out, and it often is, but I figure if I hang around with the evangelists long enough something will rub off.
Last time out I prayed a curious prayer. Rather than me approaching the fish with the offer to pray, I asked God that the fish could come to me. The day progressed very much the way it usually did and no fish swam over.
This Friday was different. The fish headed my way. I had made a date with a friend to meet for coffee and cake in town. It had been his birthday. He had been down to Edinburgh to spend the day with family.
“What did you get for your birthday?” I asked.
There gets to be a time in everyone’s life when birthdays get overlooked. It might not be appropriate to take over an indoor playpark, send out invitations to friends, eat jelly and cake and take a bag of stuff home when you are into your fifties, but I felt there should be some acknowledgment of the date. I bought a card, and a hat from a second hand shop – he collects hats.
I’d forgotten the time we planned to meet so I turned up early at the rendezvous place. Another friend was there waiting by a bus stop. We talked. She said she had a sore back, so I offered to pray for healing. I didn’t ask her to bend over or twist this way or that, or anything. I just presumed the prayer was answered. She told me about the church on Academy Street that had a coffee and cake afternoon every Friday and I might find my friend there.
These people that I know, I know from volunteering at a Sunday soup and sandwich project. They are the people who have fallen through the cracks. Most of them live one step up from homelessness. They are bounced around between social workers, doctors, the police and court system. They swap stories of who is in prison and who has just come out. There are occasional fights, mostly verbal, but for the most part it’s a nice way to spend a Sunday evening.
We found each other, my friend and I. and sat in the Sunset Café, which wasn’t quite open for business but Marcin made us coffee as he set out the chairs and tables.
“No one will help me,” was a phrase that cropped up often in the conversation.
Someone once had a picture in a church meeting of little boats tied up to big boats in a storm. He said the big boats, because they are big are steady and less likely to be battered by the wind. Maybe because they are big boats they have a stronger anchor. The little boats are more vulnerable so they tie up to big boat to weather the storm. There are people, he said, who have a strong Christian faith. They don’t sink in storms. Other people, perhaps lacking any faith at all, tie up to them. They recognise a steadiness in their lives, maybe not making the God connection that’s there.
I thought about that and felt the tying up process of his boat to mine. I wasn’t sure if I could help, or whether I actually wanted to help, but in the end I realised that God was answering my fish prayer. I could help if I chose to. I made notes - I’m a note maker – it helps me to target my prayers. I don’t know if my friend has ever had the kind of conversation we had before. He talked about his loneliness, about being bullied, about sometimes having money and sometimes not. He scorned the money the council spends on silly stuff when it could be doing something to help people who have fallen through the cracks.. There was no clock watching, no sense of how-soon-can-I-leave. I made no offer to pray, but I was praying all the time. He’s heard a gospel message before from me, and from others. I took all the burdens he chose to give me and later that day I gave them all to Jesus.
I left, heading back to the car, carrying the weight of all of his sorrows. I passed the church on Academy Street. They were opening their doors for coffee and cake and, yes, another friend I knew, another Sunday soup and sandwich man was waiting outside. I didn’t need coffee or cake but I went in to sit with him. Another small boat, tying up. He’s not a man that talks much. I’m not a woman that talks much either so we sat in comfortable silence.
Another small boat tied up, not a familiar face although he claimed an acquaintance. He had been to the Sunday soup and sandwich once and not enjoyed the experience. Perhaps the soup was not up to scratch, or perhaps he didn’t like the “religious bit” or perhaps it was the other people around the table. It might have been one of those fight nights. My quiet friend assured him that lately it had been quiet, no fights, just good food. The unfamiliar face talked about moving to another town. There was an offer of a house with a garden. Did I think it was a good idea? My quiet friend said there was an empty flat near him. A flat, not a house, no garden. It was OK there. The unfamiliar face looked at his watch, said he needed to go. He lived in supervised accommodation and his time limit out was expiring. He’d see me on Sunday night.
More people filtered into the church hall. Some I knew. Most I didn’t. Some like small boats, tied up. They ate their way through plates of cakes and had endless coffee and tea refills. I sat and chatted.
God and I had words when I got home. Prayer – if prayer is someone launching an angry tirade at an omnipotent God and demanding He wade in and make a difference – I prayed. I poured out all the burdens I had collected off people onto his lap – that place where I normally sat. I wasn’t sitting there but pacing the throne room.
I'd picked up a book from a second hand bookshop. I thought it was a poetry book but it was a book of prayers written by inmates in a prison.
“Sometimes, dear Jesus, we wish everything was cleaner and not so dirty.
Sometimes we wish we was real strong when people bug us.
Sometimes we wish we was brave when we is scared of the big kids.
Sometimes we wish we had a bigger house.
Sometimes we wish You were around here more often, Jesus”