This feature is an excerpt from Greg Surratt’s new book, Ir-Rev-Rend: Christianity Without Pretense. Faith Without the Facade.
The alarm went off at 4:00 a.m. No one should be up at that hour. Almost no one was. Some people are happy and cheery when they first get up. Not me. Especially not at 4:00 a.m.
I’d made a quick trip to Birmingham to be with my friend Chris Hodges the day after his father died. Now I had to be back in Charleston to celebrate my grandson’s birthday, and the only flight with a seat available was the first one of the day. Lucky me.
I packed quickly, slapped a hat on my head (if you can’t comb it, cap it), and hopped a ride to the airport. It’s not easy to get in and out of Charleston. You don’t go through our fair city to get to somewhere else. We are a destination point. Some Charlestonians would say that we are THE destination point. Many natives still believe that the Ashley, Cooper, and Wando rivers came together to form the Atlantic Ocean. Life begins and ends with Charleston. That’s great for civic pride, but it makes traveling somewhat difficult. There are very few direct flights out of Charleston. When the rapture occurs, I’m confident that we will be routed thru Atlanta or Charlotte, depending on the severity of our sin and the sincerity of our repentance. Which one will serve as a sort of travel purgatory, you ask? I’d rather not say, in the fear that my Georgia brethren would be offended. Travel can be complicated, especially when nocturnal creatures (such as me) have to take the early flight.
The final leg into Charleston is almost always done on an aircraft that looks more like a long silver piece of PVC pipe than an airplane. Even a person of my stature (5’8″ in heals and fully stretched for pictures) has to bend at the waist to keep from bumping your head on the ceiling once you enter the plane. The good news is that there are generally two seats on either side of the aisle, eliminating the dreaded center seat. The not as good news is that the remaining seats are so tightly packed that you tend to share more intimate space with complete strangers than you really care to.
Travel to and from Charleston does improve the intensity of your prayer life. At least it does mine. I find myself praying more fervently about my potential seatmate than I did when I was single and praying for a spouse. My travel prayers basically go like this:
Prayer #1- “Lord, please let there be no one in the seat next to me.” I know it sounds selfish, but actually, it’s not. The purpose is not so much my comfort as it is so that I can give myself more completely to God and his work in my life. With no one next to me, there will be less distractions and more time to focus. (Okay, so it is a LITTLE selfish.) I was praying that prayer once when I spotted a young woman walking toward me. Arriving just before the door closed and the start of the fascinating instructional video, she was obviously the last one on the plane. By that time, there were just two seats available, and I was hoping that she would walk on past my row. As she melted into the seat next to me, she exclaimed, “What an answer to prayer; you are my pastor!! I am so glad I’m sitting next to you. I’m afraid of flying so I waited until the last minute to board. I’ve been praying that God would give me a sign that everything would be okay, and here I am sitting by you!” I didn’t have the heart to tell her that her loving pastor, who was currently being used by God as a sign of his providence, was actually praying for an empty seat. I guess both prayers couldn’t be answered so God went with the less selfish one.
If prayer #1 – “Lord, please let there be no one in the seat next to me” goes unanswered, I move onto Prayer #2 – “If I have to sit by someone, make it someone small.” If you’ve traveled much, then you’ve probably prayed this prayer even though you would never include it in your Small Group Bible Study praise report time. “Praise God, there were no fat people next to me on the plane.” It just doesn’t sound right. But the truth is no one wants to sit next to someone who flows over into the space you have purchased, especially not on a long trip. Honestly, this prayer reveals a hint of my own hypocrisy in that I am currently overweight and was born with relatively broad shoulders, so I may very well be the object of other travelers’ prayers. I still pray it, nonetheless, because contrary to the opening line of Rick Warren’s bestseller, Purpose Driven Life, in my own mind, most of the time it really is about me. Just keeping it real.
Prayer # 2 – “If I have to sit by someone, make it someone small” actually has a second part to it that goes something like this, “But don’t make them too small.” As in loud or unattached children. I remember being a reluctant babysitter to a hyper energized three year old on a flight in the middle of the night somewhere over the Indian Ocean. Her parents, whom I’d never met, were sleeping soundly in the seats next to me while I was the source of her nocturnal entertainment. My brother, who was seated across the aisle, would occasionally wake up and just laugh. I’ve never liked him much. I actually do like kids, I tell myself, just in small doses of my own choosing.
Prayer #3 – “Lord, please let them not be in need of constant conversation.” No conversation is awkward. Some conversation is good. Constant conversation to a borderline introvert can be draining (at least that’s how I justify this prayer in my mind).
Prayer #4 – “Lord, help me be a blessing to whoever I sit by.” That’s the prayer that I throw in so that I will feel better about myself. I’m not sure how sincere it is, but hey, this is my book, and you’re probably secretly relating to what I’m talking about.
Here’s the deal, God usually answers Prayer #4 by bringing me the opposite of what I’m praying for in Prayers #1-3. In fact, I’m pretty sure he ignores the first three like we ignore unhealthy requests from our kids as they are growing up. “Daddy, I’d like my ice cream before dinner this time.” He knows what we need, when we need it, and he knows what part we play in the big scheme of things. It’s easy to forget that it really isn’t about us, especially when you are tired or uncomfortable or just a little unclear about the mission he’s called us to everyday of our lives.
I was all of the above on that early morning flight from Birmingham when it became obvious that the really big guy hunched over in the aisle was eying the seat next to mine.
“I’m in seat A,” he said as he rechecked the number on his ticket.
“That figures,” I thought as I struggled out of seat B and into the aisle so he could get past.
Honestly, all kinds of negative thoughts started to vie for a place in my mind. I’m not proud of it; it’s just the truth. I wasn’t thinking about him, what God may have wanted to do in his life through me, or about why our lives were aligned in that moment, or the fact that I am to live “missionally” and “incarnationally” every day of my life because of the sacrifice that Jesus made for me. I wasn’t thinking about the power and responsibility of the good news. I wasn’t thinking like the men in 2 Kings 7 who, because of their leprosy, were forced to beg for their food daily, and then one day found a stash of goods so large that they could never consume it in a lifetime. They were tempted to keep it to themselves until one of them came to his senses:
2 Kings 7:9a (NLT) Finally, they said to each other, “This is not right. This is wonderful news, and we aren’t sharing it with anyone!”
I was just thinking about me and my comfort. I thought I knew what I needed, but the next 38 minutes proved to be highly instructional to this tired, grumpy, and out of alignment pastor. It was a divine appointment. And I almost missed it.
Prayers #1, 2, & 3 died quickly on the tarmac in Atlanta. There was someone sitting next to me. He was big. And he was definitely a talker. As he settled into his seat (and maybe one quarter of mine), he apologized for my discomfort and asked if I lived in Charleston.
“I do,” I replied. “How about you?”
“Oh no,” he responded. “I used to, but that was nearly thirty years ago now. I loved this place. I grew up here. I live in Alaska now, but it’s always good to get back for a visit.”
“Visiting family?” I asked as he shifted around in the narrow seats, trying to get comfortable. When he moved, I moved also. Not because I wanted to, but out of necessity. We were a team now.
“Yeah. Cousins. My parents both died about two years ago, but I’ve got cousins I’ll be seeing,” came the response from my new dance partner. “What do you do, and how long have you lived in Charleston?”
I measured my response.
“23 years…and I’m a pastor.”
“Really?” He asked. “What church?”
When I responded with “Seacoast,” he lit up like a thirteen-year-old girl at a Justin Beiber concert. “Then you know my cousin Sue.”
Seacoast is a fairly large church, and I’m honestly not too good with names. Sometimes, when people will ask, “Do you know _____; they go to your church?” I’ll get a glazed look while the search engine in my brain tries to find a match. More often than not, I’ll nod politely and hope that they don’t ask for details because I’m coming up blank. That wasn’t the case when my seat partner mentioned the name of his cousin. She and her husband had actually been apart of the group that started the church. They had been in a successful student ministry years earlier in our mother church, Northwood Assembly. Many of the leaders in that ministry had been a part of the founding of Seacoast. “John” who was currently occupying both his seat and an increasing portion of mine, had been one of the leaders of that group.
That really got him going. He became as animated as a large man could in the cramped quarters of a flying toothpick. His voice picked up both volume and pace as he recalled what had obviously been one of the highlight seasons of his life. He teared up as he recalled the night he really dedicated his life to Christ and the joy of following him with the abandonment that only the idealism of youth can truly appreciate. He asked me about various other people he’d known from those days. With each name came a story, and then a story on top of the story. I knew many of them, and it was actually fun to listen to my enthusiastic new best friend recount some things that might be useful to me in the future.
“So what took you away from Charleston?” I asked.
“Well, originally it was school,” he replied. “I followed God’s call to a Bible College in Florida. My dad was a pastor of a small church for a while when we were growing up, and I so enjoyed my youth ministry experience that it just seemed like the natural next step. I stayed there for two years and then transferred to another school in Tennessee for three years and then on to seminary for two more years.”
“So you’re a pastor now?” I asked.
“Well, not exactly. At least not the way that you see the word ‘pastor’.”
I shifted around in my seat, trying to get comfortable because I sensed a story coming; I was actually somewhat intrigued.
“I’m a chiropractor now, and I see my patients as my congregation. I attend a local church on the weekend, but my work is my ministry. Everyday, I go to my pulpit. See, everybody is hurting somewhere. Your job is to bring wholeness through the Scriptures. I just get to their hearts through the adjustments I make on their bodies. I feel God’s hand in everything I do. I love my job.”
“So,” I asked, “how do you go from preparing for ministry to being a chiropractor? I mean, seven years is a long time.”
“It is a long time,” he responded. “But if you mean, do I feel like I wasted seven years and lots of money and never became a real pastor? Definitely not. It was preparation for ministry, and I’m in the ministry now. So I can see God’s hand in it all the way.”
“I can see what you mean,” I said somewhat apologetically. “But obviously, you went into school thinking that there would be a “traditional” pastorate on the other end. Wasn’t it frustrating at times? Where did you make the switch?”
“It’s all about trusting God,” he said. Now I sensed that he was preaching a sermon to the “real” pastor, and I wasn’t offended. In fact, I was beginning to realize that maybe this was the reason that the two of us were squeezed into this small airplane for the next few minutes. God had something he wanted to say to me, and the only way he could get my attention was to seat belt me into a sardine can next to a rather large authentic “pastor.” “Fire away,” I thought. “I’m all ears.”
“Like I said, I felt a call of God on my life so I naturally thought of Bible College. With my dad being a pastor and being around some great role models in ministry, it just seemed like the right thing to do. We prayed about it and decided to pursue ministry training.”
“When did you decide that pastoring a church wasn’t in the cards for you?” I asked, still fascinated that a guy would invest seven years in ministry preparation without any apparent regrets.
“It was while I was in seminary,” he answered. “It just seemed like everything I tried was harder than it needed to be. It just wasn’t clicking for me.”
“Wasn’t that discouraging?” I asked. “How did you handle it?”
“Discouraging?” he stopped to think about his answer. “Yeah, I guess so at times. But how can you be that discouraged when you know you are where you’re supposed to be?”
“Interesting,” I thought. “Things are not working out, you’ve just invested seven years of your life in a dream that’s not happening, and you’re not discouraged because you are confident you are where you’re supposed to be?”
“Tell me how you can be in the right place, but it’s not working out, and you’re not worried about it,” I asked.
“God’s in control. It’s his job to figure that stuff out. I guess my job is to keep my attitude right and just follow his lead.”
“Cool idea,” I thought. “Sounds like something Jesus would say (if he were here today, occupying an oversized body in a very small plane, sitting next to a whiny pastor).”
“So how’d you get into being a chiropractor?”
“Like I said, things weren’t working out. Studies were hard, and there were no jobs available when I graduated, so I decided to go into the Army until I figured it out.”
“The Army’s a great place to go while you’re trying to figure things out,” I thought. “You don’t have to worry much about what’s next. They’ve got plenty of people telling you what to do.”
“Shortly after I got in, I started having headaches,” he said.
“The military will do that to you,” I added, helpfully.
“No, it’s not like that,” he said. “They were migraines. A friend said I ought to try seeing a chiropractor, and I did. The headaches went away, and I found my calling.”
“All in one visit?” I asked.
“Yeah, I guess you could say that,” he replied.
I’m thinking I should be a chiropractor.
“After I got out of the Army, I enrolled in school to become a chiropractor,, he said, completing his thought.
“So how long did that take?” I asked. Not that I’m thinking about it. I just wanted to know.
“Eight years,” he answered proudly.
“Eight years,” I repeated in disbelief. “So let me get this straight: In your pursuit of finding God’s calling on your life, you went to Bible College, Seminary, three years in the Army, and then back to eight years of college? And you didn’t get discouraged along the way?”
“That’s right,” he said with an oversized grin on his face. “Oh, I had my days, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything. I met some great people, and the process is what made me what I am. I love my job. And I love my life. I couldn’t be happier. If that’s what it took, don’t you think it was worth it?”
I couldn’t argue with that. I noticed that he didn’t have a ring, so I asked him if he’d ever been married.
He paused and looked down for a few seconds before he answered. “Yes, I was, to a wonderful woman. She died in a car wreck three years ago. I guess you could call me a single parent. We’ve got four teenagers living at home.”
Now that totally wrecked me.
I thought back to my selfish prayers just before he entered the plane. I thought about my reaction when it became obvious we were going to share a portion of my seat for 38 minutes. I thought about how I sometimes complain when the smallest things happen or my plans are delayed or I have to stand in one of life’s waiting lines for longer than I think I deserve. I thought about how far I am from where I need to be. I felt as if I’d been touched by an angel, and it made me want to be more like Jesus. In a strange way, I felt hope. And I wanted to hear more.
“How have you…how have you managed?” I asked as we started our descent into Charleston. “Losing your wife and your parents and raising four teenagers by yourself. I have so many questions. I can’t imagine.”
“It hasn’t been easy,” he replied. “The kids have missed their mother terribly at times. They are good kids, and their faith in God is strong. It’s hard to explain, but we have experienced God’s grace in some really incredible ways.”
“In fact,” he continued, “I can see where those years of being forced to trust God when things didn’t go the way I thought they would was great preparation for what we’ve gone through in the last three years. God was faithful then, and he has been faithful now.”
There was something different about this guy. It wasn’t just the words he spoke. He was pouring out his life and his hopes in those words. They were alive to him; he was living in them. They weren’t a shallow mimicking of something he’d heard or a Pollyanna, “everything is good,” type of misplaced naivety. There was a kind of authenticity to his faith that was at the same time simple and profound. Life had dealt him some serious setbacks, stuff that most of us would feel justified in questioning God about. But he didn’t let himself go that path. He simply trusted God, and his life was better for it.
As the wheels of the plane touched the ground, he grabbed my hand and asked if I would pray for him. I agreed to, but I felt a little like John the Baptist when Jesus asked him to baptize him:
Matthew 3:14“>Matthew 3:14 (NLT) But John didn’t want to baptize him. “I am the one who needs to be baptized by you,” he said…
I prayed for continued grace, wisdom for his children, that his little congregation of patients would keep growing, and that he would always have a childlike awe when he saw God at work in his world.
When we finished, he gave me his card and told me to look him up if I ever get to Alaska. “I’ll take you to some of the most beautiful places God ever created. We’ll go hunting and fishing and hiking. You’ll love it,” he said. “It’s beautiful, but it can be unforgiving. You need somebody to show you the ropes. I’ll be your guide.”
What he didn’t know was that he already was. My guide, that is. Hopefully, I’ll be a better traveler for it.
And when you are praying, do not use meaningless repetition as the Gentiles do, for they suppose that they will be heard for their many words. ~ Matthew 6:7
Prayer. You need it, your kids need it. Like water to our very souls, the importance of prayer cannot be overstated. But how do you keep kids engaged in praying, more than rote words or “God bless my puppy”?
Sometimes, you need to do something different to engage their senses and spark their minds. I have found that Prayer Stations are helpful to show kids ways to pray and to keep them focused. I have used them with great success with ages from preschoolers through adults.
What Are Prayer Stations?
Prayer Stations are hands-on activities that help you focus on talking to God or listening for His voice. They are usually very simple, but surprisingly effective.
The most important thing is to start by talking to your kids about what prayer is and isn’t – talking and listening to God, as opposed to saying fancy words or a wish list for God to perform.
I find that creating a different ambiance helps set the mood. Lower the lights, if you can, and play some soft music. Let them know that this is a different sort of activity that is intended to be reflective and quiet.
Setting Up Prayer Stations
Prayer Stations can be set up many ways, depending on your needs. You might use a corner of your Sunday school room and have a different prayer station each week. You might have a prayer emphasis week at your midweek program or children’s church, and have many stations set up spread around a gym or large group room. You might have the luxury of having a separate room for prayer, and set up different stations in there each week. The main thing is to separate the stations from your usual lessons and activities, making it something special.
If you want to do this with your own children at home, it’s a similar idea. Have a set apart area for it, set the mood, and talk to them about what you are doing first. You can set up a corner of a room, or make a literal prayer closet. Or you can put different prayer stations in various rooms in your house, and have them travel to each one.
Whether at church or at home, you should try to have as few kids at each station as possible, optimally one or two. More kids mean more distraction from the prayer activities
A great adaptation for the prayer stations is to do them outside. Have special spots set up in your yard or church campus, and add a time of just closing their eyes and listening to God’s world around them. Even more fun, set up your stations outside at night! Place small lanterns at each station, so they can see the directions. Have a station for stargazing, thanking the Lord for all the beauty He has made.
If you have lots of kids, you will need lots of stations. They can be divided into very small groups and travel from station to station. They don’t have to go in any order, just move to another station that is empty. There is no time set for the stations. There should be no pressure to whip through the stations to do them all. The main thing is to be intentional about meeting God, not just doing an activity.
Materials for these Prayer Stations:
Examples of Prayer Stations
Prayer Stones – There is a box of little glass pebbles that have words written on them in Sharpie. The kids look through the stones and build a prayer using whatever words they want, putting the stones out in front of them in a row. Then they pray that prayer, adding anything that comes to mind .
Graffiti Wall – A large roll of butcher paper is mounted on the wall. They use markers to write/illustrate prayers, praises, thanks, concerns.
Healing Wall – A poster board is mounted to a wall and a large box of Bandaids is provided. Kids will write the names of people who need healing on the Bandaids, then stick them to the poster board.
Count Your Blessings – Kids stack Legos, or Duplos, thanking God for a blessing with each one.
At the Cross – Draw a large cross on poster board or butcher paper. Have a bowl of black rocks and a bowl of clear glass pebbles on the table. They are to take a black rock, which represents their sin, hold it, pray, and confess their sins to God, then look at the cross and thank Jesus for the forgiveness that he gave us. Then they place the black stone on the cross and take a clear pebble with them, to show that they have been made clean and forgiven of their sins.
There are tons of Prayer Stations on Pinterest, and with a little thought it is not too hard to make up your own. Look at things you have on hand and see how God prompts you to use them.
These stations can be just as meaningful for adults as for kids! Have your volunteers go through the stations before the kids do, or if you’re a mom at home with kids, set up and go through the stations yourself the night before. Pray for your kids as they go through these activities that God would meet them where they are, and that prayer would become an important part of their lives. I promise to pray that prayer for those of you reading this – God bless!
Prepare to Pray!
Choose one of the activities above, or visit the FFS Pinterest Board below. Create a prayer station.
Follow Future.Flying.Saucers.’s board Children’s Ministry Ideas on Pinterest.
Encourage your children to think about all of the many ways they learned how to pray during this Prayer Series. Prayer Stations are a wonderful way to watch your children and see what they apply to their prayers. Then keep on keeping on. They are on their way to becoming Prayer Warriors!!
Click on the image below for all of the articles in this series.
Joy Feemster is a 20 year veteran of Children’s Ministries, currently Director of Christian Education at Neely’s Creek Church in Rock Hill, SC. Her passion in life is pointing people to that “1 Thing” relationship with Jesus Christ. (Luke 10:38-42).
Anne Marie is a Bible Teacher and Bible curriculum writer with more than 25 years of experience. She has created Bible lessons and taught children about Jesus at churches, camps, Christian Schools, and conferences. She is the owner of FutureFlyingSaucers Resources where she helps busy parents and church leaders teach fun, flexible, multi-age, budget-friendly bible object lessons that enhance the spiritual growth of children. She lives with her husband and three children in South Carolina.
On cold mornings when I sit on the sofa to pray I’m grateful for the blanket that’s sitting there. I wrap it around me and huddle in its warmth as I sink into prayer. It’s as though I’m in my own cocoon, like a butterfly in its chrysalis awaiting transformation. O, that I would have wings.
Let me be the first to admit how my mind wanders a million different ways when I pray, settling here, flying there, coming back again and again to the divine, letting go, putting my worries and fears in God’s capable hands.
Sometimes a phrase from a psalm or two floats through my early morning brain. I was just thinking how often wings appear:
“O that I had wings like a dove! I would fly away and be at rest,” said the Psalmist (55:6). Prayer is something like that, giving me a means to go where I need to go.
But then wings also offer a refuge in the Psalms, a safe haven, God’s shelter. “Keep me as the apple of thy eye; hide me in the shadow of thy wings.” (Psalm 17:8) What better place than that?
Angels, of course, have wings. In the book of Isaiah there’s a wonderful image of the seraphim, “Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew” (6:2). Makes you think of all the things a wing can do.
Finally there are the powerful eagle’s wings later in the same book. “But they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint” (Isaiah 40:31).
Mount up with wings like eagles. That’s pretty good.
READ MORE: FROM CATERPILLAR TO BUTTERFLY
When I talk about prayer to others, I sometimes struggle to describe what I do. Maybe if I just said, “It’s like putting wings on your life and wings on all your desires and letting them fly.”
The other morning, as I was finishing up my prayer time, opening up the blanket, coming out of my cocoon, I stretched my arms out, the ends of the blanket in my hands. It occurred to me that indeed the blanket was just like pair of wings. I was spreading them out and was now letting go.
Who says we earthlings can’t fly?