New Ways of Praying

Over the past year, I’ve gathered with a group of Kenyans in the empty storage room of a rec center to pray for our neighborhood. The room is dark and dank, and we all barely fit inside, but I’ve started to call it “the furnace” because I believe our prayer times radiate the love of Jesus out into the neighborhood.

Mutahi usually starts by sharing some scriptures, then Wacuka leads out in acappella worship. When our hearts are sufficiently burdened and inspired, we launch into intercession. Voices filled with passion, each person begins to pray loudly and at the same time. With the pace and volume of our prayers rising and falling, we cry out to God. We pray for our Muslim friends to open their lives to Jesus, for peace to reign in our city, and for spiritual power as we seek to proclaim the gospel among a resistant people.

I’m grateful for this past year in the “furnace” with my prayer mentors. As the only non-Kenyan, it’s taken me awhile to come out of my quiet, conservative, midwestern shell and to learn to pray with the bold persistence of the neighbor in Luke 11:5-8.

Conversely, on the other side of town, I recently gathered with a different group of believers to teach on cultivating an inner-life with Jesus. Travis, Olivia, Mallory, Kamau, and I all sat under a gazebo in a beautifully manicured flower garden and discussed various spiritual disciplines. In this beautiful setting, we practiced a slow prayerful reading of the Bible known as lectio divina. Each person found a spot in the garden to practice listening to God in silence.

We reconvened after an hour to debrief our prayer experience. Kamau (the only Kenyan in attendance) seemed particularly emotional and wasn’t able to join in the group sharing. I approached him after the session to see if he wanted to talk about how he was feeling. Through tears, Kamau went on to tell me that the past few years of his life had been very difficult. Despite all the hard things he mentioned, he assured me that the tears he was crying were tears of happiness. He said, “I’ve never prayed that way before. I’ve never taken the time to listen to God like that.” This kind of silent prayer was as new to him as the shouts in the storage room were to me. In the same way that God has pushed me out of my shell to seek him with greater fervor, He’s pulling Kamau into his shell to receive the healing that comes from taking time to listen to Jesus. The willingness to be uncomfortable allows us to experience God in new and deeper ways.