When I first started thinking about The Fear List and what to put on it, I had to be very careful with my choices. There were many fears I wanted to face, but I had to factor in the amount of time or money each would take. I needed enough to challenge me, but I also needed to make sure I didn’t reach for anything too overwhelming.
While putting together The List, one of my ideas was what eventually became Fear #2: pray for a complete stranger. However, I hadn’t decided on it yet. It was a possibility, but not a “for sure.” I later realized it was meant to be on there all along.
Back before I even had this blog I was working as a receptionist, and went outside one day to enjoy my lunch. As I rounded the corner to my favorite spot, I stifled a groan. A gentleman I didn’t know was sitting at my table. Normally, I liked having lunch alone. It gave me a chance to think and re-energize for the rest of the day.
I decided to sit at the table across from him, smiling and nodding. Maybe he’ll leave soon, I hoped. I can’t remember how the conversation started, but I know one did. The man told me about how he had to ride the bus because he didn’t have a car, how he didn’t have a car because he’d been too nice to his ex-wife after their divorce, and how he had a meeting nearby at 2:00 with some people who were going to help him find some housing.
2:00? I thought. That’s two hours from now! I guess that means company for lunch.
I studied the talkative man across from me. He didn’t look especially scary, but I rarely spoke to strangers. I’d actually listened to that talk when I was younger. I could hear my dad’s warning voice clanging like a bell in my mind, and I thought about what I should do. From the man’s talk I surmised he was homeless, or close to. He had a big belly that hung over his old shorts, a long scrape going down one of his skinny legs, a face full of haunting eyes, and a head full of disheveled hair. Not exactly “respectable” company, but not dangerous, either.
But I was all alone, and he was poor. The perfect situation for a lot of bad things to happen. Still, something in his demeanor told me he wasn’t going to hurt me. I decided to stay.
The man-who later introduced himself as Richard-said he’d been waiting since 10:00 that morning for his meeting because it was the only time the bus could drop him off without making him late. He said he’d walked across to City Market and bought himself a water to pass the time, and only had two dollars left. He brought his hand out of his pocket to prove it but was surprised when he found three instead. I stared down at my $5.oo lunch.
“It might be enough to buy me a beer somewhere,” he said. “I haven’t had a beer in three years. I might go buy one.”
Was he a drunk, and that’s really what had gotten him into his current financial situation? Or was he just an occasional drinker, longing for a treat he hadn’t partaken of in years? Either way, it didn’t make sense to me. Why spend your last few dollars on a beer?
“Why?” I finally asked.
“Because it’ll make me feel good,” he shrugged.
My heart tore for him. If only he knew the True Joy! How worthless a beer would seem then! As we continued talking, I felt more and more sorry for him. What a life he’d had!
“Dropped out of school to join the army. Seventeen, and jumping out of airplanes,” Richard said.
He’d been through three divorces and was once a vacuum salesman. He never spoke of children, and his wives seemed to want to have nothing to do with him. My heart grew heavy for this man Richard as he shared his story, and I yearned for some way to help him. He’d had such a sad life. I thought about offering my lunch, but I’d already eaten half of it and didn’t want to offend him. I could give him money, but what if he just used it to buy a beer? Then I remembered I didn’t have any money with me anyway. What I wanted to give him most of all was a relationship with Christ.
In the back of my mind I thought about the fear I’d been debating about putting on The List- the one about praying for a complete stranger. Here was Richard, who was both a stranger and a man in desperate need of prayer. But I’d planned to pray in a different, more controlled environment… maybe church or something. Was it a sign? Was I brave enough to do it right here, right now?
I knew it was the most important thing I could give him. I knew it was what I wanted to give him. So I prayed how I was comfortable at first- silently with just God and I. Oh, God. You know me. I’m bad at these things! Please, please, please give me the courage.
It was only minutes before I needed to be back at work, and I was running out of time. I needed to do it if I was going to. But I hated praying out loud! Whenever I did, my prayers became awkward, fake, and staged. It seemed so wrong to condense the Living God into a plastic prayer, as if He weren’t actually listening. And yet, that’s what I did every time. It was easy for me to speak to God when it was just Him and I, but praying out loud and for other people was another story. It felt strange, unfamiliar.
I looked helplessly again at my purse. I don’t have any money to give him. Suddenly, I was reminded of a similar situation in the Bible. It was Acts 3 when Peter and John went to the Temple and met a beggar lame from birth. When the beggar approaches them for money Peter says, ” ‘I don’t have any silver or gold for you. But I’ll give you what I have. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, get up and walk!’
Then Peter took the lame man by the right hand and helped him up. And as he did, the man’s feet and ankles were instantly healed and strengthened. He jumped up, stood on his feet, and began to walk! Then, walking, leaping, and praising God, he went into the Temple with them.”
That was it! I knew what to do, and how to do it.
I leaned forward, all apprehension gone. “I have to leave soon, but before I go, there’s something I’d like to do. I don’t have any money to give you, but can I give you what I do have? Can I pray for you?” I held my breath.
He paused. “Well, I guess it couldn’t hurt, could it?”
I shook my head with a smile and bowed my head. “Father God, thank you so much for giving me the chance to meet Richard today. It was great getting to know him, and I pray you’ll bless him. Give him money where he needs the money, and let him know you and how much you love him. In Jesus’ name, Amen.”
As I looked up I saw the most precious sight, one I’ll never forget. Tears glistened at the corners of his eyes.
He let me see them for only a moment, straightening and blinking. Still, his voice was a little husky when he spoke. “I feel the same. I’m glad I got to meet you.”
My prayer was nothing special. It was one of the shortest and most simple I’d ever heard. It wasn’t what I’d wanted it to be, but it had still seemed to touch him.
I’m not sure I’ll ever know what happened to Richard. I don’t know if he got his life turned around, or started a life with Jesus as his Savior. But I do know I will never regret praying for him or seeing those tears.
I believe in the power of prayer and in the name of Jesus, so I have no doubt God moved. How he moved is His business. But it might just have left a man broken from birth leaping and dancing. At least, that’s what I’m praying.