I’m CSPC Pastor of Students and Families Jonathan Bromhead, and I’m preaching Sunday. Here’s how I’m living deeply.
He had a habit of yelling at us and his other neighbors in our small New Jersey town- and he wasn’t cheering us on. I guess we all have ‘those neighbors,’ but Mario was in a class of his own. When I first introduced myself by saying ‘I haven’t met you yet,’ his response was something like, ‘Well, there’s a reason for that. Most people don’t care for me.’ Mario was in his 60s, retired (though his wife still worked), and angry about everything. More than a couple times, my family and I would just be walking by or out in our yard, and he’d start yelling at us. One time it had to do with lights I was fixing on our garage- he claimed they’d shine at his home, even though there was no way the beams could’ve reached his house. But that was Mario, and he didn’t limit his behavior to words. A few of us began to discover screws put behind our tires on our driveways- we found ourselves backing over them in the morning, not knowing they were there. We began to kind of piece together that Mario was probably behind this. We ended up going to the police, who really couldn’t do much. One of the last things the police officer said to me was, ‘You can’t choose your neighbors.’ And I was like, ‘Well, that’s true- a lot of this is out of our control.’ Mario was obviously upset about something, and it was hard to know exactly what was going on in his life. So I began to pray that the Lord would soften his heart, ease his pain & anger issues, lighten him up, and ultimately draw him to Jesus. I prayed for those things for a while, but then I got even more specific as I realized, ‘This isn’t going anywhere. He’s not going anywhere, and neither are we.’ That was when I started to pray I’d be able to have some calmer, more cordial conversations with him, and that I’d be able to invite him to our church & share the gospel with him as well. I kept a prayer card just for him, and the situation with Mario -which I’ll come back to later- really made me glad I’ve spent the past five years trying to grow in my prayer life.
I grew up as a pastor’s kid, so I was always around prayer and understood its importance. But it’s a struggle- I’ve been inconsistent much of my adult life. My struggles have been finding time, having the desire to do it, and believing that it matters- that it makes a difference, that God hears my prayers, and that He’ll move in response to them. Sometimes it’s been hard to track where the people and circumstances I pray about are going. So yes, it’s a struggle, even for this pastor. Even now, as I share this, it’s still hard, and I want you to know that. I haven’t ‘arrived.’ Prayer is hard & mysterious, but we can grow in it. If we look at the life of Jesus, he prayed a lot. He had times set aside for prayer. And so I’ve tried to do that- I don’t always have it at the same time or for the same length, but I do have somewhat of a routine. I’ve learned it helps me to have some sort of structure, and that I also tend to do better at anything when I have other people pursuing it with me or have somebody leading me through it. So at our previous home in New Jersey, before we joined CSPC last year, I joined some cohorts -groups of Christians who wanted to learn how to pray together- and that helped me. I’ve also read books on prayer. One of my favorites is A Praying Life by Paul Miller. In it, he writes about involving prayer in all parts of our everyday life. He also offers some tools to help with that, like journaling or prayer cards, where we write down our prayer requests and can track them a little bit more. It’s not so much tracking the prayers as tracking what God’s doing in our lives. We write our prayer down, we wait, and we see what God’s going to do. Using prayer cards has become a habit for me- I have a little index card box full of them. There’s a card for every one of my family members. Those are a little easier to track long term, too, because we spend our lives with our families.
At times I ask big prayers of God that I might not have before. But I’ve also found that when I create a card for somebody, it draws my heart to them. I care more about them because I’m thinking about them more. I’ve written Scripture on these cards to speak the Word into each situation, and that also has allowed me to be drawn to whoever I’m praying for- to love them and to pray for them more often. There’s another positive, too: Including prayer cards in your time with the Lord can help extend the time a little bit. We can get so distracted- to the point where it feels like it’s hard to pray for more than a minute; five minutes can feel like an eternity. But when I sit down to pray and I’m reading the Word and I’m flipping through some prayer cards, I have found I can spend more time with the Lord. Not always, but often. In all these ways, tracking my prayers for other people in written form has been encouraging to me. Some folks I pray for every day, some I pray for once a week, some I don’t pray for all that often, and some are heavy on my heart for seasons, like family members going through a really hard time. It’s so much easier to encourage others by telling them exactly how you’re praying for them, and to share what God’s doing in your life, when you have that sort of record. I want to be careful as I talk about keeping prayer cards. They’re just a tool- there’s nothing inherently special about them. But God’s used them to strengthen my personal prayer life because they’ve encouraged me to be specific when I’m talking with the Lord.
Mario would qualify as a ‘big prayer’ for me. He seemed as far from God as I could probably describe a man, and yet, why not? I prayed, ‘Work in his life and change him. You brought us here to live right across the street from him. And you don’t make mistakes.’ One time, after I’d been praying that prayer for a while, I was walking out to my mailbox and Mario was in his yard. I tried not to make eye contact- I just kind of peeked up, and he was staring at me. I thought, ‘Oh, here we go again’. He walked over to me and started to talk about his yard and how someone had driven over it. He was upset about that a little bit, but he wasn’t yelling. So I thought, ‘Hey, well, I’ll try to talk to him for a bit.’ We ended up having quite a long conversation that day. I was able to talk about the neighborhood, the town, and it ended up getting around to what I did. I shared that I was a pastor and the type of church I went to, and then I was able to invite him to join us some Sunday & even shared the Gospel with him. Mario was a Catholic who hadn’t been to church in many years, and he at least seemed receptive. I walked away from that conversation kind of amazed that, one, it had happened, but two, that God had really answered that prayer! I marked next to the prayer request on Mario’s card the date of when it had happened so I could go back & really see how God was at work. This prayer story was exciting, but it was a hard one, too. I really had to ask God to change my heart toward Mario because, honestly, the last thing I wanted to do was to show him kindness. The people I pastored were faithful in praying for God to enable me through the whole situation. Mario became sort of a household name around our church- the whole congregation knew about him. I was hoping he’d walk through the door someday so everyone could meet him- that didn’t happen during our time there. We’re no longer his neighbors, but I still pray for Mario when he comes to mind, and I’m saving his card- there may be a mark or two to add to it yet.