Have you ever been put in a situation where you wondered whether to “compose” a prayer rather than just praying and talking to God from your heart? Such was the situation I faced last Friday. My son, along with 40 classmates and friends were ending their reign as high school seniors. I had been given the pleasure and honor to lead the closing prayer of their graduation ceremony.
Because I’d been asked several weeks before the event, the first inklings of “write it all down” began to crowd my thoughts. After all, when it comes to public speaking, in some ways, having things on paper in front of you can really be of help, sort of a road map to follow. But in prayer, did I really want to be on “auto-pilot”? Could I just trust God to help me honestly and sincerely talk with Him – in front of a thousand people?
To say that I’d figured out exactly what I was going to do — as the graduation service began — would be completely false. I was a bundle of nerves. At one point, when Stephen Schwartz’s “For Good” was sung — amazingly sung by Danielle and Casey, I might add — I pulled out a pen and wrote: ‘But because I knew you, I have been changed for good’ across my left palm. That seemed so appropriate to say to this class of young people that I’d come to know over the last dozen years. Indeed, over the last five years, God has used young people to literally change my life. (If you’re interested in more about that, you can Click here.)
I think one of the pivotal moments for me came when I listened to the speeches of the two salutatorians, Andrew and Ryne followed by the class’ valedictorian, Abigail. Sure, they each had notes, but none of the three read their speeches word for word with the paper to their noses. No, they addressed their classmates, family and friends and spoke words that seemed neither rehearsed or harried. They looked at whom they addressed.
They spoke from their hearts.
Praying from the Heart
After each student had received their diplomas, the school’s headmaster nodded in my direction, and I quickly left my seat and took to the podium. I do remember some of my first words to the graduates seated on the platform to my left:
“I think the last time I spoke into a microphone, I was on a long bus ride…”
Very true. Earlier in the year much of the 2010 class embarked on a ski trip to West Virginia. My wife and I travelled along as chaperones. Though I didn’t squawk often on the buses intercom system in the course of our fifteen hour bus ride, it was still tempting to grab that microphone and announce, “Attention Wal-mart shoppers!” to a cabin full of smiling teenagers.
On this graduation night, as I looked over at these young faces, I felt an overwhelming nudge to just say simply that they were loved. By both me.
It was at this moment that I actually — for the first time since stepping to the platform — looked out at the people in attendance. To my shock I realized there were no empty seats in the expansive room. It was a packed house. I swallowed back a moment of nervousness, and invited everyone to pray with me. Without really knowing what I was going to say next, I closed my eyes tight and brought an image of Jesus to my mind. A question flashed: If He was really listening (and He has given me every reason to believe that in the past) what would I say to Him?
I relaxed in His company then, and the 1000+ people before me faded away… and I simply just began talking to God in a relational way. From my heart. And honestly, as I write this, I’m not even sure I can recall what I said or asked. But, I do know that I wanted these young people to know they were loved. And I found my words coming back to that: Remind them that they’re loved.
And somewhere mid-way along that conversation, God decided to surprise me. For in the next moment, the excited, high-pitched voice of my 21-month old granddaughter split the quiet atmosphere.
I think I chuckled slightly at her unabashed announcement. I would later learn that she’d been concerned that her ‘Papa’ had disappeared from his chair. My wife, also known as ‘Nana’, had attempted to quietly explain that “Papa is up there praying” and pointed at me. Her exuberant outburst of discovery came next.
For me up there on the platform, there was no denying the tone and love in her voice. It didn’t matter to her that she was “interrupting” my prayer. She was just letting the world know that she’d just found her Papa.
Unbeknownst to anyone else, that was the same thing happening inside of me… connecting with my Heavenly Papa, about people I care so much about.
It won’t be until I watch and listen to the video someday that I’ll know exactly what I was saying at that moment. But this I do know: In the midst of my prayer for a special class, God showed me His extraordinary love and adoration.
And He used a simple, granddaughter’s voice, spoken strong — with passion. A cry from a child’s heart.
God, let me always have that kind of heart toward you.
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I heard you, God.
Loud and clear.
Reveal Yourself to the class of 2010. Surround and envelope them in your beautiful presence. And surprise them too, with your surprising shouts of love. Let them always know You in child-like faith and relationship.
Let them cry, “Papa”, to You, from the depths of their being… always.