Boundaries and clemency

Today was supposed to be the first day. Finally. After three months of stalling.

On Sundays, I go to church. And at the end of our service, anyone can come up for prayer. My pastor has always encouraged me to pray for others during these times, but I’ve always balked. Sundays, I reasoned, are my day off. As a vocational minister, I’d like a day when I’m not doing ministry. I just want to come. To relax and enjoy. To receive and not give. To rest from my labors.

Plus, prayer drains me. Some people are just plain lucky: they love praying. For these folks, prayer is heart-beating inspirational stuff. They get recharged from it. For me, praying is about as inspirational as lint. No, not all of the time. Sometimes, I get a glimpse of something transcendent. But most of the time, I’d rather answer emails — and for me, that’s no small statement. But, like medicine, I know it’s good for me. So I do pray.

But Sundays are a completely different matter. I need boundaries, don’t I? Nevertheless, while I was sitting at the end of a Sunday service three months ago, I felt like I should go up to the front and pray for others. And I promptly squashed that idea, like a mosquito. No way. But a question gets lodged into my head, “Who in the Bible limits the healing of others to certain days?” Ouch. I knew the answer. Pharisees. Religious leaders in the Bible who lived by rules and boundaries better than anyone. And thus by implication, I was one of them.

I was becoming a professional. Amateurs love what they do, like Sudoku or surfing. It’s the stuff you do on your day off. Professionals do it as a job. And by telling God that something was off limits, I was the professional. Sure, some people need to have stronger boundaries. They really do. But for me, my boundaries were up too high. And it’s no wonder that Sunday services were leaving me feeling a bit numb.

So after three months of stalling, today was supposed to be the first day. (I know, I wasn’t too quick to be obedient.) I would submit, and pray for others. But I was offered clemency: there was no prayer ministry today. We broke up into small groups instead. So I escaped for yet another week. But it’s funny: even though I didn’t actually go up and pray, the willingness put me in another place altogether.

I wasn’t just a customer at a church service today, but a participant. Not only was my body present, but so was my heart and spirit. Worship felt fresh and new. The sermon felt like ice-cold Coke on a hot, humid day. Dying to myself brought new, resurrection life. Ultimately, a willingness to obey knocked me out of the driver’s seat, and I found that I enjoyed the ride that much better.

So if you go to our church, I’ll see you next week. Let me know if I can pray for you.

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  1. yay, james. that’s good to hear. even as i read about your experience i feel the freshness as if i’m experiencing it for you in your shoes. feels good. :)


  2. you’re killing me! some good thoughts….


  3. thanks, j– wish some of us were there for your prayers…
    but, we will make do with long-distance ones for now. :P


  4. Now you’re busted. Please expect a head lock if you stay seated Sunday.

    Also, what do think of Webb? Michelle and I just read that book . . . I came away with mixed feelings . . .


  5. you better be around in december when i come back to visit :)


  6. Hi James, great post. You don’t know me, but I would like to talk with you about your experience as a Korean-American and especially about your experience as a worship leader. I have been connecting with several people about the possibility of organizing an AA Worship Conference and would love to open up a dialogue with you! Thanks!


  7. Hi John — Sure. You can email me by clicking the “contact” tab at the top of this webpage. I’d be glad to chat.


  8. james, james, james. i met this guy who went to gordon conwell with you back in the day: dave choi. he was in seoul for the weekend on his way to malaysia for a conference. crazy to realize how people are connected! i confess that i found this website via google (but dont you feel special that i thought of and googled you?) i graduated from williams in june and am working in seoul for the next 2.5 years. how are you and jinhee?


  9. Hi Sulgi! Send me an email — there’s a tab at the top of the page marked “contact.” It’s great to hear from you!


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