Earlier this week I led the mid-week service at a local shelter for homeless veterans. But what began as a standard-issue Bible study for men who served our nation turned unexpectedly into a worship service that I believe has something to teach the church.
We met in the facility’s cafeteria, and the forty or so male residents sat singly or in small groups around the tables. Most were African-American and looked to be between thirty and fifty years of age. They were living in the shelter for a variety of reasons—some had lost their jobs and homes, others had gone through a divorce and have no place to go, a few because of substance abuse, one or two recently had been released from prison. All were there because of their special status as veterans of the United States Armed Forces.
People on the margins of life—the poor, the dispossessed, the broken—seem to have a keener grasp of grace than people from more stable backgrounds. They make it easy to teach because they’re so spiritually hungry.
I love teaching groups like this. People on the margins of life—the poor, the dispossessed, the broken—seem to have a keener grasp of grace than people from more stable backgrounds. They make it easy to teach because they’re so spiritually hungry and have a way of hanging onto every word of the Bible in a way that’s often absent in main-stream churches.
The men seemed to connect with what I had to say. I could sense a growing interest the further into the Bible passage we went, to the point where when I finished my teaching I didn’t think the service was complete. The Holy Spirit spoke to my heart and said just teaching the residents the Bible wasn’t enough. They needed an additional touch.
So we closed the service by inviting anyone who wanted to be prayed over to remain in the room as the others left. One of the ministry leaders and I would personally pray over each one, we said. As the large group left maybe ten stayed and lined up in order to be prayed over.
I didn’t know any of them before that night, but I quickly saw that it didn’t matter. We were all there by divine appointment and as the men stepped up one by one to share their needs, my prayer partner and I were given the exact words to say in response. Our prayers seemed specifically to connect with each man’s circumstances.
There are times in praying for other people when the Holy Spirit is so evident that it’s almost as if the one praying is a direct link between the person in need and the Lord’s provision.
People who’ve been involved in intercessory prayer ministry will understand what I’m trying to say. There are times in praying for other people when the Holy Spirit is so evident that it’s almost as if the one praying is a direct link between the person in need and the Lord’s provision. It’s an awesome position to be in, and one that fills the one praying with humility and gratitude to be used in that fashion. Here’s some encouragement from a previous blog for people who want to take their prayer life to a deeper level.
One resident in particular stuck in my mind. He was about my age and the story he told me was convoluted and painful. But something about him stirred my heart, so I put my hand on his head and was able to prophesy over him, to the point where he leaned into me and we both began to weep. I don’t remember all that I said, but I believe whatever words I spoke were what he needed to hear. The Holy Spirit was moving that powerfully.
After we prayed over all the men who were there, we said goodbye and went home. Since then, though, I’ve been going over in my mind what happened. I’ve been in many such services but something about this one was different. Maybe it was veteran connection—that’s a personal thing for me because both my children serve in the military. Maybe it was the obvious spiritual hunger of the group as a whole. Maybe it was simply the Lord’s sovereign interruption of our lives—the men who live in the shelter as well as those of us who led the service. Whatever the explanation, here are a few takeaways, things I think the veterans have to teach churches:
- Authentic worship is a function of desperation more than organization. Those forty men have few of the comforts and advantages of most churches; but what they do have is a desperate hunger for the Lord. That’s why their worship feels authentic.
- God’s Spirit and God’s Word work in tandem. Without the Holy Spirit, the Word is dry and lifeless. When filled with the Holy Spirit, though, the Word becomes powerful and life-giving. On the other hand, the Holy Spirit always works within the parameters of the Word of God. Worship that’s filled with God’s Spirit and faithful to God’s Word has great impact in people’s lives.
- Worship that’s only a lecture on the Bible without giving opportunity for the Holy Spirit to work in the worshipper’s lives isn’t complete. We need in our churches to allow for the free movement of God’s Spirit.
- We’ve got to be personal with people in worship. In addition to teaching and singing, I believe our worship services must be occasions when we also touch, listen, pray and weep.
The homeless veterans shelter has a lot to teach the church about worship. I hope we’ll listen to what they’re saying.