Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (Hebrews 4:16)
The seminary that I work for, United Lutheran Seminary (ULS), has been going through a time of turmoil. Many people have many different opinions and perspectives on what has been going on, and what should be done to fix the situation, so I won’t go into the details—but suffice it to say, the last few weeks have been difficult on students, faculty, and staff.
On Monday night, I went home to my apartment near the Gettysburg campus of ULS as usual. The Board of Trustees was meeting the next day on the Philadelphia campus to listen to different constituency groups about the situation at hand. I had not been asked to be present at that meeting, so I wasn’t planning on going to the Philadelphia campus at all. I had pretty much planned on praying and supporting everyone at the meeting from afar, and being present for those on the Gettysburg campus.
But after a brief phone conversation with my supervisor, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I needed to be there in Philly the next day. To my knowledge I had no reason to be there, so I hemmed and hawed a bit. But eventually, I decided to go last-minute. I arrived late that evening and spent the night in Philly.
The next morning, I woke up, thinking “I don’t even know why I’m here…. why did I come all the way to Philly for no reason?” I decided that I would just wander around the building to be a visible and present staff member for support during the proceedings.
As I getting ready for the day, I had an epiphany from the Holy Spirit.
This event needed to be enveloped in prayer.
We needed to approach God’s throne of grace with boldness, to receive mercy and grace in this time of need (thanks, Letter to the Hebrews!).
When I got to work, I quickly asked around– Is anyone praying with the groups before they go in to talk to the Board? Turns out, no one was. I contacted all of the groups, offering to pray with them right before they met with the Board. Some groups declined, but most of them were grateful to be offered prayer and accepted.
As I prayed with the first group of students, representatives from our LGBTQIA+ community, I realized with a jolt– this was why God had urged me to be here, to help remind us to seek God and pray in the middle of it all. That prayer time with the students was powerful. We came together as a community, offering our deep and sincere prayers to God.
It was clear that prayer—intentionally connecting with God and listening for God’s guidance—was extremely important in this time of difficulty.
Praying with the other groups who were speaking with the Board and who wanted prayer was just as powerful. We prayed for God to guide the words that would be spoken, for ears and hearts to be opened. We prayed for strength, for God to be with us, and with the rest of the community we represented. We prayed for God’s love and mercy and grace to be known throughout this day.
Right after I prayed with the faculty and they entered the room to speak with the Board, I was asked to be a last-minute addition to speak to the Board as a staff member later that afternoon. Having just experienced the power of prayer, I knew that I needed to pray over what I would say to the Board in just a few short hours.
After each sentence I wrote, I prayed. And as I stepped into that room to speak to the Board, I prayed that my words would be what God wanted me to say, and what needed to be heard.
AND– I was so thrilled that the first thing the Board did after we walked in…. was pray with us! It was clear that prayer was a priority for everyone during this event.
At the end of the day, whatever happens, I know that God was present in the many conversations with the Board yesterday. I know that those involved in the proceedings on all sides were aware of the Holy Spirit and actively listened for the Spirit throughout that very long day of talking and listening to one another.
I learned a lot yesterday. Here are the three major things I learned about being in a time of turmoil (maybe they will be helpful for you, too):
1) Pay attention to the urgings of the Holy Spirit! If I hadn’t noticed and acted on the Spirit’s push to go to Philly, and the Spirit’s urge to offer prayer, we as a ULS community wouldn’t have been able to share in those moments of prayer in the same way, nor would I have gotten the opportunity to speak to the Board. It’s easy to focus on so many other things when in turmoil– but being aware of the Spirit can make all the difference.
My experiences from that day are directly related to my lifestyle as a Christian minimalist (being a Jesus follower while focusing on what matters most in life):
2) One of the things that matters most in life—it matters all the time, but especially in times of difficulty– is cultivating a relationship with God through prayer. Carving out that time to listen for God’s guidance is super important. It was especially important yesterday, when the stakes were high, emotions were running high, and everyone really wanted to say what God wanted them to say. Intentionally listening for God and experiencing God’s deep peace and love was beyond needed.
3) Another aspect of life that matters most is relationships with others. Community matters. We are all the ULS community together, for better or for worse. And although we went in as representatives of distinct groups on campus, coming together for prayer each round solidified us as one community. As a community, we prioritized God– even in the hard stuff.
This experience opened my eyes to the importance of prayer and community and listening to the Holy Spirit. Even in the midst of turmoil and uncertainty, God is with us and is active. Praise be to God!