I have seen my dad pray on countless occasions.
He prayed over meals. He prayed over my two sisters and me before we went to sleep. He prayed over our cuts and bruises from falling off our bikes. He prayed for us in the car on the way to school, and when we moved away from home, he prayed for us over the phone.
Now, he prays via text messages he sends early in the morning. I've seen him praying alone, with friends and with my mom, Denalyn.
It makes perfect sense to me that his most recent book is about prayer and its simplicity. He's been writing Before Amen: The Power of a Simple Prayer, right in front of me for years; it's just that now, it has been written on the page, printed, and bound.
To sit down with my dad and ask him about the book, and about his prayer life, was an enlightening and fun (yet odd) experience for me. It was like lifting up the hood of a car I've owned for years to finally see how it actually works.
I think every child should sit down and interview his or her parents, even if it's not for a printed story. It turns out there is a reason parents do the things they do, and they may have some stories to share you've never heard before.
Praying in His Chair
One place I often found my dad praying when I was younger was in a chair in his study at home. It was his morning ritual, a habit that began when he did a church internship in St. Louis in 1977. For nine months he and the other interns were required to have a quiet time from 8:30-9:00 a.m. each day.
"I remember someone saying to make it your aim that your quiet time is the most enjoyable time of your day," my dad recalls. "That struck me as odd because I had seen prayer as an obligation, not as something to look forward to. I was happy to do it just like I was happy to brush my teeth—because you need to."
It would take a few years, but eventually personal prayer would become a necessity for my dad. In 1983, he and my mom moved to Brazil to plant a church. In the five years my parents spent there, they had their first two children—my older sister, then me. They worked with a team of couples who had little to no experience in planting churches, and they were trying to learn Portuguese. On some Sundays, my dad remembers, the church had more Americans than natives attending.
"My fascination with prayer began in Brazil because it was the hardest work I've ever been a part of," he says. In the midst of raising a young family and planting a church in a foreign country—about 7,000 miles away from West Texas—my dad's dad, Papa Jack, was diagnosed with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS).
It felt like nothing was going right. My dad says in those days, he was "Mr. Gung-ho," but when things got tough in Brazil, his hope dwindled.
My parents returned to Texas on furlough to spend time with Papa Jack as his illness grew worse. While there, a neighbor loaned my dad the book Destined for the Throne by Paul E. Billheimer.
"Billheimer's big idea," he says, "was that all of us are destined to serve with Christ in eternity and prayer is the on-the-job training to get us ready for heaven. It challenged me to give my problems to God, to talk to God more, and to think about prayer as a source of strength."
That last part—prayer as a source of strength–is something my dad says he has always struggled with.
"When I read about other people's prayer lives," he explains, "mine has seemed wimpy by comparison. I would hear about them praying for hours, praying in a spiritual language, praying with great volume and passion, and I would say, ‘Well, I'm a wimpy prayer warrior.' The discovery I made that really helped me is that it's not the volume or the duration that makes prayer make a difference. It's the relationship with God."
Hence, the numerous mornings I saw my dad sitting in his chair with his Bible placed in his lap. Prayer for him starts where it has to start for all of us: a simple conversation between you and God.
Praying with Our Family
I was an incredibly mediocre volleyball player in high school.
I wouldn't have been upset at my parents if they ever missed a game or two—they wouldn't have missed much—but they never did. My mom and my dad were at everything for all three of us. Whether it was a piano recital, a choir concert, or a Saturday game, they were there.
In order to be at all of our stuff, my dad committed to stop traveling when I was very young. I didn't know this until I was older, of course. I didn't know he was passing up speaking and press opportunities to simply be with us, but he is adamant that it was not hard to do so.
"I quit traveling pretty much for ten years," he tells me. "I didn't go anywhere. I've told people that and they say, ‘Wow, what a sacrifice!' And I say, ‘Are you kidding?' It wasn't a sacrifice at all. It's a no-brainer to me that I'd rather be at my kid's piano recital than speaking at a conference. It was never a sacrifice."
This goes along with my parents' parenting philosophy, something I didn't know my parents had until this interview.
"I think what kids want more than anything is time," says my dad. "This quote isn't original to me, but kids spell love with four letters: T-I-M-E. Our philosophy was, while our kids want to be at home, let's be at home with them."
One way my parents spent time with us was carving out space for nightly devotionals. I have fond memories of this ritual. My dad liked to get creative and tell a Bible story in a new way. One night, when we were learning about the Israelites' forty years in the desert, my dad suddenly turned the ceiling fans on and Nilla Wafers® began flying across the room. He had secretly placed them up there to simulate manna falling from heaven. Just your typical family devo.
These days, all three of us girls are spread out in different cities, so the times we are together as a family are more rare. But when we are, there is always a moment in which my dad calls us to huddle up together in the living room or in the kitchen. As a family, shoulder-to-shoulder, we pray about big things that are happening, or sad things, or important decisions that need to be made. It's something we've always done that I never thought twice about, but it is truly a unique gift to be a part of family who does this.
"I wanted you girls to hear your mom's and my voice in prayer," my dad says. "I like the idea of speaking over my children, inviting peace to come over my children, banishing evil from my children."
He believes other parents should do the same: "I encourage parents to take courage, to know that when they pray for their children, they're doing wonderful things for their kids. Parenting is not rocket science. You give your kids time. You listen. You pray with them."
I don't remember the first time my dad prayed with me. I was a newborn, and, like he did with my older sister before me and would do with my younger sister after, he lifted me up and gave me to God. "That was the most fervent I've prayed," he tells me, "because I wanted to be a dad who remembered these children belong to God."
Praying from the Pulpit
My dad has been the pastor of Oak Hills Church in San Antonio for the last 27 years and so has my mom. Maybe she isn't on staff, but I've always viewed her as a leader there, and counselor for so many of its members. In recent years, my dad has started asking my mom to lead the congregation in prayer. Her prayer life is what I like to call "booming." I aspire to it, and so does my dad.
"If there was ever a time that I was more spiritually mature than [your mom], it has long passed," he says and smiles. "I don't know if there ever was a time. Her prayer life and her intimacy with God has deepened over the years."
Prayer plays a central role at Oak Hills. It's why the church has grown consistently and why I have a list of so many things I could say about it and the ministry my father has done there. But when I picture my dad, I don't picture him in the pulpit; I picture him at home with us. I know that the pulpit is a major part of his life, but the amazing thing is, he didn't make it a major part of ours.
When I tell my dad this, he simply references 1 Timothy 3:5, which says, "If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God's church?" (NIV).
In a serious manner he looks at me and says, "I just could not imagine going to my grave thinking I had not at least tried to be a good husband and father."
Article courtesy of HomeLife magazine.