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.