Going into our shepherds meeting this past Wednesday, I wasn’t really sure who would be praying with me at 8:00 Sunday morning. I assumed I would invite all of our shepherds and ministers to join me in the chapel early Sunday morning so we could pray together for the day and that several of them would commit to showing up.
That’s always been my habit.
Since my earliest days as a minister in Marble Falls, 8:00 on Sunday morning has been a sacred time for me. Jim Gardner and Jimmy Mitchell and I prayed together in Jim’s office at 8:00 every Sunday. Jim would have his Red Bull, Jimmy would have his Muscle Milk (gross!) and I’d be working on my second or third Diet Dr Pepper. And we would pray together. For one another. For God’s Church. For the day.
It continued at Legacy. First, with the worship leaders, Howard and Gordon, during my transition months between Austin Grad and moving to NRH. On my first official day there, every single one of the shepherds showed up. Then after that, six or seven guys committed to praying with me in the church library every Sunday morning. That lasted a few months. And then it began to dwindle. Four guys. Then three. Two for a while. And then there was one.
Every single Sunday morning. 8:00. Paul would walk into my study. “What’s going on?” And we would shake hands, small talk while we strolled into the library, and then pray. Every single Sunday morning. 8:00. Paul and me. For four years. Praying.
We prayed together for the people at Legacy. We prayed in anticipation of the events of the day. We asked God to bless our assembly, to be present in every interaction among his people, to encourage those who were looking for a word of grace and to convict those who needed a push. We asked God to work on us, to change us more into the image of his Son. We prayed our thanksgivings and our laments together. We prayed through the health problems of Paul’s parents and, eventually, through the death of Paul’s dad. We prayed together through my struggles and triumphs as Legacy’s preacher, all the ups and downs of life in congregational ministry. Paul knew when I was nervous or worried about that day’s message. And we prayed about it. He knew instinctively when I was really excited about what God was going to say through me that day. And we praised God for it. We prayed about our kids and our wives. We thanked God for our friendship.
Sometimes we prayed for ten minutes; sometimes we were in there together for nearly an hour. Sometimes I’d be running around like crazy — updating some sermon slides on the S Drive, re-printing some Small Groups Church study guides, moving some chairs around in a classroom — and Paul would find me. “Stop!” he would say. “Stop! Let’s pray.” And I’d drop whatever I was doing, wherever we happened to be, we’d put our arms around each other, and Paul would pray for God to calm me down, to get me focused, and to use me to his eternal glory in the next couple of hours.
I’m going to need a Paul Brightwell here at Central.
So, Wednesday night, heading into our elders meeting, I’m ready to invite the shepherds and ministers to pray with me at 8:00 Sunday morning. But everything got away from me. Man, when Tim decides the meeting’s over, it’s over! Boom! We went from the middle of a fairly important discussion to a beautiful conclusion with assigned action items to our closing prayer before I even knew what was happening. And the meeting was over. I hadn’t offered my invitation for Sunday morning prayer. I figured I would just have to send out an email the next day. I’m not going to pray alone at 8:00 Sunday morning.
So I got in my truck. Pulled out onto 14th Street on my way home and checked my phone. Two missed calls. From Paul Brightwell. One voice mail. “Call me.”
I’ve only talked to Paul once since we moved. So I called.
“Hey,” he says. “What are you doing at 8:00 Sunday morning?”
“I’m going to be praying in the Central chapel,” I answered him. “It’s Central’s original worship center, a stunning 82-year-old chapel that’s right next to my office here. I’ll be praying in there, hopefully, with a bunch of our shepherds and ministers.”
And Paul says, “Save me a seat.”
He and Andrea are coming up Saturday night. Paul wants to pray with me on my first official day at Central. At 8:00 Sunday morning.
And I am humbled. And I’m typing through tears even now, at 9:00 Friday morning, thinking about it. I praise God for the people he’s put in my life, people like Paul Brightwell, who have given themselves to encouraging me in my ministry. To praying for me and with me. To paying attention to me and lifting me up when I’m down and bringing me down a few notches when I get too high. For knowing me. And caring.
Thank you, God, for Paul Brightwell.
And, thank you, Paul.
Our Sunday mornings together in prayer have, more times than you know, gotten me through the day. You have always said the exact right thing to me at the exact right time. I believe that God pushed you directly into my path to speak through you to me, to help me do what God has called me to do. Those Sunday mornings with you are precious to me. Thank you for allowing our Father to use you in that way. Thank you for the selfless way you gave yourself to God, to me, and to our church on those Sunday mornings.
God will give me a Sunday morning prayer partner here at Central. He knows how badly I need it. It may happen this month or it may take a while. I have no idea who it’s going to be; but God’s going to make sure I’m not praying alone on Sundays. This Sunday, I’ll be in a group of elders and ministers, these church leaders who are going to become some of my very best friends. There may be twenty of us in that chapel day after tomorrow.
But I’m saving a seat for Paul.