My chaplain’s office sits off a well-trafficked hallway inside the VA hospital in Sacramento, Calif. A large “Chaplain Service” sign hanging outside the door guides impromptu visitors into the suite.
Last week, a pastor entered to introduce himself as the spirit-filled “Brother So-and-So.” If you are unfamiliar with the adjective “spirit-filled,” it means to embody the spirit of Christ. Or, loosely translated, it’s the charismatic next step after “born-again.”
Let me pause a moment to say, I have lots of wonderful charismatic friends. And most of them will tell you that if you are indeed filled with the spirit, there is no need to self-identify as such. If true, it will be obvious.
Suffice it to say, I was quickly wishing that Mr. Brother Pastor had kept walking the hall. But instead, the tall, broad and aging pastor sat down and proceeded to recite his resume.
He talked about the prison ministry he ran, and he fed me the details of his meals to the homeless. He buzzed about his radio preaching in Fresno and his television ministry in Bakersfield.
In between each story, he paused to wait for my “amen,” but alas, I offered only a polite nod. He talked so long and so fast, I was having trouble hearing the spirit.
He then shifted the conversation into the many years he served as a pastor and the hospital visitations he did. He confessed that he pitied me because, “We both know that government chaplains can’t talk about God as freely as a pastor.”
And somewhere in the midst of his pontification, he told me that he was praying that God would make him “teachable.” If he noticed the smirk that the word “teachable” brought to my face, he didn’t say.
Instead, he abruptly assumed a crouching position and told me he was going to pray for me. That’s when I decided that I’d answer his prayer and offer him a teachable moment.
“Wait just a minute,” I said. “How do you know what to pray for?”
“Huh?” he asked.
I asked this because people sometimes offer their prayers, not as a gift, but as a way to establish their power over the pray-ee. My guess was that Pastor Pray4U was going to thank God that I was blessed by his visit.
I continued. “Well, you mentioned a few minutes ago that you were praying God would make you teachable, so let me share something with you.”
He gave me a glassy stare, as clueless as a calf frozen before a new gate.
“When I visit a patient, I always ask them how I can pray for them. I ask them what they want me to pray for. Wouldn’t you like to know what you can pray for me?”
With that, God answered his prayer to become teachable and he leaned back in his chair, and spread his hands open on his lap. “You’re right,” he said. “What should I pray?”
I asked that he pray for our incoming chaplain supervisor and our new chapel. He agreed with an humble nod. Then I asked him to pray that God would comfort the families of the two hospital employees who’d unexpectedly died the previous week.
He shook his head, still unsure what to say.
He did pray, just not the prayer I’d expected. His prayer was a humble and contrite one asking God for the things we agreed upon.
Finally, after he’d said the “amen,” he raised his head, and I read a “spirit filled” look that indeed told me he just might be teachable.
LifeWorks of Charleston will host Norris Burkes to speak at 7:15 a.m. Feb. 28 at East Cooper Baptist Church. More details to follow.
Norris Burkes is a syndicated columnist, national speaker and author of “No Small Miracles.” He is a board-certified in the Association of Professional Chaplains. You may leave recorded comments at 608-9715 or email them to firstname.lastname@example.org, or send comments to P.O. Box 247, Elk Grove, CA 95759. Visit thechaplain.net.