The prayer summit

Father David Epps's picture

The truth be told, I didn’t want to go to the Prayer Summit this week. It’s not that I am against prayer nor is there a desire to separate myself from the pastors and ministers who would be attending the Prayer Summit. Frankly, I didn’t want to go anywhere or see anybody.

Each year in January, a number of men who serve local churches and ministries gather somewhere in north Georgia to spend three days in prayer. In the past, I couldn’t go because I attended doctoral classes in January. Once I was actually scheduled to go and paid the necessary money but I had to travel out of town to settle my mother’s estate.

This year I had paid my fee and had made the necessary plans but, at the last minute, I tried to back out. On Sunday evening, I offered my spot to another pastor in the area but he couldn’t go. As late as 7 a.m. on Monday morning, I considered unpacking and staying home.

But I didn’t. By 8:30 a.m., I was at the place where we would load up and head to the Baptist campground in Toccoa, Ga., for three days of singing, teaching, and prayer — mostly prayer.

The past year has been a difficult one for me personally. One person wrote an anonymous email and suggested that I come “out of my bubble” — I suppose that he meant the ivory tower that he assumes to be “the ministry” — and join the “real world.”

I know that the person who smugly wrote such words is ignorant of what the ministry is but, still, it rankled me a bit.

I am a pastor, a law enforcement chaplain, and a bishop who serves two states. My world is filled to overflowing with sorrow, sickness, death, divorce, drug addiction, alcoholism, people struggling with anger, rage, disappointment, heartache, job loss, unexpected or difficult pregnancies, uncertainty about the future, estranged parents who fight over children, friends who have become disabled, friends whose children have died, families whose homes have burned, members who walk away from church, clergy who walk away from ministry, people who are disappointed with or angry at God, and people who are disappointed with or angry with me — such is my life, and the life of the average priest or pastor Monday through Saturday.

In fact, Sunday is the easiest day I have. Even then, I arise at 4:45, spend time in prayer, preach sermons at the two morning services and, after lunch, hopefully spend a little time with family and then go off to the hospital or to meetings or to counseling appointments.

I visit the prisons when the occasion arises, as it has this past year. I have bailed people out of jail, I have buried people that I loved, I have been at the bedside of people who died, I have helped pay utility bills and have bought food for families who had no money, I have delivered death notifications to people whose loved ones were murdered, killed in accidents, or found dead in some lonely place.

There are wonderful times and events, of course, but this past year the life “in the bubble” just wore me out. I didn’t want to go to the Prayer Summit because I was too tired, too numb, and too busy with continuing situations to even pray.

But I went — grudgingly, reluctantly, wearily, and out of a sense of duty.

By Monday evening, the 20 or so men at the Summit, the care and concern that permeated the event, and the honest-to-goodness presence of God had “restored my soul.”

By night’s end, I was praying for my people, my family, and my diocese with restored vigor, confidence, and expectancy.

Hope has returned, a sense of balance has been restored, and I find a new intensity in my intercession for those in my church, family and diocese who are suffering through difficult times. All this in one day with God and His men.

I have been with fellow warriors – “we few, we happy few, we band of brothers” — who have also fought the weary battles and we are binding up each other’s wounds and ministering to fellow soldiers in Christ as only those who have shared and common experiences can do.

Part of the problem is that I waited too long to get away to pray. I’ll try not to make that mistake again.

I serve good people in my churches who pray for me, love me, and care for me. Recently, I have let them down by looking to circumstances and not to the grace found in Christ.

In the mountains today, I re-discovered His grace and experienced his joy and peace. He’s not angry with me. I am ready for Day 2 of the Summit.

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