“Jesus, if you’re really Lord, I need a job.”
That was my first prayer after a very curious experience at the DAR Constitution Hall earlier that Sunday evening.
I was 20. Just completed my second year at the University of Virginia. Was supposed to begin my summer job at a D.C. brokerage firm Monday. But there was a letter waiting for me. The market had tanked. Regular brokers were being laid off. Sorry, no job.
My younger sister sought to console me (I thought) with free movie tickets. Only en route did I learn that it was a Billy Graham movie. Though raised as a churchgoer, my two years in Charlottesville had me quickly drifting into agnosticism along with most of my fraternity brothers. My sister’s beautiful others-focus and a seemingly rock-solid faith in what she described as the “resurrected Jesus” was a lighthouse that marked my drifting.
I had increasingly mocked her faith as anti-intellectual, but I deeply respected her. So I resolved to make the most of this bait and switch. I would use the movie to collect more ammunition for exposing the intellectual contradictions of this religious crutch.
My debates following the movie at Constitution Hall were more like cross-examinations — first, I did battle with a recovering alcoholic businessman, then a recovering workaholic lawyer and finally a banker who was the president of the Christian organization sponsoring the movie. I was smugly confident that my big questions were crushing these sincere but misguided witnesses. They had no satisfactory answers for the incompatibility of a loving God allowing suffering, or presumed scientific disproofs of key claims of the Bible, or the multiplicity of world religions casting huge doubt on the full truth of any of them, etc.
Sure, Jesus may have been up there with Confucius, Krishna, Buddha and Mohammed as a great moral teacher, but no other founder of a world religion was claiming to be God. They all seemed to be teaching people how to be good enough to be accepted by God. They were teaching truth, not claiming to be “the truth.”
Yet almost on a parallel track from my cross-examination, it felt like someone was cross-examining me. A big question rose from a much deeper part of me: “If Jesus really is who he allegedly claimed to be, how can I, with rational integrity, continue to ignore that claim?” I was already pretty convinced by the evidence that Jesus was an unparalleled moral teacher and philosopher, who lived briefly in Galilee two millennia ago and died a martyr after being caught up in the power struggle between the Jewish leaders and their Roman captors. But what if he really was the incarnate God, the visible expression of the invisible God? What if the creator of all really did unfathomably humble himself to become a man to make a way for self-serving humans to be forgiven and restored to right relationship with God, as the Bible had him claiming?
And, if he was there, why not just ask him? If he was listening, and if he really was the rightful Lord of all creation, why not permit him to somehow convince me that it was true?
So, shocking myself, my knees bent to the marbled tiles and my tongue asked this Jesus if he really was God, to convince me. If he was Lord of all, then rule my life as well. If he would do that, I would stop being my own boss.
I had prayed many give-me prayers previously, but this was the first time I remember offering myself to God. There was no epic light show, but I do remember being surprised by a quiet yet pervasive peace. It reminded me that for the past day, I had been increasingly upset that my carefully arranged summer job had been pulled out from under me, and was stewing about how, at this late date, I would find employment.
One of the men I spoke with after the movie had prayed with me and encouraged me to start reading my Bible and asking God to show himself to me. It was late when I got home, so I did neither, but I did pray the “job prayer.” It was prayed with more challenge than faith. Yet the next thing I remember is my mom knocking early at my bedroom door and saying there was a man on the phone who said he met me last night. It was the banker. What was I doing for the summer? Nothing yet. So get dressed and meet him at his office at 9. Following a 20-minute interview, he shook my hand and showed me to my desk. I was beginning my summer job in banking the same Monday morning I had been scheduled to begin at a firm that was laying off brokers only two blocks away.
Few of my prayers since have been answered as quickly or dramatically. But that experience was a powerful catapult to launch what has been a five-decade journey seeking to learn and experience the work of prayer. What does it mean to pray without ceasing? To pray always? About everything? That we have not because we ask not; and even when we do ask, we ask amiss?
Jesus taught his disciples that the work of God is believing in him (John 6:29). This seems to be the heart of God honoring prayer: Believe him. Sounds like this should be easy for a “believer,” but we know it’s not. This work of believing prayer requires heavy lifting. We must learn to glance at the wounds of this fallen creation while we gaze upon the physician whose wounds bring our healing. It’s hard work to face the messes of our lives, our family, our neighbors. It’s easier to turn away. They evoke tears and fears. Yet tears and fears Godward are powerful prayers.
This journey of seeking to know God through the work of prayer led to forming a weekly prayer and Bible study group of fellow students when at Yale Divinity School, then at Harvard Law School. It has led to morning prayer groups with one or two other attorneys, and a noon, officewide lunch and prayer time every Tuesday at our Tysons Corner law firm. This prayer path has led to a classroom of prayer every Wednesday evening at our local church and morning prayer with 10 to 20 men in our family room every Saturday from 7 a.m. to 8:30 a.m. for the past three decades. I think my wife and I would both say that this journey of prayer through 45 years has been a vital — though still mysterious — work developing the muscle of covenant-keeping and preferring the other in love.
So after this man of little faith challenged his new boss to provide a job, he did that and much more. My Father knew the real job I needed. Far more than a summer job in banking, he has given the lifetime work of believing him. It’s not just a job for me. It’s a call to all. To offer ourselves back to the God who made us in jis image to be his servants every day and in every place. To do the hard work of believing him as we face and touch the bad, ugly and broken in our paths. To serve and pray, expecting to see more of the goodness of God’s love and reign coming to our homes, offices and communities. This is the work and joy of prayer. That’s a full-time job.
• George R. “Chip” Grange II is co-founder and director of Gammon & Grange P.C., a law practice in McLean, Virginia, that serves businesses, individuals, nonprofits, churches and many national and international faith-based ministries and other NGOs. He currently serves as general counsel or special counsel to numerous nonprofit and business entities, and has served on the national boards and executive committees of ECFA (Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability), Christian Legal Society and Christian Leadership Alliance. He is married and has four grown children and nine grandchildren.