Before I went on Beach Reach, I prayed that I would be good enough for it. Then I realized that whatever happens is not me, but is God working through me. The best I can ever hope is that the Lord will put me in the best position to serve Him.
With that said, Beach Reach was one of the most amazing experiences of my life! I kid you not! It would be impossible for me to try to even explain all that happened in only this note, so I will just focus on one part of me that the Lord worked on:
God affected my prayer life more than I ever thought he could. Everything is different now. I saw, felt, and heard his Spirit more this week that I ever have before. And I didn’t see His Spirit move in some church or walled garden, I saw it move on the streets of Panama City Beach – easily one of the most sinful stretches of coastline I have ever walked over. The sheer lack of morals and general drunkenness of the city lends it an almost modern day Sodom and Gomorrah feel. There’s lots of pretty lights and shiny things but under the surface there is only death. Thankfully, prayer works even here.
It all started Saturday night in the men’s bathroom of our hotel lobby. It is there that I met a literal giant of a man (both physically as well as spiritually) named Curt Vernon. As I was washing my hands, the towering 6’11” Curt Vernon stood up in the stall, easily looked over the door, and said “Hi”. We exchanged some pleasantries about where we were both from and then I went to shake his hand. He said, “No brother, we hug here.” And so that’s how I found myself hugging a 6’11” guy in a hotel bathroom.
Five minutes later at our first Beach Reach orientation meeting, Curt lumbered up to the front and introduced himself as the guy in charge of leading us in prayer for the week.
The next day, Curt let us to our first group prayer together. This was where my perception of prayer began to change. Curt began by telling us to keep our eyes open. I believe he did this to make us more aware of prayer. It seems to me that we get stuck in a rut of bowing our heads as a reflexive action without actually considering why we do it.
After prayer, Curt went on to explain how we would be spending our prayer time for the week. Every night, while 35 vans would patrol the streets giving free rides, two preselected groups took turns in the prayer room.
Now, when I think prayer room, I think a darkened room with candles and possibly soft reverent music playing in the background. Imagine my shock walking into the same brightly lit, rather noisy auditorium. The same auditorium where we had participated in Bible study and praise songs was to be the place where we were to pray.
My perception of a prayer room before this was very different. I envisioned a darkened room with a circle of chairs where my group would sit and pray one-by-one. Nothing could have been farther from this.
As I was taking this all in, Curt came striding in and led us across the room to the seats closest to the stage where the band had performed earlier. It was there, seated in these seats, that God used Curt to blow my mind.
He kept it simple. Curt explained that we need to learn how to pray, and that the Bible is the perfect place to learn from. As he instructed us to all turn in our Bibles to Psalms, Curt said, “The Bible is already full of awesome verses of prayer, why don’t we just plagiarize some of them?” He then proceeded to whip out a guitar and commanded us to call out any verse in Psalms we wanted. Someone called out Psalms 92:8 and Curt strummed the guitar while we sang “But you oh Lord are exalted forever.” Just a simple yet heartfelt repeat of the words.
It was at this exact moment that it hit me; prayer is so much more than just bowing your head and asking God for things. Prayer is a conversation, or better yet, a connection with our creator. That is one of the coolest things ever. Other people kept adding more verses and we mixed them together back-to-back in an ad-libbed song of praise. It was during this simple music creation time that I felt closer to God that ever before. And I loved it.
After a few songs, Curt went on to explain how the prayer room would work. If you are not familiar with the A.C.T.S. Prayer Model, it works like this: All people praying break off into four groups. These four groups then get to pick one of four topics to pray over. The four topics include Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, and Supplication. The groups would take a 30 minute shift at each station before rotating to the next one. This rotation helped each group to stay focused on God (and most likely to keep us awake considering we were praying from midnight to 2am. That also might be why the lights were on.).
For my group, Thanksgiving was first; and we spent 30 minutes reading through our Bibles and telling stories to one another about what we were thankful to God for. After a half an hour had passed, Curt instructed us to rotate, and I put my focus toward supplication, or, asking God for help for myself and others. To assist our prayers, there was a huge projector screen setup that displayed information about the Beach Reach vans, their locations, and prayer requests that were sent in via text messages.
Again, 30 minutes of prostrate, reverent, heartfelt prayer passed. This was the only station that seemed even remotely similar to any way that I had prayed before. Which might have something to do with me usually just asking God for things through prayer. If you notice the way the A.C.T.S. Format of prayer is setup; only one station, supplication, has you ask for things in prayer. The other three stations are either praise, thanks, or worship oriented.
The next station was Adoration. It was here that someone had erected a giant red poster board that people could write on. The emphasis was on names of God and what God means to you. By the last day, the entire poster board was full to the point of there being no writing room left. Some people had actually written over others writing in an attempt to get their adoration on the board. I probably wrote five things myself. As some people wrote, others sang softly and adored God by reading his word.
The last station I was to visit was confession. Curt reminded us that when God tells us to confess, we aren’t supposed to just tell Him; we are to confess to one another as well. With this in mind, we paired off into groups and talked. After confessing to one another, it came time to confess to God as well. To aid in the symbolic imagery of our sin leaving us and being placed on Jesus, there was a giant two-by-four wooden beam cross laying on the floor. We could write our confessions on a piece of paper and nail them to the cross. By the final day, it was nearly impossible to hammer anything because of all the nails. It was a remarkable image of how sinful we are and how much we need the Lord. The coolest part of the confession station was that it was open to the rest of the room. No matter what station you were at; in the background you could always hear hammers driving nails into the cross. It was poignant image and reminder of Jesus taking away my sin.
As our time in the prayer room drew to an end, Curt drew us together and we sang a few more songs. During this time, I was in a bit of shock at the awesomeness of prayer and just how much God is capable of doing. I had never looked at prayer that way before, and it started a fire in me to want to pray again and again unceasingly.
When Curt prayed over us, two things he said really hit me:
1. He explained that the Holy Spirit and Son are interceding for us to the father constantly. (Romans 8:26, Romans 8:34) Curt’s prayer for us is that our prayers will echo the son’s prayers. That our prayers might catch up to Jesus’ prayers.
2. Curt said, “I pray that tonight is the farthest that we ever are from you Lord.” When he said that I kinda freaked out a little because I wasn’t sure how to take that statement. Curt’s next statement explained all of it when he said, “I pray that every day after this we are closer to you than we were the day before.” This means he wants us to be closer to God next week when we aren’t on some Spiritual high brought on by Beach Reach. It’s a cool thought.
After he finished praying, Curt reminded us to not feel like we were awesome because we prayed for two hours. He told us of a time when he prayed for 6 hours and felt very accomplished about it. Then he said when he was driving home after praying God spoke to him and said, “You just prayed to me for 6 hours; what about the other 18 in the day?” At that point Curt explained that we are to follow 1 Thessalonians 5:17 and pray unceasingly. Every thought and thing that we say should be filtered through prayer first. I want to do that and am striving to do that.
The effects of the prayer room extended far beyond anything I ever expected and I really saw God’s hand at work both in my own life, and when I was out on the streets of Panama City.
I should have more written soon about the experiences I had on the streets and in the Beach Reach vans. Until then, thanks for reading!