It was a foggy Wednesday, last November. I had been struggling with feelings of depression for several days (which, as it happens, is not uncommon for me). But this day was different. I woke up under a cloud that was darker and deeper than anything I ever remember experiencing before. I was utterly befuddled and confused. I climbed out of bed and went downstairs to a dark living room and got on my knees to pray. But no prayers came. Only darkness. I found myself questioning everything in my life: my faith, my relationship to God, my very sanity. I had no idea if anything I had ever believed was true, or if I would ever be able to know anything again. I was genuinely afraid that I might be having a psychotic break.
Eventually I got dressed and drove to work. I stumbled through the morning in a lingering fog. I’m sure I accomplished nothing productive that morning, as my concentration was simply strangled. I felt utterly alone in the universe.
As I mentioned, this was a Wednesday, which means it was the day of my weekly office Bible study. Each week for the last couple years, around a dozen engineers gather in a conference room, and I do my best to lead them through an inductive study of 1 Peter. Usually I love these times, but this particular study I had been dreading all week because I didn’t feel ready — my preparation had been fruitless and dry; I felt like I had no spiritual insights to bring to the table; nothing with which to “feed the flock”. I would have loved to have cancelled the meeting for the day, but I knew that several of the men would be driving from a few miles away — giving up their lunch break to be there — so I didn’t want to disappoint them. But I have to admit, today my heart wasn’t in it — fear and dread had a chokehold on me.
The study proved to be even more excruciating than I had anticipated. From the very moment I began, voices of accusation began to fill my mind. Not audible voices, of course, but vivid thoughts of internal criticism and derision.
What are you doing here? You have no business doing this! You’re a fraud!
This is ridiculous! You don’t have anything for these men! You should have spent more time preparing!
You really just need to shut up! Don’t you realize you are wasting these men’s time? They are never going to come back!
Not only that — look at yourself! All you are thinking about is your own image! All you care about is what these guys think of you! You’re so vain, so proud!
You’ve got nothing to say here! This is just nonsense — you really need to just shut up!”
I have never experienced anything quite like it. For the entire meeting, those infernal voices never let up. When I finally stumbled out of the room thirty minutes later, I literally felt like I was in shock. PTSD. I walked down the hall in a daze, found an empty office and collapsed into a chair. I was beside myself and felt hopelessly spent. Inside I knew that I couldn’t face this alone, but I didn’t know where to turn. I felt so alone. In desperation, I decided to text one of my accountability brothers. Here are the words of that text:
Quick prayer request: since Monday I have been experiencing some sort of attack. Don’t know if it’s spiritual or psychological. It’s as if God suddenly decided to withdraw his hand from my life to show me what life would be like without Him. Very painful, and kind of scary.”
Within moments my friend replied with a single word. “Praying!”
I have another friend — a pastor from the other side of the state that I only speak with a few times a year. For some reason, I felt like I needed to tell him as well.
Prayer request, Randy: Experiencing an attack of some sort, unlike anything I ever really remember experiencing before. At the psychological level. As if God had suddenly removed his hand from my life.”
His reply was just as swift, but even more intriguing:
“Interesting. That’s exactly how I would describe my last 4 days. You should give me a call.”
As I described my experience in more detail to Randy over the phone, and as he described his, we were both amazed at how similar our attacks had been: he also had experienced days of frustration and unproductivity, followed by a men’s Bible study which he had led the previous evening in which his mind had been bombarded with the same sort of accusatory voices that had berated me. It was at this point in our conversation when he had an insight.
“I think I know what’s going on here,” he said. “It’s because you were praying for us.”
Just a week or two earlier, Randy had been leading a John Eldredge-style men’s Boot Camp. He had invited me to come, but I couldn’t make it. But I told him that I would love to be on his team of intercessors. And, indeed, I did spend time that weekend going to battle on their behalf. Now, on the phone, he told me that the weekend was filled with numerous spiritual breakthroughs. God had captured the hearts of several men. Afterwards, the leadership team gathered for a time of prayer and “debriefing.” During their time with the Lord, they got the distinct impression that He had a warning for them: “Be on your guard,” He said, “because the enemy is going to try to convince you to never do this again.”
“Kevin,” Randy explained, after telling me this backstory, “I’m sorry, dude. I think what’s going on with you right now is because you were praying for us. Pretty sure you’re picking up our crap. Welcome to the battle.”
And then he asked me, “Are you familiar with Eldredge’s ‘Battle Prayer’?” (I wasn’t.) “Dude! I can’t believe I haven’t told you about this. If you’re going to be an intercessor, you need to know this. Let me pray it over you right now.”
John Eldredge has written an amazing prayer for men who are involved in spiritual warfare. He calls it the Daily Prayer. It is an epic petition, calling on the authority of Christ against the schemes of the enemy. And it is quite extensive — it took Randy about fifteen minutes to read it over the phone. By the end, I was in tears. The dismal clouds were evaporating. The sunlight of God’s mercy and grace had finally pierced through my darkness.
But something else happened too.
While Randy was still praying, my phone buzzed with the notification of an incoming text. Of course, I couldn’t check it until after the end of my phone call, but when I finally did, I was completely floored.
Thaine Norris and I were friends in High School. He was the first brother I had who really resonated with my earnest desire to be a genuine disciple of the Lord. After graduation, I spent a month at his home in Colorado. It was fantastic. But we both went off to different colleges and fell out of touch with one another. Suddenly 30+ years had gone by and we rarely connected. I think it had been at least five years since our last contact.
And so, when I looked down at my phone and realized that the text which I had just received in the middle of Randy’s vanquishing prayer was a note from Thaine, I was stunned. Now, the primary reason Thaine wanted to contact me is a story for another post (a miraculous story if it’s own — regarding Brother Yun). But that’s not what I read that day. Because, before telling me about that, Thaine (as he explained to me later) felt prompted to tell me something different.
He proceeded to write how much of an impact I had made on his life back in high school. He shared with me details that literally brought tears to my eyes. I was overcome. I knew at that moment that it was not just Thaine talking to me. It was my loving Heavenly Father looking down upon me and smiling… through a long lost brother. It was as if He wanted me to know, in the most compassionate way, that He truly was with me — in high school, and in all the years since, and even on this day that had begun so darkly. He had never left me at all.
And He never will.
I’m glad to say that my friendship with Thaine has been reunited. We have spent some wonderful long conversations in the last few months finally catching up with each other. I have also returned to John and Randy’s prayer a number of times since then as well. But what I am most grateful for — and what I won’t ever forget — is how my precious Savior reminded me on that foggy Wednesday last November, how deep His love is, how faithful His friendship is, and how grateful I am to be counted among his soldiers.
And grateful as well for the incredibly special brothers he has blessed me with.
Editor’s note: I (Thaine Norris) must tell my side of the story, because that text to Kevin wasn’t random. As mentioned above, I have the privilege of working with Brother Yun, author of The Heavenly Man, and had been tasked with setting up a speaking tour for the Pacific Northwest to occur in the spring of 2018. Brother Yun, who lives in Germany, comes to North America twice a year for regional tours in the spring and fall. The way that a tour comes about begins with invitations through the Back to Jerusalem (BTJ) website. The invitations serve as geographic anchor points in a region. Then we must pray and ask God to fill in the spaces in between, maximizing travel time and resources.
Over a couple of years BTJ had received several invitations for the region, but only two were now active prospects, one in Seattle and one in Northport. Both locations are in Washington State, but they are six hours apart by car! Furthermore, Northport is a tiny town with a population of less than 300. It was certainly within my authority to tell the woman in Northport that we would be unable to come to her town, but God would not allow me to let it go. When I thought about dropping Northport, I had no peace. But when I thought about the crazy idea of making a 12 hour round trip to visit a handful of people, I had His peace. (The story of the blessing of Yun’s visit on the Northport people is awesome in itself, but for another time.)
Clearly God had a plan to fill in the space between the locations. The tour planning had already driven me to my knees. I was supposed to be the one with all these long-standing relationships in Washington, so putting this tour together should have been so simple. But after two big events fell through I was discouraged, though in a good way, because the situation drove me to trust in God and not in my own resources. (You can read more about that in another story called “Rest in the Lord.”)
But I didn’t know anyone in between. Or did I? Then I remembered that my old high school friend, Kevin Mote, lived somewhere in Eastern Washington. I looked him up on Facebook and found that he lives in the Tri-Cities area which for the purpose of the tour, is almost exactly halfway between Seattle and Northport.
Excitedly I sat down at my keyboard to send Kevin a Facebook message. I was about to type what I had typed to so many other old friends in Washington, “Hi Kevin! Have you ever read The Heavenly Man?” But God stopped me and said, “Write a note of encouragement first.” So I told Kevin how much he had influenced me in high school, about how when I was a new believer I had recognized the Spirit of Jesus in him. It was almost like he glowed, he was such a young man of peace. I told God at the time, “Make me like Kevin,” and I am happy to say that God has done that, filling me with peace and trust like I saw in Kevin. As I said to him, I still tell my children about Kevin, hoping to inspire them to find — and to be — people filled with the peace of Christ.
I had no idea why God had me write that note at that moment, until much later when Kevin told me the story related above. I also didn’t immediately recognize that it was God speaking to me. At the moment, it just seemed like a better idea had popped into my head as I sat down to type. But as God has been showing me lately, when we pray, when we seek to operate in that constant prayer of “Lord, lead me because I need Your help,” then He does. And in this case, God has blessed Kevin and me with a glimpse into the big picture of what He was doing that foggy day.
Wow! Praise God!