By Norris Burkes
Posted Nov 19, 2017

Some years ago, I was sitting in my chaplain’s office at the VA hospital in Sacramento, Calif., when a local pastor stopped by to introduce himself.

“I’m Brother So-and-So,” he said, giving me a hand-pumping shake. “I’m spirit-filled.”

If you are unfamiliar with church language, “spirit-filled” is a term broadly used by charismatic Christians. Loosely speaking, this adjective describes a higher step beyond “born-again.”

Truthfully, I have lots of wonderful charismatic friends. And most of them will tell you that if a person demonstrates the traits of “spirit-filled,” there’s no need to self-identify.

Suffice it to say, I wished Mr. Brother-Pastor had kept walking the hall. But instead, the tall, broad and aging man sat down and proceeded to recite his resume.

He talked about the prison ministry he ran and boasted of the meals he delivered to the homeless. He buzzed about the radio preaching he did in Fresno and the television ministry he ran 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 added endless details about the many years he served as a pastor and the hospital visitations he did. He confessed that he pitied me because “we both know government chaplains can’t talk about God as freely as a pastor.”

And somewhere in the midst of his pontification, he told me he was praying God would make him “teachable.” If he noticed my smirk when he spoke the word “teachable,” he didn’t say. Instead, he abruptly assumed a kneeling position and told me he was going to pray for me.

That’s when I decided to answer his prayer and offer him a teachable moment.

“Wait just a minute,” I said, and motioned him off his knees.

“How do you know what to pray for?”

“Huh?” he said.

I asked him this because he seemed to be offering his prayer not so much as a gift, but as a way to establish his authority. Pastor Pray4U seemed ready to thank God for blessing me by his visit.

I continued. “Well, a few minutes ago you mentioned 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 lookin’ at a new gate.

“When I visit patients, I always ask them how I can pray for them. I ask them what they want me to pray for. Would you like to know what you can pray for me?”

With that, he leaned back in his chair and spread his hands open on his lap.

“You’re right, chaplain,” he said. “What should I pray?”

I asked him to pray for my new supervisor, and then asked that he pray for God to comfort the families of the two hospital employees who’d unexpectedly died the previous week.

He shook his head, unsure what to say.

However, he eventually prayed, just not in the tone I’d expected.

In the face of real needs, his prayer became much less pretentious, his tone much more humble and contrite. But most of all, his personal prayer was also answered. This “spirit-filled” pastor had become, gratefully, much more “teachable.”

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