BY Norris Burkes Jan 17, 2016
When I was a pastor, I dreaded trying to enlist volunteers for church projects. It’s not that I was afraid of getting a negative response – it was much worse than that.
I was afraid they’d respond with the most famous of Christian procrastination tactics – “I’ll have to pray about that.” Once a congregant played the “prayer card,” I was unable to enlist anyone else while we waited for the “prayer” to be answered.
Over the years, my wife, Becky, has found new uses for the phrase. I remember her first using it back in 1983 during a three-night revival we were conducting in the San Francisco Bay area. Revivals are something of an evangelical relic now, but before the advent of praise bands and fog machines, they served as a religious pep rally of sorts.
Becky’s job was to rouse the congregants in song while I topped the hour with an inspiring sermon. The arrangement gave the church a two-for the-price-of-one deal.
We planned to conclude the series on Sunday with a show-stopping choir number, but the church pastor, a pot-bellied, red-faced man with a shirt wrongly buttoned, had a different idea.
“There are some folks that think a woman ought not lead our Sunday worship service,” he told us.
He pointed to a tall volunteer beside him and said, “We think Earl here ought to conduct the Sunday service.”
“What do you say?” he asked Becky with a stare that went through me.
As I drew a deep breath to return fire, Becky threw an “easy-boy” hand across my chest.
“We’ll pray about it and tell you in the morning,” she told them.
Her answer was a showstopper. They couldn’t say much to that. Simple as that, the tall man retreated to his smoking circle outside.
Privately, Becky admitted, “It’s their church, so we don’t have a choice here, but I think we ought to let those sexists sweat a bit.”
She stepped aside that Sunday. Some years later, I heard her skillfully deal the prayer card again.
It happened during a public interview before a congregation that was considering me to become their pastor. I deftly answered most of their questions and was anticipating a favorable vote when a deacon asked if he could address the evening’s final question to Becky.
She reluctantly stood and faced the congregation.
“If we hire your husband,” the head deacon asked, “what will you do for the congregation?”
My red face returned as I recognized the deacon from the committee that scouted me from a rural church. He’d had a preview of Becky’s talent for music and children’s ministry, so he was fishing for a 2-for-1 deal.
Knowing her answer could swing the vote to the negative, my wife employed the wisdom from the Biblical proverb, “A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.”
“My husband’s calling is to be a husband, a father and a minister,” she said. “Besides being a wife and a mother, my calling is to be a public school teacher.”
She took a deep breath. “So, before I can tell you how I will volunteer, I’ll have to pray about it.” She’d put extra emphasis into the word “volunteer.”
Having heard her answer, the church adjourned for a private vote and returned with a unanimous decision to hire me.
By the way, 36 years ago this month, I asked her to be my wife. She didn’t stall her answer with prayer, but immediately said yes.
Thus she did, as she still does, answered all my prayers.
Happy anniversary, sweetheart.
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