For me, a four-year IJM staff member, the Global Prayer Gathering starts here: 5 o'clock on Friday night, shivering in the stiff breeze outside of the Sheraton Premiere. IJM staff from across North America, Europe and the developing world congregate in the sunken garden for a brief meeting. Dressed all alike in immaculate black suits, the IJM uniform, we are also united in some degree of exhaustion. Long, exacting hours of preparation for the GPG have brought us to this point: cold, tired, and standing on the brink of a weekend of yet more work.
But in defiance of the sobriety of our dress and the numbing tiredness of our bodies, the meeting is charged, surprisingly, with joy. Laughter ripples through the throng of us. We cheer, clap and smile at the leaders who lead us in the litany of final details. Why should such gladness infuse us today, when the hours of preparation have led only to this: a Friday, Saturday and Sunday on the job?
For one thing, the GPG is our family reunion. The staff, many of whom labor in distant countries or in lone-ranger outposts, come together again. Our community rejoices in the fulness of its numbers.
But there is another reason behind the lightness of our spirits.
The reason lies in the nature of the work that we undertake this weekend. Our work will be the labor of prayer.
Make no mistake. Prayer is work of the hardest kind. Starting tomorrow morning, during the prayer room rotations, we will expose ourselves to the depth and breadth of depravity worked against the poor, and in prayer we will saturate our own hearts with God's sorrow over injustice. This work will bend our bodies to the floor with the weight of sin and our own incapacity to circumvent suffering. This work will wring the tears from our eyes and sap our strength and sleep.
But it is also true that this weekend, we will remember the extent of our Father's power, the brightness of His glory and the prodigality of His love. In return for our tears, we will have His smiles, as we believe that He exists and rewards those who earnestly pursue him. In return for our exhaustion, we will unleash His omnipotence on behalf of the widow and the orphan. Though lowered to the floor, we will glimpse His exaltation amidst the pain and oppression we decry.
So why do we laugh on the eve of our hearts' breaking? We laugh in anticipation of this work, this scandalously unequal exchange of poverty for riches. For to us this weekend falls the work of remembrance, the work of joy - the unrivalled and holy work of prayer.
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