Introductory Note:
For the past five weeks, our congregation has been exploring the “Holy Habit” of Prayer (utilizing resources you can learn more about here:  Rev. Tanya has also been talking with our congregation for a while about beginning a practice of sharing personal faith journey stories, or testimonies.  This practice can draw us into a deeper sense of connection with each other, as we find points of commonality with each other by telling the story of how we have experienced God in our life.  As she’s done this with other congregations, she has recognized the ways in which the Gospel is always proclaimed: in every story of one’s relationship with God, even when there are struggles and instances of absence, there eventually emerges a recognition that God’s grace is a strong and steady presence throughout.  Keith Hamer courageously offered to be our first “testimonialist”, on the Sunday when we were reflecting on Prayers of Lament and Prayers of Praise in life.

Prayers of Praise, Prayers of Lament
Psalm 34:1-8
Psalm 42
A Personal Faith Journey Testimony by Keith Hamer

Dear friends : I am up here to tell you a little about my spiritual journey because I want everyone to know the exceeding joy and peace in God which I have experienced since joining this church.  There is a freedom from fear too as in Psalm 34 verse 4: “I sought the Lord, and he heard me, and delivered me from all my fears”.  Searching, reading, contemplating, Christian music, and two key folks, my high school friend Joe, a Pastor, and  Tanya were instrumental in this journey.    I know are we are all in a different spot in our journeys, and I know some folks feel equally blessed here too, which is a blessing to see.

My lament is that I never had a clue despite being involved in church for years.

It wasn’t until I was involved with this Church when I exclaimed, a bit to my own surprise, that my eyes were blind but now I see.  That happened when we were preparing for the Unwrap our Gifts class last year which I helped lead.  I had never done anything like that before, and it was a challenging but wonderful experience.  When that class begin, I was barely at ease reading the bible out loud, asking questions, leading a group, and not very comfortable with praying out loud.

Now I’m happy to tell you that I really enjoy co-leading an hour-long weekly bible study at the office with opening and closing prayer.  It had been on hiatus for quite some time, but I got it going.  It’s a wonderful way to start the work week.  If I’ve learned nothing else throughout all of this, it’s to pray and give thanks constantly. It’s taken a few people and introspection to get to this point, so let me go back to the beginning.  I hope this can give you some ideas.

Like many of you, I was raised Catholic.  I was baptized, confirmed, and even attended Bible study for a while as a teenager.  I always thought it was the right thing to do, and the Bible was interesting enough that I even read it cover to cover as a teenager but, alas, without much understanding.  Then I went off to college and rarely gave God any thought.

After college Dorna and I were married in church, and we raised our kids in Brookside Congregational church in Manchester.  I did not get involved there until after my son went off to college.  Again it seemed the right thing to do.  But despite being active in church as a Deacon for multiple years and occasionally attending bible study, and serving at the soup kitchen, I never felt a connection with God.  Then the pastor left for health reasons when I was working overseas for 3 months.  I did get to know a few more Interim pastors who were insightful enough to always wish me peace as they recognized I was struggling to find peace, but I was not getting anywhere.   I went less and less and then stopped going.

Six few months later, I woke up in the middle of the night and texted Joe, my high school friend and Pastor, and asked “why do people go to church?  There must be some reason for it that I cannot see.”  So, we talked a few times and he invited me to his church which was actually only a few minutes from our new home in Goffstown.  This non-denominational service was often 2 hours long, usually an hour of praise and singing with the band and then service with Joe as he wove Bible verses throughout the sermon.  He challenged us to note the verses and then read the bible on our own, to get the rest of the story, and not take his word for it.  It took a little getting used to, but there were times when I left the 2 hour service feeling as if just 5 minutes had gone by.

Joe stressed I had to read the bible and, this time, perhaps due to my hunger, it started to sink in.  I attended a Wednesday night classes and a weekend long retreat.

I began to see God at work in the world.  I began to think about how God had touched my life and realized that what seemed like just coincidences, were not, could not, possibly be just coincidences.  I started praying and thanking God regularly.  I was beginning to see the light, but I was still not at peace.  I started looking for some ways to serve, but the time had come for us to move.  We moved here and did a nine month renovation which put things on hold.

Then I turned my attention back to Church.  There was a new pastor at church.  I realized this church could be my spiritual home, and joined the church, but I was still not at peace.  I even was bold enough to remark that I wasn’t interested in being a Deacon again.  I still did not understand that the key to happiness is serving, and still did not realize that I was missing a connection with God.

This all changed when I was invited to help lead the “Unwrapping our Gifts” class.  As we got to know each other and explored what we could do, I also got to know myself.  That introspection is critical as you begin to realize what really matters.  That was when I realized I had been blind.  The class mentioned the “The Wounded Healer”.  To summarize, you need to take the time to heal yourself before you can most effectively help others.  That was me.  The class made me realize that we are all ministers and that I needed to be a Deacon again.  I needed to learn to pray easily and at any time and for anybody who needed a prayer.  I needed to be connected with God.

Please note that reading the Bible started the process of opening my eyes, but it only was when I started talking and listening and seeing God at work that I realized God wasn’t just in the Bible and church.   You can see him all around you.  Even a few mornings ago I drove by a sign that read “May you be the rainbow in somebody’s cloud”.  That wasn’t even outside a church. I notice all the Church signs now.

Let me share some other readings and songs that helped me as well.  One book that really stuck with me was “Climbing with Abraham: 30 Devotionals”.  One takeaway and prayer jumped out at me.  The takeaway is “Our faith impacts the faith of others”.  I see a lot of faith in this community, and it helps.  It’s why we must be together in community.  The prayer, which I’ve adopted as my own, is “Father help me to be a walking example of a man of faith, so that those I know will grow in their faith as well.”

Prayer doesn’t have to be complicated.  It just has to come from your heart.

Now for songs:  I have been exploring and loving Christian music for some time too.  Kirk Franklin’s “Hello Fear” album really resonated with me this summer, particularly “The Moment #1”.  I started singing it for weeks.  It starts with the lament

Once I had a heart that just wouldn’t seem to heal
No joy blowing through the wind
Your touch I couldn’t feel
It goes on but later continues with:

So this is how we honor you
You left your throne to make us new
You became our substitute
So we lift our hearts in praise for the blood

The blood, of course, is Jesus Christ.  There’s more too but I mention this latter lyric in particular because I literally got goose bumps in office bible study after reading from Hebrews as I realized that God was speaking about this very verse.  I shared these lyrics and started a conversation.  It wasn’t long before I realized I needed to share the entire song and sang it for the office’s Toastmaster club. I had never done anything like that before, but that’s how much of an impression it made on me.  I pray that all have such an experience, as often as possible.

It helps to be in the right setting.  Sharing and praying and listening is key.  I was even recently blessed when I was asked that we skip the usual study guide and just talk and pray together.  That’s a wonderful feeling.  There was a time that I would have been tongue tied.  Praise the lord.  Tori Kelly’s “Hiding Place” album was shared with me at the office too.  That includes the wonderful song Psalm 42 that was just read, and “Soul’s Anthem (It is Well)”.  This is contemporary music.

I have also been encouraged by the popularity of the recent hit by Lauren Daigle called “You Say”. She even just remarked in a recent interview that the popularity of it surprised even her.  You have likely heard it too.  It starts with:

“I’ve been fighting voices in my head that say I’m not enough”
Every single lie that tells me I will never measure up
Am I more than just the sum of every high and every low
Remind me once again just who I am because I need to know…

The answer is that we are all God’s children.
It goes on but later continues with:

The only thing that matters now is everything You think of me
In You I find my worth, in You I find my identity

And another song “Love like this” on the same album expresses the wonder:

What have I done to deserve love like this?
What have I done to deserve love like this?
I cannot earn what you so freely give.
What have I done to deserve love like this?

I battled voices in my head for many years .  After I started reading the Bible, I realized If you want peace in your head, let Jesus Christ in instead.  That is the place to start.

Finally, Beth Harper here in Hollis introduced me to Casting Crown’s “The Very Next Thing”, another excellent album.  The lyrics of  “Loving my Jesus” struck me again.  I’ll close with them:

I’ll spend the rest of my life
Loving Jesus
Showing my scars
Telling my story of how mercy
Can reach You where You are
And I pray the whole world hears
The cry of my heart
Is to see all the ones I love
Loving Jesus

Thank you, and may God bless you all.

Click HERE for The Takeaway, Prayer – Week 6
“Prayers of Praise, Prayers of Lament”

© 2020 The Congregational Church of Hollis, UCC