Sunday, May 16, 2010



Anton was feeling restless. His two sons and only daughter were full-grown. All three were living out of state. His wife was long gone. She ran off with another man. He retired last year, having worked for the same firm for 30 years.

So Anton had time on his hands. Too much free time with too little to do.

Of course, there were endless ways to kill time, but he was at that point in life where he needed something more out of life than mindless diversions.

So he went to the garage and started rifling through old, unpacked boxes. Have you ever noticed that you seem to lose something else every time you move? You were sure you packed them for the move, but somehow, between one move and another, they mysteriously disappear.

But at the bottom of the sixth box he opened, there they were–his old yearbooks from junior high and high school. He took them back to the living room, got a beer, and began to thumb through them.

Dimly-remembered names and half-forgotten faces began to reassemble. It was with mixed feelings that he revisited his past.

Sometimes it reminded him of why he hadn’t made the effort to keep up. Reminded him of classmates he’d rather forget about. Classmates he really didn’t like. Now he remembered why he didn’t remember them.

Come to think of it, isn’t that why he attended that out-of-state college? To get away from it all?

He was also struck by how little he ever knew about them. Had he even exchanged a half dozen words with most of them in all the years they attended school together, five days a week, nine months a year, for six years or longer?

Flipping through the pages, most of them were vaguely familiar names and vaguely faces. Nothing more. What hit him was not the mere passage of time, but the ravages of time.

All those years together, then you graduate, go your separate ways. Even if you keep up with a few old friends for a time, you tend to drift apart as the years wear on.

Mind you, the yearbook didn’t always have that effect on him. There were the girls. Suddenly a name came to him from the back of his head. He skipped a few pages to that part of the alphabet and ran his thumb down the page. Sure enough. There was her name. And moving his finger sideways, there was her picture.

He always had a soft-spot for Keri. Sweet, pious, gentle Keri. Why did he never get around to dating her?

At the time his head was full of movie stars. A natural, adolescent infatuation. But none of them attended his high school.

Yet looking back through time as he stared at her photo, he was sorry that he missed an opportunity. At this point in life, nothing seemed more appealing to him than to be married to a high school sweetheart.

Maybe that’s why his wife left him. She sensed a change. A growing discontent.

Anton married her in college. At first they really hit it off. Had a happy marriage. But as the years piled up they grew apart–emotionally, and imperceptibly at first. It’s not something you notice right about because it reflects the absence of something rather than the presence of something. Tedium. Emptiness. An air of intangible regret. Intangible longing.

But at the time, Anton wasn’t what you’d call pious. He didn’t connect with Keri at that level.

Whatever became of Keri? What was she doing now? At this very moment? While he was sitting on the couch, thumbing through his yearbooks, what was she doing–he wondered. Was she still that kind, prayerful girl he knew from school? Or was that just a phase? Youthful naïveté?

Maybe they switched roles. Maybe she became what he used to be, while he became what she used to be.

Flipping through some more pages, he ran across Brad. He remembered Brad because Brad used to hang out with Keri.

Brad was on the football team. Come to think of it, Brad was on three different teams.

He’d bumped into Brad at their 10th high school reunion. They chatted for a few minutes.

As it turned out, public school was the high point in Brad’s life. He lived for sports. The camaraderie.

But he didn’t have the talent to play college football–much less pro football. So when he graduated from high school, the bottom fell out of his social life. He wound up in a series of dead-end jobs.

Keri was there, too. But she was always chatting with someone else, so he didn’t get to talk to her.

And that’s the last time he saw either one. He didn’t make it to his 20th or 30th reunions. It didn’t mean that much to him at the time.

But a few years ago he began to attend church. Began to pray. Began to reflect on life. The passing years. And the remaining years.

Prayer is a paradox. A confession of man’s impotence and God’s omnipotence. We place our impotence in the hands of God’s omnipotence.


So Anton decided to pray for Brad and Keri. He added them to his daily prayer itinerary, along with his three kids–and the ex.

He couldn’t pray for all his classmates. There were too many. And, frankly, he didn’t know what to say. He barely knew most of them. It would be like praying over names in the phone book.

But just because he couldn’t pray for all of them didn’t mean he shouldn’t pray for some of them. So he’d pray for a little remnant.

In one sense, they were interchangeable with millions of other men and women his age. It was an accident of history that he attended school with this set of kids rather than some other set of kids.

And yet, in the providence of God, those were the folks God put him with. So, in a sense, they were his spiritual charges. His little parish. If he didn’t pray for them, who would?

Although he had lost track of them, God had not. Through prayer, he could be a secret friend or anonymous benefactor. In prayer he could be there for them even when he wasn’t with them. Intercede for them. Work behind-the-scenes.

Of course, it was ultimately up to God.


Five years later, Anton died in a traffic accident. One of the features of life in heaven is that you got to serve on welcoming committees or greeting parties for new arrivals.

When a Christian died, there was usually someone who had preceded him to heaven, someone he knew in this life. A friendly face. A familiar face. A thread connecting two worlds.

When Keri died, the first person she saw on the other side was Anton. And when Brad died, the first person he saw on the other side was Anton.

They were young again. Like high school. Only this time, things were inexpressibly better than before.


  1. That was really quite beautiful.

  2. Prayer should be given a high place in our evaluation of the significance of our lives and the lives of other people. Jesus said that "many who are first will be last; and the last, first" (Matthew 19:30). Our prayers are often unknown to other people, but they'll be taken into account in the judgment (Matthew 6:6). One of the reasons why the next life will be so different than people expect (the first being last and the last being first) is prayer. Christians who haven't achieved much by the world's standards, or haven't accomplished much even in many Christian contexts, should be encouraged by the potential of prayer. A Christian who isn't a pastor, theologian, or martyr, who isn't likely to be mentioned in history books, who hasn't published any books or had a television ministry, can pray.

  3. I always enjoy reading your fiction Steve, thanks.

  4. In an age where there's websites like and it would have been easy for Anton to find out whether Keri and Brad were still alive. Maybe evem get in contact with them.

    However, in former generations one might not be able to find out such information. So, Anton may not have been able to find out anything of what happened to Keri and Brad. In which case, when he got to heaven he might have found out that Brad was "saved" by Keri's prayers for him in her youth; he HIMSELF (Anton) was "saved" by Brad's prayers when they were all middled aged, and Keri was later brought back from backsliding in her old age by Anton's prayers in his old age.

  5. typo correction: evem = even

    In my scenario, I'm pointing out how we really need each other as Christians. If Keri knew that her own prayers for other people (both for Anton and especially for Brad) would one day make the difference between her returning to the faith or not, I'm sure she would have been more passionate and faithful in her duty to pray.

    I say this even given the Calvinistic view that salvation is ultimately by God's sovereign choice. Since Calvinists believe that God ordains both ends and means such that, at least from our perspective, it's "as if" the future hinges on our prayers. As it has been said by the Calvinistic Triabloggers, while our prayers cannot change the future, they nevertheless genuinely affect it.

    Both high predestinarians (e.g. Calvinists, Thomists, Augustinians) and low predestinarians (e.g. Arminian-like views) believe that certain things wouldn't happen if we as Christians don't pray. The difference is that the high predestinarian has the confidence and comfort that all things happen according to God's wise plan. While the low predestinarian will have reason to forever be gloomy and saddened that he could have "saved" more (like Oskar Schindler) if he had just prayed more, witnessed more, and used better manipulative techniques to get people to "make decisions for Christ".

    Before I was a Calvinist, I was very gloomy and gratitude didn't naturally flow from my heart and lips because I intuitively understood that ultimately my salvation and the salvation of others was dependant on chance (being born in the right place and time to encounter the gospel) and whether someone was either slightly pious enough or gullible enough to believe the gospel.

    I still love Keith Green's songs, but if I were to listen to them (as I used to) as an Arminian, it could lead me to weep all day long for the lost. Nor can I see how I could every be truly happy in heaven.

    While there are some of his songs that could clearly be interpreted in Calvinistic terms (e.g. "You Put This Love In My Heart", most of his songs are clearly written from an Arminian perspective. He was strongly influenced by Charles Finney's Pelagian/Semi-Pelagian theology.

    Though, even Calvinists can glean some nuggets from Finney's works. For example, *some* (definitely not all) of the things he says on prayer in his "Lectures on Revivals of Religion", if read from a Calvinistic point of view, can be very encouraging.

  6. Oh man, Keith Green. I told my wife I wanted her to play this song over and over again, should I end up dying on a deathbed:

  7. “One of the features of life in heaven is that you got to serve on welcoming committees or greeting parties for new arrivals.

    When a Christian died, there was usually someone who had preceded him to heaven, someone he knew in this life. A friendly face. A familiar face. A thread connecting two worlds.”

    Where did you get that? Been reading Don Piper lately? :)

    This is a great story in any case. It occurs to me that the world would consider prayer a foolish and fruitless endeavor on many levels:

    1) Even if the world believes in a higher power, the pattern is typically that this higher power is rather detached from the goings on of such lowly creatures as us and frankly doesn’t care what happens to us.
    2) If the world goes along under the auspices of mere natural forces, then prayer does nothing to affect outcomes.
    3) The world typically regards prayer and the belief in some active supernatural creator as a crutch of the mentally weak thinking it only to meet some psychological need.

    But why would we be motivated to pray even if we believed it would have some supernatural result? After all, who is benefitting? Sure, we can see some benefit to prayer, but only after we have actually experienced that benefit. The reason Christians intercede for others is that we actually care for them. Therefore:

    4) The world doesn’t consider it wise to seek the benefit of another at our expense unless we receive some tangible benefit from it.

    And earnest prayer comes at some expense. There is a sense of striving in prayer that requires some spiritual sacrifice when we pray well. This is to say that God works love in his children through the indwelling f the Holy Spirit such that we need to seek God in our reliance on him because of our love for others.

    This one little theological item of our love and concern for others is perhaps the greatest revelatory sign of the attributes of God that counter the patterns of the world by which the veracity of the scriptures resonate with us. (He is Holy. He is our Creator. He is our provider. He has provided eternal life [He is eternal]. He is the source of Truth. He is Love. Etc.) And intercessory prayer is the greatest relational expression of this and perhaps one of the highest forms of worship.