Tuesday, January 23, 2024

Teach us to Pray

Teach Us to Pray


Jan Gelders wanted to speak with me.

I was glad to see him. The year was 1946. Although he was a young man, he had  the reputation of having been a true hero in the resistance during the Second World War. After the war, he went back to his job as an auto-mechanic. I hadn’t talked with him for several months.

He came into my study with a troubled look on his face. He closed the door gently and nervously. He gathered his courage, but then it seemed suddenly to melt away.

“Pastor, do you remember when I came to see you during the war?” He had visited me a few times, but I knew which time he meant.

My mind flashed back to the winter of 1944-45. Hunger, cold, darkness, danger.

Jan had come one evening and told me that he had to undertake a risky mission that night. The resistance needed a German truck, and Jan had to impersonate the driver with fake papers. He had to pretend to be a German soldier.

It was a perilous assignment. If he would be caught, he would be arrested and executed. He was a brave young man.

But now, today, almost a year after the end of the war, he had come to me with what could only be construed as visible terror in his eyes.

He hesitated and swallowed and stuttered. Young men like him didn’t say the Name of the LORD God as easily as a minister did. But finally he said it.

“I am afraid of the LORD. Of God.”

We had talked and prayed together on that dangerous night. I had commended him to the Lord’s care. He had said that he appreciated my words and prayer.

As it turned out, the truck's seizure had been postponed that night, and then it had not happened at all. I remembered all this. And now Jan was sitting in front of me again, crossing and uncrossing his legs anxiously. He was distressed. But what was he so distressed about? He had survived that anxious night. He had survived the war. They all had. And he was peacefully working again as a mechanic.

What was his difficulty? This was his problem:

He said, “Pastor, you prayed with me that night, but I was not being sincere. Yes, I was scared. But I felt confident that I could pull it off. But now I’m terrified. And now I can’t take it anymore. Because, you see, I didn’t really mean that prayer. I was not really praying along with you.”

His cloudy eyes looked at the window for a moment. I could see that he had been living in a lot of darkness lately, and now that he pulled the curtain aside, there was nothing but twilight in his sorrowful heart.

“See, I didn’t mean anything by that prayer. And now I’m terrified that I took the LORD’s name in vain.”

His head dropped and his eyes stared blankly at the floor. He repeated himself for the third time.

I asked him a question. “And now, Jan, would you mean it now?”

His head snapped up. “That’s exactly it. I don’t know. Yes, I would like to pray and believe and trust, but…”

His tormented eyes looked at me.

“…But I don’t dare. I don’t trust myself anymore and I just don’t know. I can’t and I don’t dare.”

Jan fell quiet. I was quiet. I opened my Bible. We read Psalm 103: 

 13 As a father shows compassion to his children,
                so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him.
            14 For he knows our frame;

                he remembers that we are dust.

There are many promises in the Scripture. Some of them wrap us in the mercy of Him who comforts us like a father, like a mother. We spoke about that. And prayed.

Yesterday Jan was in church and when we sang Psalm 103 about the mercies of God, I heard his voice soar above all the others.


From “Leer ons Bidden” in Peper en Zout by M.E. Voila, Kok: Kampen, n.d. Trans., George van Popta.