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Three Minutes of Grace

by Syd Hielema

The 60ish professor settled himself in front of the microphone, opened his Bible, and announced, “Psalm 13, a psalm of David:”

How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and day after day have sorrow in my heart?
How long will my enemy triumph over me?

Look on me and answer, Lord my God. Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death, and  my enemy will say, “I have overcome him,” and my foes will rejoice when I fall.

But I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation. I will sing the Lord’s praise, for he has been good to me.

The professor closed the Bible, took a deep breath, looked over the congregation, and continued, “This psalm is my life story. I have struggled with depression for the past twenty-five years. It comes and goes with greater and lesser intensity. At the moment I feel quite strong. But there have been many deep valleys along the way.

“David’s opening phrase, ‘How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever?’ whispers in my heart every day in some form. But I know I need to travel with him to the end of the psalm as he declares, ‘But I trust in your unfailing love. . . . I will sing the Lord’s praise, for he has been good to me.’ In my good seasons, it’s not that hard for me to travel to the end of the psalm. But during the valleys, I need to convince myself, ‘David is right, even though deep feelings inside me are trying to persuade me that it’s all a lie.’ This psalm—and others like it—are my lifeline.”

The professor was taking his turn sharing in “This Month’s Psalm,” a testimony time during our morning worship in which anyone could offer to read a psalm (or an excerpt) and describe how the reading had significantly shaped his or her life. We just had two simple rules: "Your total time at the mic must be less than three minutes, and you must write out what you intend to say.” 

Imagine what it is like for a community to hear 24 three-minute testimonies during a two-year period. Those three-minute sharing times ripple out to change the way we are a community together. All of us who are gathered for worship—from the 5-year-old to the 95-year-old—realize in a deeper way that we are all redeemed sinners, loved by Jesus, shaped by grace, struggling with our own “thorns in the flesh,” longing for wholeness. We all stand together at the cross with open hands.

Can you imagine how powerful three minutes a month might be in your congregation?