Where is your prayer tree?
Jesus, in His sermon on the mount, talked about having a place to get alone with God. In the older Bible versions, He called it a “closet.” The New International Version states it this way:
“When you pray, go into your room, close the door, and pray to your Father, who is unseen.” Matthew 6:6
It’s important for every person to have that closet—the quiet place—the place where you close the door on the world—and open the door of your heart to God.
I have a story—and a name for that place: It’s called “a prayer tree.”
The following story is an excerpt from my novel, The Wayfaring Stranger. It explains about having that quiet place for God.
A quick background: Joe Moore, the main character of the book, is a teenaged Irish immigrant, who has stowed away on a cross-Atlantic ship. After this “wayfaring stranger” arrives in New Orleans, he begins a new life in mid-19th century Louisiana. After the great Mississippi River flood of May 1849, Joe works his way on a steamboat up the big river and then the Red River. He lands in Alexandria, Louisiana and through a series of misadventures, ends up in the isolated section of western Louisiana called “No Man’s Land.” Upon arrival in this piney woods area, an old widow named Miz Girlie befriends him. She is a tough Redbone woman whose gruffness hides a heart of gold. She takes Joe in and begins to teach him about life in this pioneer area. Here is the passage I’ve named “The Prayer Tree.”
Joe slept each night on the porch. Miz Girlie gave him an old quilt and moss-filled mattress to lie on, and aside from the mosquitoes, it was a fine place to sleep.
Every morning about daylight, he’d hear the old lady leave the house. She’d be barefooted and trying to slip out quietly, but invariably he’d hear her footsteps.
After the third day of watching her leave each morning, his curiosity got the best of him. When she returned an hour later through the tall pines, she greeted him at the porch. “Mornin’ Irishman.”
Joe didn’t know if it was the early morning sunshine or something else—but her face seemed to have a glow to it.
As she ascended the front step, he asked, “Miz Girlie, now I ain’t trying to be nosey or nothing, but, uh, where do you go each morning?”
The old woman smiled. “Baby, you come with me and I’ll show you where I go. It’ll be a sight easier to show it to you than tell you about it.”
They walked out of the yard and into the tall longleaf pines. The shafts of sunlight shone through the tall canopies and Joe Moore was reminded of why he already loved the Louisiana piney woods.
Miz Girlie led him to an old twisted pine that was obviously in its last stages of life. The woodpeckers had drilled holes all up and down its thick trunk. Under the tree was a homemade bench that showed evidence of long use.
“Joe, this here spot was what my momma called her ‘prayer tree.’ It was where she started her day all the years I can remember. It didn’t matter how cold it was—raining or August hot—she came out here every morning.
“Son, it was her place to start the day with the Lord—under this here prayer tree—just her and the Lord, and a cup of coffee. When she passed in the year 1827, I just adopted it as mine. It’s now my prayer tree—a place where I meet every morning with the Lord, and we jes’ visit.” She smiled in a way Joe would always remember, “It’s my place to meet with God.”
We all need what Miz Girlie had—a prayer tree—a place to meet with God.
As I tell this story to dozens of groups, I always ask folks where they go for their quiet time with God. Many times, it is a room, a specific chair, even the bathroom, or an outdoor place of solitude.
For me, that place is best when it’s outside. The wonderful writer Wendell Berry said, “The Bible was written to be read outdoors.” My best times with God have always been outside, whether it was a porch swing, a woods walk, or on the seat of a tractor.
The place doesn’t matter as much as having a place.
Secondly, Miz Girlie had a time. For her, it was early morning. Personally, I think it is by far the best time to meet with God. It sets a stamp on the day and gives us a foundation for whatever may come our way in the coming twenty-four hours.
Once I spoke to a group of young people at Northwestern State. After sharing with them about the priority of starting your day with God, a student related the following. “I’m an animal science major and work with sheep. Research has shown that early morning grazing is the healthiest for livestock. The dew is still on the grass and this combines for them to receive not only water but also more nutrients.
She smiled. “It’s the same for people, isn’t it?
Yes, mornings are the best. However, there is no bad time to meet with God. Anytime is good. One of my sweet older friends, Mrs. Rhedia Skiles, quotes Psalms 119 “Seven times a day I praise thee.” This is her wise commentary: “We ought to get up praising God, go to bed praising God, thank him before each meal, and then bow our head to him at ten in the morning and two in the afternoon. That’s seven times.”
Like Miz Girlie, Mrs. Rhedia makes time for God.
Another thing in Miz Girlie’s story is she made it a priority. She said ‘My momma came out here no matter how cold it was—raining or August hot.’
It was her priority. I’m reminded that we’ll always make time for what we believe is most important.
Finally, the Rebone Miz Girlie Perkins had a purpose in her morning visit to the prayer tree. It was to meet with the very person of God
As she sat each morning on the rough bench under the old pine with her cup of coffee, she knew why she was there. She had an appointment with God.
One of my favorite writers, T.W. Hunt once shared this: “Sometimes I have a little trouble remembering that God is right there with me in my quiet time. In good weather, I always have this time on our back patio. Once I was struggling with feeling as close to God as I wanted to. Therefore, I did something strange. I took two cups of hot coffee out to the patio. Pulling up a second chair beside where I’d placed the other cup, I said, “Lord, I need to feel especially close to you today. I want to invite you to sit right here and enjoy a cup of coffee with me.
As Hunt told this story, a look of joy was on his face as he continued, “God was already there. I just needed a visible reminder.
es, we need a prayer tree. A time, a place, a priority, and a purpose all to meet with God.
PS Miz Girlie’s prayer tree was fictional, but the idea wasn’t.
A few years ago, I visited two of my sweetest friends, Phil and Trelvis Thomas. They live north of Leesville on the “home place” of Trelvis’ family.
She led me out to a stand of pines near their house, and pointed out an old weathered pine—exactly like the one Miz Girlie prayed under daily. She shared how this had been her mother’s prayer tree before it became hers.
Mrs. Trelvis gave me a great gift that day: the gift of showing me her prayer tree.
It’s a gift I pass on to you. It’s also a gift you can give yourself: a personal prayer tree.
A place to meet alone with God.
“Be still and know that I am God.” Psalms 46:10