A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Secret Place
by Dan Vander Ark
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A preacher I once heard said this, “A Christian needs three things for a successful prayer life: a quiet heart, a quiet hour and a quiet place.” Sometimes in the busy affairs of everyday life it’s hard to find a “secret place” where it’s just you and God. And sometimes it can even get a little humorous.
After our first daughter was born we attended a small Bible College in North Dakota. Raising a family and renting a small house meant that there wasn’t much opportunity at home to find a place to pray, so at times I would take the car out into the country to seek the Lord. Sometimes I spent the hour sort of walking/praying in a cemetery (only during the day – and not in the winter). Sometimes I walked down a railroad track about a quarter of a mile and spent time seeking the Lord under a train trestle. One time while doing this I turned around and there was a little old lady standing just behind me! Scared me half to death! She said she was looking for wild asparagus. I think I may have blurted out that I was looking for wild broccoli (she’d never believe I was “praying”). I never saw her walking to my railroad bridge secret place, and come to think of it, I never saw her leave. So I figured she must have been some sort of asparagus angel.
After I became a pastor I obviously had to become more professional in my approach to finding a secret place. We lived right behind the church (a converted barn) in a small town in southwestern North Dakota. I usually went to the church at 5:00 am to pray for a couple of hours. And it was always just me and the Lord. One morning it was real quiet and dark when suddenly I thought I saw the image of a hand slowly reach between the sanctuary swinging doors. I was paralyzed with fear – my knees were almost knocking together. I thought that maybe our little church was being handed over to the Methodists and Lutherans (you know – the Daniel chapter 5 handwriting on the wall thing). Fortunately, it turned out to be one of the church members who decided to join me for prayer.
When I attended church conferences in the big city of Bismarck I would at times leave the motel real early and go find a cemetery to pray in. One time the battery on the car was dead (no pun intended) when I went to start my vehicle. Now what? Fortunately a couple of workers were preparing for a funeral so I asked them for a jump. They brought over the cables, hooked it up, and hollered, “CLEAR!” (Not really, but that would have been funny). Another time the battery died after I had been praying for awhile in a park in Fargo, ND (I must not have been able to find a cemetery). We were visiting my wife’s parents for the holidays. It was zero degrees outside. It was 7:00 Christmas morning. I saw lights come on in a house not too far away so I knocked on the door. I wanted to say, “Ho Ho Ho – do you have any jumper cables?” He kept looking over my shoulder as though he were expecting Rudolph to jump out of the bushes.
When my wife and I and two daughters visited my family it also proved difficult finding a place to pray. At one time I went into a real closet – an upstairs linen closet just big enough for me to squeeze inside. I can’t remember how long I prayed, but probably not too long as I was getting claustrophobia. I heard my sister asking my wife, “Where’s Danny?” My wife must have motioned to the linen closet. The door opened and I almost fell out. My sister looked down at me with sort of a disdainful, “This is my college educated brother?”
And one other highlight on this journey to finding a secret place. It was the summer of 1988 and my family and I were going to candidate for a church in Florence, Colorado. We spent the night in Cheyenne, Wyoming. In the morning I left the motel early and drove our Plymouth Horizon to what I thought was going to be a pretty quiet spot in the country. I had the seat laid down and was praying fervently (if I remember correctly I was praying fairly loudly in my “heavenly prayer language”). Suddenly there was a tap on the window. It was the Sheriff! I rolled the window down and said, “Hello Officer.” She asked what I was doing. What else? I said I was praying. “Riiiiiiiiigggggghhhhhtttttttttt. Can I see your driver’s license,” she asked. I gave it to her and she went back to her patrol car. She and her partner were in there for quite awhile. I figured they were asking headquarters to check for any escapees from a psychiatric ward in North Dakota. They let me go. If they had arrested me I would have had to ask them, “By the way, do you have a secret place in that jail of yours?”
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