He rocks up each week and sets up his sandwich board in Launceston’s Brisbane Street Mall. The sign simply asks, “Need Prayer?”
Perhaps you’ve seen Merv on a Thursday, standing there whatever the weather, armed with a friendly greeting and a smile. As you’ve bustled about, ticking items off your shopping list, Merv has been looking for eye contact and the opportunity to bestow blessing on someone’s day.
It takes a certain amount of courage to shelve one’s inhibitions and put faith into action. I’ve always admired people with such conviction that their beliefs are more important than how they are perceived by the rest of the herd. Even if their beliefs are different to mine – who can help but acknowledge the self-sacrifice they make?
People like Merv, however, aren’t about passing judgement or shoving religion down people’s throats. When I asked him why he would do such a counter-cultural thing as offering to pray for strangers in a city’s busiest shopping district, he said it was to “be a friendly face” and to “show love in a little way”.
“I feel like a very ordinary guy, who doesn’t know much, just wanting to make a difference and help usher the kingdom in, here in Launceston. That’s what it’s about, The Kingdom,” he said.
When Merv prays for someone to be healed of a physical affliction or released from a difficult circumstance, when he cheerily bids passersby to “have a good day”, when he listens, smiles, waves and shakes hands, he is bringing heaven to earth. That’s “The Kingdom”. The original plan. Relationship with our maker. Heaven. Perfection.
God has placed within us a yearning for this state of being or place (“He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart…” Ecclesiastes 3:11). I think we all wish things were better.
There is nothing perfect on this planet, but some things come close.
The painterly strokes of a sunrise.
Love – deep and unconditional.
Dew strung like jewels on dawn foliage.
A newborn baby.
Laughter with friends.
And a spontaneous smile, hug or prayer from a stranger like Merv.
These are like a kiss from heaven, a foretaste of the divine. But they also tell us that The Kingdom is within us, available to us now – not just at the time of our death.
In Luke 17:20-21, Jesus was asked when the kingdom of God would come. He replied, “The coming of the kingdom of God is not something that can be observed, nor will people say, ‘Here it is,’ or ‘There it is,’ because the Kingdom of God is in your midst.”
I won’t pretend it’s an easy concept to get your head around, but it does bring immeasurable hope and a full and grateful heart for people like Merv.
First published in The Examiner Newspaper for Keeping the Faith column on Monday June 9, 2014.