Fear, Loneliness, and Martin Luther King’s Spiritual Journey

Bill GaultiereBy Bill Gaultiere5 Minutes

If ever we needed the message and legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929–1968) it’s today!

Before he became a role model, he was an ordinary pastor from Atlanta, Georgia. King emerged from the Montgomery, Alabama bus boycott of 1955 to 1956 as a national figure in America’s civil rights movement.

He publicly denounced the injustices and inequalities that fellow African Americans were daily subjugated to simply because their skin color was not white. At the same time, he insisted that the road to freedom must be walked in Jesus’ way of peace with strict adherence to non-violence.

He mobilized people of diverse ethnicities, economic, and religious backgrounds to unite for civil equality. His message and march were that the laws of our nation must defend and protect the God-given worth and right to freedom of all people.

With these first steps of ascent toward liberty, the opposition mobilized too, fighting for a racist ideology that long had found its roots in America’s soil.

Late one cold January night in 1956, as King was going to sleep the phone rang. A raging voice spewed violent threats into his ear and hung up. An earthquake shook his inmost self, as fear for his life and his family’s safety seized him.

But sitting at his kitchen table he went to prayer:

The words I spoke to God that midnight are still vivid in my memory. ‘I am here taking a stand for what I believe is right. But now I am afraid. The people are looking to me for leadership, and if l stand before them without strength and courage, they too will falter. I am at the end of my powers. I have nothing left. I’ve come to the point where I can’t face it alone.’

At that moment, I experienced the presence of the Divine as I had never experienced God before. It seemed as though I could hear the quiet assurance of an inner voice saying: ‘Stand up for justice, stand up for truth; and God will be at your side forever.’ Almost at once my fears began to go. My uncertainty disappeared. I was ready to face anything (Stride Toward Freedom, pp. 134-135).

This story illustrates the secret peace and power of Martin Luther King’s life that is often missed: intimacy with God. He cultivated a life of prayer and God-worship which enabled his social activism.

His protests, boycotts, and marches were done with Jesus. He and his followers lived out Jesus’ teachings, like shining God’s light in our life and work, speaking the truth, resisting evil without violence, loving our enemies, and forgiving all who wrong us (Matt. 5:14-16, 33-37, 38-48; 6:14-16).

But King couldn’t have done all that good without his kitchen table prayer time.

At King’s kitchen table love removed fear. The quiet reassurance of the Holy Spirit’s inner voice reminded him of God’s strong presence and calling.

King’s night of fear could’ve caused him to give up. He and his family were in grave danger. He felt alone with the weight of the world on his shoulders. He had no power to go on.

But he told God how scared, tired, and alone he felt. He cried out his Lord and waited.

Then came the quiet reassurance at his kitchen table that ultimately brought new freedom to millions of African Americans and others who were oppressed.

How can you have your kitchen table moment? How can you sense the reality of God’s loving, strong presence with you?

Dr. King’s story shows you how to foster the intimacy with God that brings real change for the good to you and the people around you:

1. Be emotionally real and raw with God
2. Listen for the “still, small voice” of the Lord (1 Kings 19:12)
3. Practice Jesus’ teachings to bring justice to the oppressed

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