This past summer the Church of The Highlands, located here in Birmingham, held Twenty-One Days of Prayer, a prayer service that lasted for, you guessed it, twenty-one days!
Being new to Highlands, I’d never even heard of the service, much less attended it. Come to think of it, I’d never been to a prayer service, at any church. Always looking for ways to deepen my relationship with God, I decided to give it a try. I’d often heard of people being referred to as “prayer warriors”, and while I didn’t consider myself to be a prayer warrior, or know that I wanted to be one, I certainly knew how to pray!
Monday through Friday the service was held from 6:00 to 7:00 A.M., and on Saturday it was from 9:00 to 10:00 A.M.. There wasn’t a service on Sunday. I guess that it was expected that you would attend church (and in doing so would pray).
I rolled out of bed at five o’clock and as quietly as I possibly could (I didn’t want to wake my wife Jackie) showered, got dressed, and brewed a small thermos of coffee to take with me. I pulled out of our driveway at 5:30, allowing 15 minutes for the drive, and another 15 to get settled in at church.
During the drive over, I wondered what the service would be like. I mean, would we just sit around for an hour in prayer? (I do that almost every morning in our kitchen.) I figured that I’d find out soon enough.
I walked in to find a perhaps a hundred people scattered about, as our praise and worship music filled the huge main auditorium (it seats around 2,500 people). I took a seat near the front, as is my custom, and bowed my head in prayer while I waited for the service to begin.
The first of the twenty-one days began with an introduction as to what we should expect during the next three weeks. Each day would begin with a reading and a message from one of the pastors at Highlands. This would be followed by everyone in attendance singing one of our “Sunday songs.” Next would be thirty minutes of individual prayer and reflection. The final fifteen minutes would consist of everyone gathering at the main stage for corporate prayer being led by the “pastor of the day”.
I remember thinking “I can handle this.”
And so the first service began with the reading, the message, and the singing. I was enjoying the experience, but I wasn’t sure that it was worth getting up and out of the house at 5:30 in the morning. Turns out that I was a bit premature in my thinking…
When we had finished singing we were told that there were some resources at the front of the stage that we might use in prayer. Figuring that I could use all the help I could get, I decided to check out these resources.
As I approached the stage I saw stacks of cards arranged across the front. As I got closer I realized that they were hundreds of Connection Cards from Sunday’s services. These cards are filled out by visitors attending Highlands for the first time, returning visitors, and members of the church. There are sections for general information, (name, address, age, etc.) education classes offered in the church, ministry opportunities, and prayer requests.
I picked up, I don’t know, maybe 25 or 30 cards and headed back to my seat. As I began to read, I quickly realized that all of the cards in my hand contained prayer requests from the congregation.
Now I have to tell you…I pray for people all the time. I pray for Jackie and our family. I pray for my friends. I pray for our team in our salon. I pray for our church and civic leaders, our country, and our world. I pray for the sick, and those in need. I pray for lost souls.
But this was different. I was holding people’s lives, stranger’s lives, in my hands. Yet strangely enough, I felt as if I knew them. You see, there were names connected with all of these cards…people requesting prayers for themselves, or family members, or friends. It didn’t matter that I couldn’t see their faces; I knew their names. And there was hurt and pain and desperation on all of these cards…sickness…drug abuse…broken relationships…financial problems…death. Many prayed for loved ones to find God.
The small stack of cards in my hand suddenly carried the weight of an automobile. I found myself holding my breath, tears streaming down my face, overwhelmed by the huge wave of emotion that had engulfed me. Five or ten minutes elapsed before I could continue reading.
Looking back on it now, I don’t know if I was moved by the needs of all those people, or by the affirmations of their faith shown in asking other people to act as intercessors on their behalf. Perhaps it was a bit of both.
Either way, the impact of that morning stayed with me for the remainder of that day, and for days to come. And so it went for the next couple of weeks.
I don’t remember the exact day, but I do know that it was during the last week of the Twenty-One Days. I was walking around in church that morning (I sometimes like to pace when I pray) sifting through the prayer cards, just as I had been doing for the past couple of weeks. I had actually gotten more accustomed to reading them by then. Oh, I still felt the pain, but I wasn’t as overwhelmed as I had been the first few mornings.
But that particular morning I sensed something else…a different kind of urgency…a different kind of pain. This was something close to me, as in physically close. I stopped dead in my tracks and took a look around, hoping to find the source of my uneasy feeling, but not really wanting to. Make sense?
There, on the floor, just a couple of feet away from me, was a young lady on her knees, face buried in her hands, sobbing uncontrollably. I could feel her pain. My first instinct was to put a hand on her shoulder to console her. I decided against it because I thought that I might be invading her privacy. I was, after all, a complete stranger. I opted instead to linger for just a moment, asking God to hear her petitions.
“You can’t see the forest for the trees.”
After praying for the young lady, I resumed my walk around the church with a new set of eyes, with a different perspective. This time my focus was not on the cards in my hand, but on the other people in attendance.
As I scanned the church, I was taken aback by the desperation that I not only saw on many faces, but actually felt in my heart. At that very moment I realized that while many of us were offering prayers for people on the connection cards, a great many others were on their knees for their own petitions. Had they been there all along during the twenty-one days? How could I not have noticed them? How could I not have felt their needs?
My mind flashed back to that very first day…the numbness, the emotion, and the tears. I spent the remainder of that morning, and a good portion of the remaining mornings that week, praying for the needs of those around me.
How do I do it?
I’m frequently asked how I can be so positive and happy all the time…
When I’m having a particularly rough day, or when life seems to be throwing me one curve after another, or when I’m faced with one of those challenging situations that we all face from time to time, I pause.
And I think about the Twenty-One days of Prayer, and the connection cards with the names, and the hurt, the pain, the needs of others. And I think about the young lady on her knees, and the man openly weeping as he offered his petitions to God, and the desperation that I felt in that church. And the faith that I witnessed in that church. I think about the millions of people that are burdened each day and the millions more that don’t know God.
You see, my positive outlook and happiness is born of gratitude. I’m grateful that God has seen fit to bless me with all that He has. I’m grateful for His presence in my life. I’m grateful that He has given me another day. I’m just grateful. Period.
See you next week!