Tuesday at 6 o’clock, my son Neil called. “Sorry to wait til the last minute to tell you, but our choir and the children and I are singing at the seminary tonight. We’re doing the musical ‘Somebody’s Praying For You.'” I told him his children had already told me and I would be there.
The choir was a blend of seminarians and choir/orchestra members from a number of local churches and someone said, even from FBC Summit, MS. The musical is a wonderful, moving reminder of the importance of prayer. Early in the program, Neil stepped to the microphone and sang with a small group of children–including his twins Abby and Erin–a song called, “Pray for Me.” The picture is of children asking adults to pray for them.
When Dr. Ken Gabrielse, chairman of the seminary’s music department and conductor of the program, asked me to come to the front and say a few words about the role of prayer in our rebuilding of New Orleans and our churches, all I could summon at the moment was my oft-repeated one-minute speech that goes like this: “Wherever I go, people say they’re praying for us. I thank them and say, ‘May I tell you how to pray? Pray big. We have a massive task before us, one that will not be completed for another ten years. We need big prayer. Perhaps you could pray like this: ‘Father, you love this city. Jesus died for this city. You have many people here. Satan has held it long enough, Lord. Take it back. Do a new thing here, Lord. Do a big thing. Do a God thing.’
“John Newton, who wrote the words to ‘Amazing Grace’ had this to say about this kind of praying: ‘Thou art coming to a King; Large petitions with thee bring; For His grace and power are such, None can ever ask too much.” Pray big.
You know how it is, I’ll betcha. I sat back down on the front row as the choir resumed singing about how someone is praying for you, and only then did I think of something Ken Watkins had e-mailed me this very day. Ken spent most of his career as director of Baptist Campus Ministry at Mississippi State University, and built one of the most wonderful programs anywhere. These days, he pastors a small church in upper New York State and works as a chaplain at a retirement home. Tuesday he sent an email asking how I was doing. His wife–whom I have not met; they’re relatively newlywed–has a co-worker named Glenn who had been praying for me and wondered how I was doing.
Give that a little thought. A colleague of the wife of a friend was praying for me, and I didn’t know it. Later Tuesday night, Dr. Chuck Kelley and I walked out of the chapel talking about this very thing, how we are the beneficiaries of unknown friends everywhere lifting us to the Father. How truly blessed we are. And who are these unnamed friends praying for us? God alone knows.
And something else: only God knows who all has been to New Orleans to help us over this past year. I’ll be driving past one of our churches and see a church van from some distant state parked in front and t-shirt-clad workers are all over the yard and in and out of the buildings. We did not know they were coming, do not know anyone from that area, and do not know how they made this connection. But they’re here and we are so glad. And so blessed.
Prayer may be the most “faith-ful” activity a person can do. In most cases, the person praying will never see the answers to his prayer, particularly if he’s far off and praying for those of us in Katrina-land. Pray for President Bush and his advisors and various government leaders and you will not actually see the fruit of your prayers. You will not be able to say, “My prayer brought this change.” In fact, the way things are going presently, you might be tempted to say your prayers are not making any difference at all. But that’s where the faith angle comes in. What if you were not praying? How much worse would things be? And could it be that things are so bad right now–the Iraqi war going badly, the increasing deaths there, the moral problems in our Congress–because fewer people are praying.
Jesus said, “When the Son of Man returns, will He find faith on earth?” (Luke 18:8) Is anyone praying?
At the end of the program Tuesday night, Dr. Kelley said to the audience, “If you do not know of anyone who is praying for you, don’t sit there grieving. Ask the Lord whom you can pray for? As you get started praying for people who do not know you’re doing it, the Lord just might put it on someone else’s heart to begin praying for you.”
And remember: “Nothing never happens when you pray.”