I can still picture the scene. In the middle of a worship service, in the middle of the singing, I felt the Spirit nudge my heart, you need to stop singing and start praying. Looking back, it was such a simple request. Today, I rarely hesitate to go to the altar regardless of where we are in the service, other than preaching for more obvious reasons. Back then, the ask felt monumental. What would people think if I just left the row during a time of worship through music and walked to the altar? Would they think something was terribly wrong? Would they think I had some grievous sin? Would they think I was just being “showy” and unspiritual all together? None of this was true. I simply felt the Spirit compelling me to go pray.
After some amount of back and forth in my mind, the Spirit won out, as He rightfully should. I left my row, I went to the altar, I began to pray. I’m not sure what I prayed during this time, but I do remember the presence of God filling the place like thick air on a humid summer day. I felt several hands upon my shoulders, though I no longer cared as to why they thought they need to come pray for me or pray however they thought they needed.
Soon I felt the Spirit release me, I had accomplished His purpose. I tried to stand, but the hands, which had not left my shoulders eased me back down. Once more I tried to stand, and once more I was pulled back toward the altar. Finally, I looked behind me. Somewhere along the way, the music had stopped, the altar was full. God’s people were praying.
Even as I write this, I can’t hold back the tears streaming down my face. It’s a sweet memory and one that I have wished would happen far more often in the church than it actually does. Make no mistake, God’s people are called to pray and I believe in our day and time, the Spirit is compelling us, go to the prayer closets, go to bedside, go under the tree and by the streams, go to the courthouses, go to the schools, and yes, when the churches reopen for public worship, go to the altars.
We all know that God calls us to pray. Some may even feel compelled to pray at times. For many, if not most who will read this today, you may have grown complacent in your prayers. You may wonder if your prayers matter, if they make a difference, if they are heard, if God would respond, if there is really any power in prayer.
But remember Jesus told the disciples in John 14, “Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it.” (John 14:13-14). This wasn’t a blank check, as some have taught, rather it was a reminder that when we abide in Christ, pray guided by His Word and His Spirit, that He will answer and move in incredible ways.
Today, on this National Day of Prayer, let me encourage you to pray, even if you are not sure exactly where to start. I love the encouragement of the author Max Lucado who wrote, "Our prayers may be awkward. Our attempts may be feeble. But since the power of prayer is in the one who hears it and not in the one who says it, our prayers do make a difference."
If you would like to use a prayer guide, you can easily follow the link below to the one put together by our Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee for this day, set aside as a reminder, that God has called, His Spirit is compelling, His church to be praying.
Dr. Josh Carter