The end of all things is near. You must be self-controlled and alert, to be able to pray.
—1 PETER 4:7, GNT
Like the rest of the world, I was shocked by the sudden violence and hatred aimed at America’s people on 9/11. Two hijacked passenger jets-turned-missiles found their civilian target by hitting the twin towers of the World Trade Center, and soon afterward desperate office workers hurled themselves out of skyscraper windows hundreds of feet above the street as their buildings were engulfed in flames. Then those mammoth obelisks began to crumble in a heap of ash and smoke.
A surprise attack killing thousands of innocent citizens on American soil? I sat transfixed, watching over and over as news stations replayed the horrific scenario. Unthinkable.
Feeling overcome by fear and worry, I finally turned off the television and retreated to the quiet of my car. Bible in hand, I asked God to take away my fear and give me faith—and wisdom. No one really knew what we faced at that point. Nor did we know the source of the attacks. I was fearful for my family and my country as I thought about possible dangers in the days ahead. Nothing like this had ever happened on America’s soil. How could we have been so sound asleep? I grieved for the many who had lost loved ones in the attack, and I shuddered to think what this meant for years to come. Our sense of peace and security had gone up in smoke. In a matter of minutes, we had suddenly become a nation at war.
Helpless, I simply asked God to show me how to respond. I wasn’t a soldier, just an ordinary wife and mother. How could I possibly protect those I loved? What could I do to help defend our nation? I began to feel the weight of concern for God’s people all over the earth. Gradually, the following thought came as a whisper: God, what would happen if I committed to praying for Your world? I wanted to believe that miracles could happen. But did I? What could one person do?
SEARCHING THE BIBLE FOR INSTRUCTIONS
Over the years, I had seen amazing answers to prayer. I had also learned from experience that God could be trusted to speak to me through the pages of Scripture. It’s no wonder that the Bible is referred to as being “living and active” (Hebrews 4:12). God’s Word never failed to strengthen my faith and remove fear. I sure needed help now.
I began reading from 1 Peter, which was a letter addressed to early Christians who were facing great danger and persecution. Obviously, we were also facing great danger, so I wanted to see how Peter responded. In the letter, he shares survival secrets for what to do when times look darkest. “The end of all things is near,” he writes. Therefore, “be self-controlled and alert” so that you can pray (1 Peter 4:7 GNT).
It had sure felt like the end of my world when I was watching the twin towers crumble in smoke. How odd, I noted, that Peter’s advice was not to run and hide, build a bomb shelter, panic, or fight, but to pray.
And it was equally odd that the encouragement was not to have passion or power as a starting point, but rather self-control and alertness. As I pondered the passage from 1 Peter, I reasoned that in order for prayer to be as powerful as the Bible seems to promise, it needed to include a measure of precision, skill, and discipline. I envisioned a brain surgeon enduring years of education, training, and practice to develop the precision to operate in the delicate minefields of the mind, knowing just where to cut. I was eager to learn more about just how and where to focus my prayers, and for whom.
In the quiet of my car, I purposed then and there that I would begin to pray with more practice and precision—and although I wasn’t a soldier, I’d sign up for a “tour of duty,” to be available to God in prayer, not just for my own needs and worries, but for the worries of the world. And since I hadn’t a clue as to what this should look like, I asked God to guide me. But how could I hear the voice of God amid all the chaos and turmoil in my head after the terrorist attacks? I continued to search the pages of the Bible. There I discovered another prayer mentor in the prophet Elijah.
THE SECOND VOICE
Elijah is described in the book of James as being human “just like us” (James 5:17). Yet Elijah “prayed earnestly” that it wouldn’t rain for three and a half years, and it didn’t. Then he reversed his prayer, praying for rain—and “the heavens gave rain.” His prayers had impact on an entire nation. The prayers of even one righteous person, James tells us, are “powerful and effective.”
But I was curious. The Bible teaches us that no one is “perfectly righteous.” I paused for a moment, reminding myself of what I knew to be my only solid footing for prayer—the righteousness that comes by faith in Jesus Christ (Romans 3:22, 23). This understanding was crucial to my confidence in prayer.
Elijah was known as a man who listened to God, and over the course of my prayer journey, I returned to his story often for instruction. Repeatedly in the Bible, we read that “the word of the Lord came to Elijah.” He saw miracle after miracle as he stepped out in obedience to God’s voice. I was sure Elijah would have plenty to teach me about how to pray during a time of crisis. The prophet had also faced his own personal battle with terror. After an enormous fight of faith in which he defeated a demonized mob of over four hundred prophets of Baal, Elijah was the target of a death threat by the wicked Queen Jezebel.
Elijah’s deliverance came as he ultimately learned to hear God, not in the earthquake, wind, or fire, but in a gentle whisper. I sensed I should listen for God, too, not in the fiery drama that was unfolding after the terrorist attacks, but rather in “the still, small voice” of my heart. Somehow, I just knew that if God were to give me instructions about how to pray, it would not be in the first voice—the tumultuous roar I heard in my head, with its temptation to panic—but rather in the second voice, a voice of calm and reason.
Practically speaking, I began to make some life changes to help me become more alert. If God was speaking, I wanted to be ready to listen. And like Elijah, I needed to find a way to get quiet enough to hear God’s whispers. Unfortunately, I had a weakness in keeping a schedule, and especially in getting up in the morning.
Help to get me out of bed came in the form of a running buddy. My next-door neighbor, Susan, a nurse practitioner and busy mother of three, had discovered that 5:30 a.m. was a great time to jump-start her day. She invited me to run with her. Impossible! was my first thought. I could hardly pull myself out of bed at 7 a.m. to get the children to school. No way could I get up at 5:15. But I had promised God. Our world was in turmoil. I wanted to pray more than I wanted to sleep. And so I agreed.
That first morning, the brutal alarm clock went off, and I awakened in a fog at 5:15. If I can just get my shoes on, I groaned out of my sleep coma. For a couple of weeks, morning felt like a death sentence. How could I do this to myself? But the two-mile run began to refresh me. The dark moods that sometimes hovered at the edge of my mornings became less frequent. And gradually, morning runs became easier, even joyful. Kind of like bikers who draft behind a fast-moving truck, I “drafted” behind my friend Susan in those early days of forming the habit of a morning run and prayer. I couldn’t have done it without the help of my faithful teammate.
Best of all, I returned home by six, with plenty of time to have unhurried quiet to read my Bible and pray before everyone awakened. “I may be barely alive at five,” I would tell myself, “but I will be great by eight!” Or, “Don’t evaluate my day until I run, have my coffee, and pray!” And though I do recommend a “morning launch,” I recognize that everyone’s situation is different. Find out what works best for you. This set-apart prayer time gave me a new alertness that lasted throughout my day.
VOICES IN THE NIGHT
One of the more intriguing things that happened after my 9/11 recommitment to prayer was what I call “voices in the night.” I can’t say that the voices were audible in the sense that anyone else could have heard them—my husband has not complained of hearing my “voices” at night. But each occurrence served to strengthen my faith in God’s Word, bring comfort, and in some cases, move me to action. The voices reinforced my call to pray. Two episodes, with two different lessons, stand out in my mind.
Just days after the terror attacks, I had a dream so lifelike that I can still recall the images and the voice some ten years later. In the vision, I was in a low-flying aircraft looking down on a region populated with villages. I saw a huge lion prowling around, wreaking destruction wherever it went. The lion, as big as a building, would grab anything in its way and crush and shake it in its massive jaws. (No wonder Peter warned that the enemy prowls around “like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour!”) How could this horrific beast be stopped? Suddenly, a strong, quiet, but audible voice pierced my sleep with these words: “Aren’t you glad you can pray for your family?” I woke up with a start, the voice still ringing in my ears.
Where did the voice come from? Was it from God? Was it something I ate the night before? I don’t know, but all I can say is that it galvanized my commitment to pray. Sobered by the dream, I became much more intentional about praying for my family. I was left with the comforting assurance that prayer was a more powerful weapon than ...