A few hours ago we received a phone call—the dreaded call in the night or the early morning hours that wakes us up out of sleep and heralds an emergency and need for prayer. This time it was not about one of our own close family members, but about the beloved brother of our niece Nicole. Nicole is married to my nephew Brian and he could never have chosen a sweeter, more loving girl for a wife. We all love her, and when she is hurting, we all ache with her. Her brother Ryan was in a terrible car accident last night and my sister called to ask us to pray. We don’t know much at this time—only that it does not look good. He had critical injuries to the head and chest and was air-lifted to a hospital in Chicago. Most urgent to Nicole was that she did not know if her brother was saved and she wanted us to pray that somehow he might get another chance to accept Christ as his Savior. I stayed awake a long time when Cheree called, praying for Ryan, Nicole and their family, and the first thing on my mind when I woke up this morning was to start praying again. We are anxiously awaiting word on Ryan’s condition now.
Less than two weeks ago I woke up in the night to find an e-mail from a missionary in Japan asking us to pray. A terrible earthquake had just struck that country less than an hour before, followed by tsunamis. At the time he wrote neither he nor I had any idea as to the scope of the disasters, but when I received it in the middle of the night I began to pray. As time passed and events have unfolded, of course, we have seen the awful devastation left in their wake and that continues to build leaving the people of Japan reeling. It is hard to imagine trying to live through the horrific circumstances many hundreds of thousands of people now find themselves in—homeless, cold, hungry, thirsty, separated from loved ones, grieving… Even many of those less affected are suffering shortages and uncertainty. Events the last couple days in other parts of the world have shifted some of the focus away from Japan, but I continue to pray.
The missionary, in one of his updates since then, shared the testimony of Pastor Sato whose own church is less than five miles from the nuclear plant that is in such trouble. Before their own evacuation happened, he and his wife had gathered all the relief supplies they could find and set out to help a group gathered at a church in Aizu. What he wrote is moving, to say the least, as we read it and wonder how we would respond in the midst of such tribulation. I’d like to share it with you:
“About one-third of the 60 church members came from near the nuclear power plant, the radioactivity contamination testing not yet done they then joined us in the afternoon. At that time when we immediately started with a worship service, I began to hear their sobbing voices and I realized just how much each had passed through upon arriving here. In the evening we went to a nearby hot springs and shared the joy of bathing for the first time in five days. We were deeply touched by the kindness of the Aizu Church. One by one, trembling with emotion, I saw them call out and embracing each other saying “You alive!” and the flow of tears fell to flowing again.
And all that to realize, they have just started a Gypsy like wanderings, no longer having a home, and I ask these who left with just the clothes on their backs, “Do you need to launder anything?” and when they answer “We have NOTHING to wash.” I cannot find the words to respond to them. When I ask, I find that some of them have had nothing to drink or eat for 3 days; others had spent those days numb with cold. This drifting lifestyle has just started with the pressing need to secure gasoline and a place to stay. This large family of 60 people trying to live together, and making matters worse this is a nationwide emergency in which it is hard to make decisions, so we have decided to head north preparing to establish ourselves, anticipating a protracted situation. Perhaps as a result of exhaustion, there are those who have received I.V. in the hospitals, both the old and the small children, even as God’s people after the exodus, it looks like we will be traveling in the “wilderness”. Will we ever be able to return to that town? Will it become ruins? Will we be able to return in 2 or 3 months? When will we again be able to open our front doors to the church and our homes? All seems to be adrift; in the midst of feeling our way we unite our strength guided by the pillar of fire and cloud, no other option but to wander.”
My heart breaks for these people…and still for the people of Haiti…and for all those suffering devastation and despair as the result of natural disasters, war, famine, and all that this old, sick world throws at them. Ever since the Garden of Eden man has suffered the consequences of sin. It won’t get any better. In fact, it will get far worse before the end. “And when ye shall hear of wars and rumours of wars, be ye not troubled: for such things must needs be; but the end shall not be yet. For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: and there shall be earthquakes in divers places, and there shall be famines and troubles: these are the beginnings of sorrows.” (Mark 13:7, 8) Jesus told his disciples (and us) then to watch and pray. He went on to say, “But of that day and that hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels which are in heaven, neither the Son, but the Father. Take ye heed, watch and pray: for ye know not when the time is.” (Mark 13:32, 33)
The call to prayer often comes in the middle of the night. How many times have I woken with the feeling that there was someone in particular for whom I needed to pray? Perhaps those are the most valuable times to pray of all. I am not distracted by other things or people—it is just me and God.
Do you remember the night before His crucifixion when Jesus asked his disciples to watch and pray while He went further into the garden to speak with His Father? They fell asleep instead. “And he cometh unto the disciples, and findeth them asleep, and saith unto Peter, What, could ye not watch with me one hour? Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation: the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” (Matthew 26:40, 41)
Jesus tells us to pray fervently, with perseverance. “Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints. (Ephesians 6:18) “Continue in prayer, and watch in the same with thanksgiving.” (Colossians 4:2) The word “watch” implies standing guard. The Amplified Bible says it like this, “Be earnest and unwearied and steadfast in your prayer [life], being [both] alert and intent in [your praying] with thanksgiving.”
I think often about the privilege it is to pray—to bring our requests and praise and thanksgiving personally to the God of all creation. How wonderful it is that we do not need a go-between to approach His throne! He invites us as His children to come to Him. It is not only our privilege, however—something we can take or leave, foolish as that may be—it is our responsibility. We should be praying for our own spiritual needs and God’s working in our lives. We are to pray for one another—our brothers and sisters in the Lord. We are to pray for the lost and for those who are hurting. We are to pray for the work of the Lord.
There is not much I can do to help those victims in Japan or Haiti. I cannot be up at the hospital in Chicago even to comfort Nicole or help her brother—but I can pray. James 5:16 says, “The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man [or woman] availeth much.” God hears those prayers and answers when we faithfully stand guard, even in the night watches, and pray.
But the end of all things is at hand: be ye therefore sober, and watch unto prayer. (I Peter 4:7)