I am a funeral celebrant so help plan and then officiate funeral ceremonies. Not everyone has hymns these days especially as many of my ceremonies are non-religious but more often than not, if there are hymns, they’ll be Morning Has Broken or All Things Bright and Beautiful.
In my own church we tend to sing worship songs that are new, certainly written within the last 5 years or so, and although these older hymns remind me of school assemblies, their words are often relevant and still tell of God’s greatness.
A family chose a less popular hymn last week, The Day Thou Gavest Lord Has Ended. It’s tune isn’t particularly uplifting (!) but it’s lyrics really spoke to me as I sang them. It talks of the Church throughout the world as an unsleeping body; as our day ends, the day for others around the world is just beginning; as our prayers and praise cease for the night, others’ are just beginning.
This line, in particular, smacked me between the eyes: ‘the voice of prayer is never silent nor do the praises die away’. At any one time, someone, somewhere is praying; someone somewhere is praising God. With 7 billion people in the world, it’s likely to be tens of thousands at any one time. I think that’s amazing. I wonder what that feels like for God...Sunday’s must be incredible!
Paul tells us to ‘pray without ceasing, giving thanks to God in all circumstances’. I often struggled with this concept. My days are busy and although I talk to God in my car as I am driving between jobs, it is impossible for me to pray without ceasing. Even the most steadfast amongst us would find this a challenge. I think Paul is probably asking us to live our whole lives as a prayer to God, as he does in Romans 12: 1, but it is true that the Church worldwide (the Body of Christ) is actually praying without ceasing.
Imagine the power of that corporate prayer! Of course, Jesus said, when two or three are gathered in my name, I am there with them’ (Matthew 18: 20) and James says the prayer of a righteous person has a powerful effect (James 5: 16) but God really does do miraculous things when towns or nations pray together.
I’m reminded of the village of Oberammergau in Bavaria whose residents, in 1633, promised to perform a play depicting the Passion of Christ every 10 years if He spared any more of them from the bubonic plague. God was faithful and since then, the town has put on their passion play every 10 years (postponed only in 2020 due to COVID).
Our own nation was called to prayer in 1940 by King George VI when the British army was outmaneuvered and surrounded in France by Nazi forces. Cathedrals and churches were filled with those praying on Sunday 26th May 1940 and streets were empty apart from the queues and crowds gathered outside places of Christian worship. Winston Churchill, Prime Minister at the time, had stated that maybe 20,000-30,000 troops might escape back to England, but thanks to several miracles (Click here for details) after the National Day of Prayer, and an incredible rescue from the beaches of Dunkirk, 335,000 troops returned. A Day of National Thanksgiving was then called, which took place on June 9th 1940 where, again, churches and cathedrals were full.
I don’t doubt the power of God when one person prays, I am just blown away by what can happen if a whole group joins together to pray for the same thing. Imagine an International Day of Prayer! A few weeks ago, I encouraged you to form a prayer trio with two other Christians, to provide ‘air support’ for each other and to lift each other up in your daily needs. I still recommend this but also advocte that you bring critical prayer needs to your church, your ‘Churches Together’ projects, your denominational circuits, your cell groups, your house groups, your prayer chains and your friends and let the ‘voice of prayer’ never be silent. ‘If my people who are called by my name humble themselves and pray, and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from Heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land,’ (2 Chronicles 7: 14)