A Perfect Prayer

The information that flowed from the 20th anniversary of 9/11 touched me more deeply than any in recent years.

Reading the transcript detailing the plans of Flight 93 passengers to overpower their hijackers brought the awe of their bravery back to me in fresh waves. I have purchased and am reading Let’s Roll, the book by Todd Beamer’s widow, Lisa. She describes being surprised by an invitation to attend the President’s address to Congress and to the nation, and especially by the repeated ovations she received: an outpouring of gratitude for actions that no doubt spared the destruction of either the White House or the Capitol. I was moved by the desire of so many to say, “Thank you” to one of the heroes, in the person of his grieving widow.

I have also been touched by the role of Lisa Jefferson, the Verizon Airfone operator who handled Todd’s call from Flight 93, giving him information on the other hijackings and the devastation they had brought. Todd and several other passengers and crew relied on her nerves of steel as they made their decision which we will always remember by the last words she heard from Todd: “Are you guys ready? Let’s roll!”

I have read from Mrs. Jefferson’s account in an interview five years later, that the phone had to be taken from her hand some fifteen minutes after it went silent, even after she was informed that Flight 93 had crashed in a field in Pennsylvania. She was still calling Todd’s name.

She, Todd, and the others had hoped that this could somehow end well. She had promised to stay with him until it was over. She could not lightly walk away from that firm commitment. Her book about the experience is Called: “Hello, my name is Mrs. Jefferson. I understand your plane is being hijacked.” I have purchased that book, also.

In reading between these two women’s stories the other night, another event from that week in 2001 ran through my mind. You would not have known of this one unless you worked at Ellisville State School, a residential facility in Mississippi serving individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities. I was Coordinator of In-Home Services at the time, having gotten that position after ten years working in one of the four units on the main campus. Though I had begun working with individuals in the community, my office remained on the facility’s sprawling grounds.

The Director had called a chapel service for those whose duties allowed time to attend. We all felt so broken, though Mississippi is a very long way from New York, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Washington, D.C., or Pennsylvania. I once had voiced my lack of desire to ever visit the Big Apple with the words, “I haven’t lost anything in New York City.” By the evening of 09/11/2001, I knew I had lost much there: they were my brothers and sisters in many ways, though I had never seen them, and would likely never meet their families.

I had been asked ahead of time to say the closing prayer for the service. As it proceeded, I sat back in one of the little wooden pews, admiring the stained glass windows in the small chapel building. It was used at that time for services on Sundays for the people who lived in the facility.

My memory fails me as to all who spoke or what was actually said, but I recall the theme being of hope, the need to be united, and that God is not shaken by what shakes us, therefore we need to turn to Him as the source of help for ourselves and our nation. I appreciated the administration of our facility recognizing our need to come together.

As the service drew toward closing, I felt a stirring I could not dismiss. What was happening within me felt unique and somehow separate from the events unfolding around me. I knew I needed to tune in to the direction God would have my prayer take when my turn came.

I am of the Apostolic Pentecostal faith. Thirty-five years ago God did a work in my understanding of what it means to live for Him, and after I repented and my sins were washed away in Jesus’ name as I was baptized in that only saving name, I was filled with the Holy Ghost as the disciples in the Early Church were filled. By God’s grace and mercy I have walked in that manner of living for God since then and strive to walk daily in the Spirit, as the Apostle Paul said:

What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own? For ye are bought with a price: therefore, glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s. 1 Corinthians 6:19-20

Thus, as I was approaching my time to contribute to this service I sought to submit my heart and will to God for the prayer He would have come out of my mouth. Many options were available to me: pleas for God’s mercy, comfort, direction, courage, understanding, and peace. He is the source of all these.

But when I was at last called upon and stood to bow my head and pray, none of those words would come. If you have experienced praying in the Holy Ghost, you will understand that I had two options as I opened my mouth: obey what God would have me say or quench the Spirit. I had no desire to do the latter, and the former required overcoming any fears of what others would think of a prayer that was outside the main stream. At last, I realized the only words to utter without quenching the Spirit were these:

“I REPENT!”

I know that I said it loudly and clearly, for I remember the anguish of spirit that accompanied the cry of my heart for myself and my nation. I don’t remember anything else I said in the prayer, or whether I was moved to speak in tongues during it. I only have the sense that it followed the lines of acknowledging, like the prophet Daniel once did (Dan. 9:4-19), my sin and the sin of our nation that had brought us to that hour, our need to receive God’s cleansing by His mercy and to take on His righteousness. It was a perfect prayer for that hour. Once I felt the Spirit had lifted, I ended the prayer and the service concluded.

Outside the anointing that brings boldness we can sometimes wonder how our actions will be perceived by any who do not understand. The comments I recall were positive, as acknowledging the need for raw honesty in the sight of God.

The prayer I felt to utter for the group that day remains valid. We face many more obstacles now than could have been imagined in that week, and our own response still needs to be, “I repent! God have mercy on me, on our nation, on our leaders, and on the future of our children and their children.” Repentance must bring the desire to seek God and to obey what we see in His Word.

I urge you to take time to look deeply into your own heart and pray your own prayer of repentance, then ask God how He would have you change your direction. It is time to reach for God’s Word, to obey the Gospel and keep His commandments with the Spirit living and moving in us. The end, of which I feel 9/11 was only a warning, is drawing very near.

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