For the past seven years the women of our church have been invited to attend an annual Night in Prayer where they gather to pray from midnight to 6 a.m. Each year when they make the announcement, in spite of my best efforts to be holy, out comes Miss Judgy Judgerson’s. SIX hours praying? I can barely pray for five minutes before my mind starts wandering. I pictured hundreds of holy, serene women praying silently while I sat in my seat fidgeting, twiddling my thumbs and tapping my pen, counting the minutes until I could leave. And what mother in her right mind would voluntarily give up an entire night of sleep? It’s counterintuitive to how we live our lives, grasping for every spare second of sleep we can find. God made me after all, and knows that I morph into grouchy-crazy-woman somewhere around 2 a.m. I was certain the best way I could serve God and my family was to tuck myself into bed, maybe pray myself to sleep, and let all the other crazy women of Solid Rock do the sacrificing of their time and sleep. Until this year.
I was actively trying to convince myself that God’s desire was for me to get a full night of sleep when I got a call from my friend Melanie. A published author of multiple Christian fiction novels, God has equipped her with a talent that I stand in awe of. She had been asked to write a bedtime story to be shared with the women at the Night of Prayer and she wanted ME to read it! I was so touched that she would trust me with her story so I confessed the sin of my bad attitude to the Lord and then whole-heartedly accepted. That, I’m embarrassed to admit, is how God roped me into setting my agenda aside and joining up with what He was doing in the hearts of the women at our church.
As I write this, I’m still a bit wrecked emotionally. I had seen the agenda and thought I knew what to expect, but I had NO idea how God would show up and blow those expectations away. There was something about 700+ women, half of them in their pajamas, gathered in a garage-turned-living room at a time when the majority of us are usually sound asleep, that brought a raw authenticity to our time together. Women were so excited that when I arrived 30 minutes early to do a mic check, the lobby was already alive with activity. As I entered the building I could feel the presence of God and the sweet aroma of the Holy Spirit. We milled around tables loaded with strong coffee, cookies and chocolate and gathered at precisely midnight to kick off the evening.
Our time was broken into four sessions that included corporate worship and some form of teaching, instructions on how and what to pray for during small group time, and then a concentrated time in small groups spent praying for each other, for our church, for our families, ourselves, and praising God for who He is. At 3 a.m. we dined on a hot breakfast buffet and chugged more coffee before regrouping for the final two sessions.
Diane, one of our pastor’s wives, got up and explained how the night came into being. God gave her a vision of an army of women gathered together praying for each other, their specific church body and the church as a whole around the world. She chose the time by modeling Jesus. When He really wanted to connect with His Father, He stayed up all night and prayed. The fact that the timing is a sacrifice made it feel more intimate and vulnerable. As Diane planned this year’s Night in Prayer, she invited other churches to join with the women of Solid Rock to pray. God answered her prayer to expand this movement and as we kicked off our time together, we skyped in a group of ladies praying at a different church in Portland and viewed a video greeting from a church gathered in Arizona praying with us. A church in Cairo was scheduled to pray with us but due to the unrest in their country, they had to postpone until next year. The prayer is that each year, more churches will join with us in one unified voice blanketing our country and the world in prayer. How cool is that?
Diane reminded us that in our culture, our name does not define who we are. Most of us don’t even know what our name means. But God IS defined by His names and His names never change. Each year, Diane chooses a handful of names of God and then has cards designed that contain the name of God written in both Hebrew and English and two Bible verses that reference the name. When we broke into our first small group time, our leader handed us each a card with one of God’s names on it. The prayer was that God would divinely orchestrate which of His names we personally received. After the cards were passed out, we took turns introducing ourselves, reading our card, sharing (if we knew) why we thought God gave us that name, and then taking a minute to praise God for being that name.
It doesn’t sound profound, but that time was powerful. Woman after woman through tears shared how the name of God she received was exactly what she needed. Great vulnerability. Great pain. Great suffering. Shared with a group of strangers united only by the God who calls Himself “Everything that I AM, I will be to you.”
I got Prince of Peace and the two verses are Ephesians 2:14, “He Himself is our peace,” and John 14:27, “I am leaving you with a gift – peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give isn’t like the peace the world gives. So don’t be troubled or afraid.” Prince of Peace is one of my favorite names of God, and as I reflected on why I’d get this reminder, God answered by bringing pictures to my mind’s eye. Of my friends battling cancer. Of precious children battling huge medical hurdles. Of marriages that are dissolving in heart-breaking ways. I realized that God has given me a “gift” to give my friends who are hurting. I can leave them with “peace of mind and heart.” Thank you Jesus!
Here are some examples of the names of God and the women who received them:
v A young girl who had recently been robbed of her innocence got The Lion. “Stop weeping – behold the Lion…has overcome. Revelation 5:5”
v A fresh-faced high schooler struggling to find the words to explain her faith in Jesus to her friends received The Word. “Let the words of Christ, in all their richness, live in your hearts and make you wise.” Colossians 3:16
v A college-aged girl who “didn’t get to be a child because she was raising her siblings” received Child. “To us a child is born,” (Isaiah 9:6) and the verse on the back was the first Bible verse she ever memorized.
v A young, and newly-minted widow received Immanuel. “And he will be called Immanuel (meaning God with us).” Matthew 1:23
v A wife who faced life struggles so intense she “didn’t know where to go for help” got the card that said Physician. She was a little confused until she read the verse, “And wherever He went, He healed people of every sort of disease and illness. He felt great pity for the crowds that came, because their problems were so great and they didn’t know where to go for help.” Matthew 9:35-36
The most heart-wrenching was an expectant mother. She wept as she shared that she carried a beautiful baby girl in her womb that had recently been diagnosed with a disease that gave no hope of survival. The name of God and verse that she got to face that horrendous scenario? Daddy, Father. “Abba Father, everything is possible for You. Please take this cup of suffering away from me. Yet I want Your will not mine.” Mark 14:36. We wept as we laid hands on her and asked God to take this suffering from her, but also to be willing to surrender to His will not ours. It was powerful and raw and intimate and beautiful and unlike anything I had experienced before.
We followed up that prayer time with another large group session. I had the tremendous honor of being the mouthpiece for the amazing story of mercy that God gave Melanie. She wrote a poignant account of the prostitute Rahab. God chose to use her as a vehicle to shelter the Israelite spies and in exchange, spared her life when they took the city of Jericho. The message of God’s great mercy culminated in a conclusion that reminded every woman in the room that we are NOT defined by our past. Our God redeems from the darkest pit and exchanges our past for a beautiful future. When I finished reading the only sound in the room was quiet weeping as the women of Solid Rock let this truth wind its way to their deepest pain and greatest fears.
I had to leave early and didn’t get to attend the last two sessions. They included a prayer walk around the building with focused prayer for our church and its leaders, a woman’s personal story of experiencing God’s mercy in her life, communion and a chance to have your feet washed and be prayed for as a symbol of receiving God’s mercy. From all accounts, it was an incredible end to a fabulous night.
I expected to be exhausted the entire drive home, but instead I felt euphoric. I crawled into bed at 5 a.m. and lay there wide awake, mind racing, pulse pounding, heart renewed. I may have been the Night in Prayer’s biggest skeptic going into last night but now, I’m a believer (cue music from The Monkeys.) Come Lord Jesus!