On 12th February, I received the shocking news of the death of legendary singer Whitney Houston at the age of 48. It was shocking to me because I have grown up listening to her music. A woman with a terrific voice. She released some of the biggest hits in musical history. Having grown up in Dubai in the 80s and 90s, for me and for others who grew up there, Whitney Houston was a household name. This woman who started her singing career in the church choir went on to become a chart topper. But later with fame and a broken marriage, she fell prey, allegedly to drugs. And so the news of her death was saddening as well. But apart from these, there was another reason why her death on that particular day shocked me. Something that disturbed me and opened my eyes.
Just a few hours before the news of her death broke out, I was on the Internet – listening to gospel songs and then for some reason, I began to check out Whitney Houston’s music videos on YouTube. I kept listening to some of her classics that I had grown up hearing. I kept thinking about how blessed a singer she was. After that I started checking the Internet about details of her life and news about her alleged drug abuse. All this went on for nearly an hour. And it was not planned out at all. I never intended to watch her videos. I never intended to read up on her life. As we usually say, ‘just out of nowhere’, I got this urge to watch her music clips and read about her life. And then shockingly a few hours later, I got the news about her death in a hotel room.
This incident was a real wake up call for me. I am sure that this is not a mere coincidence. I feel that it was a call to prayer. As I watched those videos and read about her life, just a few hours before her death, maybe that was a call to payer and I failed to read the sign. Was the Lord giving me a sign to pray for her? I was so busy appreciating her voice and her songs that I failed to read the call to prayer. Was it at those last moments when this woman was lifting up a prayer to God in her helplessness? It would be very easy for me to brush it off as a coincidence. But the fact is, this is not the first time. Looking closely, these kinds of incidents keep happening very often.
Did the Lord want me to do something at that point? I can brush it off by saying that I was in no way responsible and that this incident was meant to happen. But maybe the Lord had plans when He put that urge into me from ‘nowhere’. Did the Lord want me to be an intercessor at that moment? Someone who would give this person in some far away land, a bit of prayer support? A sincere prayer, even for a total stranger, when lifted up unto heaven, will bring about a lot of blessings. A sincere call to turn a situation into a prayer is something the Lord would want us to do.
In the Bible there have been instances when the Lord has done that. In the book of Daniel, we read about Susanna. She was a woman who was held in high esteem by all around her. She was married and had her own family. This woman who was righteous became the object of lust for two elders. They ganged up together to fulfill their lustful desires. But when Susanna refused to give in, the two of them brought in false accusations that she was having a relationship with a younger man. Susanna found herself totally helpless in this situation. Since the accusers were two of the elders of the society, Susanna was trapped. And in chapter 13 verse 35, we read, “Through her tears she looked up toward heaven, for her heart trusted in the Lord.” They kept throwing those accusations at her and she silently continued to implore to the Lord in her helplessness. In verse 42 we read, “Then Susanna cried out with a loud voice and said ‘O eternal God, you know what is secret and are aware of all things before they come to be; you know that these men have given false evidence against me. And now I am to die.” This was a cry from her heart. It was a prayer. The Word tells us in verse 44, “The Lord heard her cry. Just as she was being led off to execution, God stirred up the holy spirit of the young lad named Daniel”. Because of her cry and prayer the Lord stirred up Daniel’s heart to respond. And that is what ultimately saved Susanna’s life. Daniel had to respond to that call of God.
That night sitting in front of the computer and watching her songs and reading about her life was a situation the Lord brought to me into. The Lord keeps bringing situations to us, so that we can turn those into prayers. The daily situations we come across are not just coincidences. They should be seen opportunities to pray. It could be a scuffle that we witness on the road. It could be a situation we face on our way to work. But if we have witnessed it, then we have a duty to turn that situation into a prayer. That is why as a Christian, we should not brush off anything as a coincidence but rather see it as an opportunity to raise up a prayer. In the Bible, we read of people who face a situation and turn it into a prayer. At the wedding at Cana in John 2, we read about a situation that had cropped up. There were many people there. Many chose to grumble, many chose to complain, many chose to criticise. But the Blessed Mother chose to turn it into a prayer. It was a situation she faced and she turned it into a beautiful prayer. When Moses faced crises in the book of Exodus, he would turn them into beautiful prayers. The Red Sea, the bitter water, people’s hunger – all of them were challenges that Moses faced and he turned them into beautiful prayers.
Sometimes we ourselves could face situations that are difficult. Are we turning those into prayers? When the disciples sat in the Upper Room after the death of Jesus, they were facing a crisis. They could have chosen to complain or grumble about it. But they chose to turn that into a prayer and that turned into a blessing. When Jesus Himself, at the garden of Gethsemane, faced a situation, He turned it into a wonderful prayer.
Ultimately, the choice is always ours. We can either chose to grumble about a situation that we face or we can turn it into a prayer. We could either chose to blame people when we face a situation or we can turn it into a prayer. As His disciples, the Lord would want us to turn situations into beautiful prayers. When we do that, we become men and women of prayer. Never will we become ruffled by what life throws at us because we are able to turn challenges into beautiful prayers. True, it is not always easy to do it. But the ways of the Lord were never meant to be easy. And the ways of the Lord will always bring in a blessing. Isn’t that the reason why the Lord said in Matthew 7:14, “The gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life, and there are few who find it.”
The promptings of the Lord can come in different ways. It is important that we stay in a position to hear and understand the Lord’s promptings. Keeping ourselves well disposed to receive His call to prayer is what the Lord would expect out of us. In the call of Samuel we would see this happen. In 1 Samuel 3 we read about the Lord calling Samuel. Initially Samuel could not understand what was happening. He kept thinking that the call was from his master Eli. But later he learnt how to understand and respond to the Lord’s call. Keeping our eyes and ears open to the Lord’s promptings is important.
Our relationship with Jesus is not just about offering prayers for our families or self. But when we enter into a relationship with the Lord, He gives us a mission as well. Every Christian and disciple is called for the ministry of the Lord. So we cannot cut off, after finishing our time of prayer. We have to be open to the Lord’s promptings and call to prayer at any time. Maybe we would never know it, but our lives, the blessings and the protection that we have received might have come because someone somewhere was open to the Lord’s call to prayer and they prayed for us when we needed it. Today the Lord is asking us to do the same. Obviously this would involve a sacrifice.
Sometimes we wait for a dramatic call to prayer. Maybe we are expecting something spectacular. Not every time would the angels come to pass on the message of the Lord. That need not happen. The Lord has His own ways. He could prompt us just through a simple thought that passes our mind. But to read those promptings, it is important that we are well disposed. Being in a right disposition might help save a person’s life. We have to realise that there is a world apart from us. We cannot be Christians and still have a selfish attitude in prayer. We cannot switch off after our personal intentions are lifted unto the Lord. We should be open to the Lord’s promptings, which could come at any time. Let the Lord find us awake when He sends us a call to prayer. It might help save a life.
– Fr. Michael Payyapilly