CALL TO PRAYER: Huddle up and give thanks

EDITOR'S NOTE: Frank S. Page, president of the SBC Executive Committee, has issued a call to prayer for revival and spiritual awakening for our churches, our nation and our world during 2013. Baptist Press will carry First-Person articles during the year encouraging Southern Baptists to pray in specific areas and for specific needs as we petition the Father for spiritual awakening.

NASHVILLE (BP) -- The most common part of the action during a football game is the huddle. Sports fans are accustomed to the quarterback motioning his players to gather around him for a brief meeting between plays. In that meeting, he gives his teammates a breather, gives a word of encouragement or exhortation, calls the next play, makes a few reminders or pointers, gives the snap count, then leads his team back to the line of scrimmage to execute the next play.

When I read Psalm 34:11, the huddle is the mental image that comes to mind: “Come, O children, listen to me; I will teach you the fear of the LORD.”

This Psalm opens with one of my pastor’s favorite Bible verses. “I will bless the LORD at all times; his praise shall continually be in my mouth” (Psalm 34:1).

Twenty months ago, David Landrith, my pastor, was diagnosed with an extremely rare and aggressive form of cancer. Doctors told him he had only a short time to live and, depending on how he responded to treatment, may never be able to preach again.

Following a retreat with his family to absorb everything they had been told, David returned to the pulpit and shared his story. He pledged to fight through this major setback, trusting God to heal him or to use him to the fullest extent possible during his remaining months or years of life here on earth.

People around the world began praying for Pastor David. Over the next 18 months, he preached on Sunday, endured a variety of treatments during the week and returned strong the following Sunday. The large crowds that had been drawn to his bigger-than-life love for Jesus continued to grow, drawing strength from his contagious optimism in the face of the gravest of circumstances.

During David’s final two years of life and leadership, more than 2,000 precious souls confessed their faith in Jesus Christ and were baptized as believers at Long Hollow Baptist Church. His vibrant courage and constant assurance of God’s unfailing presence was like a magnet. That steadfast assurance in God drew thousands of people each week who longed to find the kind of relationship with the Lord that they saw in David.

Two months ago, the cancer began its final rapid invasion of his body. David’s indomitable strength began to wane. My last text message to him was last month on his 51st birthday. His reply a few days later was so typical: “Thx preacher man! … I appreciate so much your thoughts and prayers.”

David died on Nov. 18, just 10 days before Thanksgiving. Last Friday, thousands gathered in the main worship center and in four overflow rooms to remember this faithful man of God at his memorial service. Many more listened online to the live-streamed service.

Gene Mims, David’s pastor when he was a college student, spoke from John 17, addressing the “Why?” of what seems to so many of us as an untimely death for one of God’s choicest servants. Mims acknowledged that many people had prayed in faith for David to be healed.

Asking why God did not answer our prayers, Mims led the congregation to consider that Jesus’ High Priestly prayer was the prayer that God chose to honor, drawing David from his earthly tabernacle to his eternal home. John 17:24 states, “Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world.”

During our small group on Sunday, several class members commented how healing Mims’s reminder was to all of us.

Earlier this week, in a Nov. 24 email blast to the entire church membership, Lance Taylor, Long Hollow’s executive pastor, wrote these words: “I want to share an interesting stat that was discovered last week as some of our staff were reflecting on David’s time as our pastor. … David was our pastor for 17 years and 25 days. That’s 890 Sundays. And that’s 6,230 days. During those days we saw 6,405 of us be saved and baptized -- more than one person for every day of David’s ministry. We certainly thank God for that!”

This weekend, David’s family will gather for their first Thanksgiving without their quarterback husband and father to call the next play. In his absence, his widow Jennifer will huddle up her family to give thanks to the Lord who has saved them from sin, sustains them through sorrow and will continue to strengthen them for the journey.

In the midst of the busyness of life, despite its hardships, losses and sorrows, faithful quarterback husbands and fathers … or wives and mothers … or grandparents … or older siblings … or community friends … will gather their families and friends around them. Collectively, they will lead us to take a breather from the daily routine, give brief words of encouragement or exhortation, make a few reminders about God’s faithfulness and lead the team to give thanks to God.

On this special day and weekend, how fitting these words are: “I will bless the LORD at all times; his praise shall continually be in my mouth” (Psalm 34:1).

Roger S. Oldham is vice president for convention communications and relations with the Southern Baptist Convention's Executive Committee.
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