There are only a handful of historical events that prompt that question. The assassination of President Kennedy. The Beatles first appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show. Man landing on the moon. And, especially this week on the fifteenth anniversary: Where were you when the planes hit the buildings on 9-11?
I will never forget where I was.
Just a few days before September 11th, 2001, I attended a Turn the Tide Promise Keepers conference in Indianapolis with dozens of men from my church. One of speakers that weekend issued a rather daunting challenge. I remember it vividly. He said, "I am going to ask you to do something you're probably not going to want to do. But if you do it. I guarantee it will change your life."
And then it came: "I'm asking you to commit to praying for one hour a day for the next thirty days."
He was right. I didn't want to do it. I consider myself a man of prayer, but an hour a day? That's a bit much, isn't it? How could I possibly talk to God for an hour? Even if I prayed by name for every missionary I knew I couldn't fill up an hour. Besides, I reasoned, I'm a little ADD. I can't do anything for an hour straight.
But, to my surprise, I soon found myself standing to affirm my acceptance of the challenge. Even more surprising, I was able to do it.
For the next thirty days I set aside an hour a day and I prayed. I usually went to talk with God at a golf course near our house. I discovered that the the bike trail that wound around the property took almost exactly sixty minutes to walk. I remember getting up early on some days to pray there before work. There were days I prayed in the rain. After one particularly busy day, I remember falling into bed exhausted and was half-asleep before it hit me that I hadn't gotten in my hour. I got up, got dressed, and walked the bike trail with God. My prayer began with my asking forgiveness for what I said as I was getting out of bed.
At the conclusion of the thirty days I concluded that the speaker was right about something else. The experience changed my life. That extended time with God deepened my dependence on Him. It strengthened my faith. It helped me to trust Him--something that due to painful childhood experiences has always been difficult for me to do.
The prayer challenge also made me realize that up until that point in my life, my definition of prayer was wrong. Prayer is not talking to God. Prayer is talking with God. Teacher and pastor Andrew Murray once said, "Prayer is not monologue, but dialogue. God’s voice in response to mine is its most essential part."
There were many times during our hour together when I was silent and simply revelled in God's words to me: I delight in you. I treasure you. I have your name written on my hand. I will always be here for you. Don't be afraid. Don't be anxious. Nothing will separate you from my love.
So where was I when the planes hit the buildings on 9-11? As the nation was in turmoil, I was on the bike trail at Wicker Park Golf Course in Highland, Indiana talking with God--basking in His presence, experiencing His peace, feeling the depth of His love.
Interesting, isn't it? For the remainder of my 30-day challenge, I found that an hour a day in prayer wasn't nearly enough. As the unrest of the country was stirred in historic proportions, I found rest in the presence of God.
To this day, I relish my times alone with God. I have even integrated regular prayer days into my schedule. My 9-11 experience taught me well. When the craziness of this world threatens to bring me down, God--my Rock, my Strength and Shield, the Lover of my soul--is only a prayer away. And no matter what circumstances may swirl around me, trying to bully me into submission, I can hear the affirming voice of our God: I delight in you. I treasure you. I have your name written on my hand. I will always be here for you. Don't be afraid. Don't be anxious. Nothing will separate you from my love.