Focus – A Place of Grace
by Lt. Colonel Mervyn Morelock –
During our appointment as territorial evangelists, our schedule has allowed us to attend corps as worshipers on the “off-Sunday” in between our Good News Crusades. Recently, while visiting the Long Beach Corps, we heard a wonderful announcement that, “because so many seekers are coming to the altar each Sunday it has been necessary to extend the altars at the front of the platform.” What a nice problem–extending the altars because so many seekers are coming to pray! Would that every corps should have such a problem!
In several of our visits to corps, we have been concerned to see so little use of the altar. Frequently, there is not an invitation for people to come to pray. Or, if there is, it is presented as kind of an apologetic afterthought. Commissioner William Cairns, in a recent The Officer magazine article, describes the all-too-frequent experience of a meeting closing with the leader saying, “We will sing a verse or two of song number…and if anybody wishes to come to the place of prayer the way is open as we sing.” It almost seems the leader is saying, “Time’s up really, but come if you must.”
In some corps we’ve attended, and even in some where a Good News Evangelistic Crusade has been scheduled for months, we’ve been surprised to find that there were no altars in sight! We’ve tried to suggest kindly that a bench be found or some chairs be lined up to allow seekers a place to come to pray. One of the central pieces of furniture in every corps ought to be a place where people can come to pray. Whether we call it the altar, mercy seat, penitent form or simply the place to pray, it ought to be an essential place, a Place of Grace in every corps.
Over the years we’ve seen many kinds of altars in the corps and churches we’ve visited. What blesses me most is not the highly polished, and obviously unused altar, but the ones that are marked by the tear stains of penitents who have knelt there before.
Our altars are not only a place where sinners can come to pray, they are also a place of grace for the converted. Often, we’ve seen corps officers and long-time local officers who have come to kneel in prayer; for their people, their family, or simply praise God and pray, “Thank you Jesus, I love you!”
Cairns tells of a nun who came to the altar during one of his evangelistic crusades. When he went down to speak to her, she was full of joy and said “I just came for a blessing.”
While, it’s true, we can pray anywhere, at our bedside, at the meal table, while driving down the road, and so on, the altar is a place of grace that ought to be often-used in our corps. It is a place where our soldiers ought to rally to pray for the lost.
We’ve been so encouraged to see the growing number of people around the world who are sending in a commitment slip to become a Prayer Partner in the West’s “Keeping in Touch–Call to Prayer” crusade. Through responses to New Frontier and the territory’s web page (https://www.salvationarmy.usawest.org/) we have recorded and sent Praying Hands pins to nearly 1800 Prayer Partners in China, the Czech Republic, Sri Lanka, India, the Marshall Islands, other USA territories and the Western Territory. There are 425 prayer leaders who are leading their local congregations in the Call to Prayer emphasis.
One report reads: “This prayer campaign has really helped their fairly humble and unchurched backgrounded people to come alive to the possibility of God’s help with their problems.”
May every corps have a well used Place of Grace where kneeling people can come to find new life and joy in Jesus and power to live victorious lives!