family togetherness in prayer and praise
It all began on a busy day at Bidadari Cemetery in January 2002. Uncle Geoffrey and I were there to witness the exhumation of the graves of some family members. While standing at my paternal grandfather’s grave, the Lord posed me this question: “How long are you all going to continue with stale bread?” I realised instinctively that the Lord was referring to the way our family seemed to be coasting along on the prayers sown by my grandparents who were both Pentecostal Pastors. God was challenging us to revive the family altar of praise and prayer and to continue our grandparents’ legacy of bringing everyone in the family before Him.
After some prodding from Uncle Geoffrey, I sent out a circular to everyone in the immediate and extended family about re-starting the family time of prayer and praise. This suggestion was met with enthusiastic response, especially from my late father, Paul, and his siblings (referred to here as “the First Generation” of Abisheganadens). In my letter, I recalled the days when Grandpa would issue the call to prayer every week. It was not difficult to gather for a time of family praise and prayer then, for we all lived under one roof at Adis Road in a house which had more than ten rooms and an aunt and her family lived just a few doors away. During those weekly gatherings, the children would grab chairs to slouch against or rest our heads on, since prayer was always a lengthy affair and we had to be on our knees the whole time. We were also taught to make Psalm 91 the anchor and bedrock for the whole family.
After receiving such positive response from the rest of the family members, Dad and I re-started Family Prayer and Praise (FPP), a monthly gathering of four generations of the Abisheganaden family. FPP always began with the reading of Psalm 91, followed by a time of praise and worship made special with Aunt Diana at the piano, Dad and Uncle Alex playing the violin and guitar respectively, Uncle Geoffrey’s rich baritone and Aunt Esther with her tambourine and triangle. We were often joined by Uncle Felix’s family from Kuala Lumpur. My siblings and cousins, together with our children and grandchildren learned old and meaningful hymns we had never heard before in this age of charismatic choruses. Worship was followed by prayer and intercession beginning with the corporate prayer which family members took turns to pen. Those living abroad, from Australia to Norway, participated by sending us their corporate prayer contributions by email. Intercession usually lasted for about 45 minutes and covered all the requests received, ranging from health matters, studies and exams, difficulties in settling into a new environment for those studying abroad, to natural disasters, like floods, snowstorms, wildfires and epidemics, in areas where our family members lived. We also prayed for the strengthening of marriages and family bonds.
We always took time to pray for those who were sick. The elders in the family would lay hands on those who were not well as the rest of us continued to pray for them. True to His assurances in Psalm 91, God has sustained various family members battling breast, colon, lung and cervical cancers, cardiac problems, diabetes, blood disorders and other serious ailments like, Crohn’s Disease and Guillain Barre Syndrome. Despite having cardiac problems for more than 20 years, my parents enjoyed long and full lives till God called them home at the age of 95 for Mum and 97 for Dad. Dad’s book on the development of music in Singapore was published when he was 91 years of age. A family member who underwent surgery in 1966 for colon cancer recovered completely and lived till the age of 89. Yet another family member who had 18 inches of her large intestine removed almost 59 years ago and who underwent a triple by-pass 21 years ago, celebrated her 90th birthday last month. This year, the oldest member of our family, a cancer survivor, will celebrate his 99th birthday. Although he is physically frail, he is still able to maintain his daily exercise and we praise God for his amazing intellect and linguistic skills which have not diminished over the years. Having mastered French and Russian, he is now reading the Spanish Bible and memorizing the Psalms. Despite the aches and pains, knee and hip replacements and all kinds of illnesses, our family members continue to lead very active lives. We can only attribute this to the grace, mercy and favour of God because of prayers sown over the years by the family.
FPP always ended with dinner and much catching-up with one another. It was also an opportunity for us to learn from the First Generation how our grandparents started the Family Altar of Prayer and Praise at Buffalo Road when they were growing into young adulthood. They shared with us how blessed each of them was as a result of the prayers offered regularly. With Grandpa and his trusty ukulele leading the way in praise and worship, it seemed like a natural progression for the First Generation to move into the field of music and we praise God for blessing our family with much musical talent.
To further enrich our worship and make it easier to memorize Scripture, Dad and Uncle Alex started putting the Psalms to music and taught us their compositions at FPP times. Soon the younger members of the family took turns to play the piano and other instruments.
After establishing FPP, our family then resolved to start the “Burning Bush Chronicle” (BBC); a quarterly newsletter to keep everyone informed of birthdays, marriages, anniversaries and personal testimonies. Cousin Ananda was the faithful editor and we were never short of contributions – both written and pictorial. They even included bits of family history for the benefit of the younger ones.
Over time, the ‘BBC’ was overtaken by the faster email, Facebook and Geni. As more family members passed on, settled abroad or started their hectic work lives, it became harder to hold regular FPP. Now, a scaled down remnant meets on Monday afternoons at Aunt Esther’s house for worship (still led by Uncle Alex), followed by intercession for the whole family. Again, the internet has been most useful in transmitting prayer requests for our Monday sessions. The latest addition to our family, the baby born in March this year, is the fulfilment of prophesy received on 28th January 2013, when a distant relative who pastors a church in Nagaland joined us for FPP. We had been praying for this child for three years. This is just one example of God’s faithfulness in fulfilling the promises and assurances we have received from Him throughout the years. It is our hope and prayer that each generation will see how essential it is to cling to God and to give Him all the glory. It is also to be acknowledged that it is our duty to inculcate this love for God in our children and grandchildren. One tradition we have faithfully maintained all these years is to bring each and every living family member, from the oldest to the latest new-born, before God’s throne of grace, pleading that each one will be washed by the blood of Jesus, has a personal relationship with Him and his/her name entered in the Lamb’s Book of Life.
We praise God for every testimony received and every instance of divine favour and healing. He has shown us again and again that the family that worships, prays and serves is immeasurably blessed in ways we may not have even asked for or imagined. Further, it does not matter whether the family altar is a large communal one or a small and more private one. What is important is families should make time to come together regularly to bring everyone in the household before God’s throne of grace.
Author: Mrs. Ruth Abisheganaden-Chia (Ruth is a retired lawyer who has been involved in teaching, intercession, counseling and the Alpha program since 1982. She worships at the Cathedral’s 11.15 am Sunday Service with her husband, John.)
First published in The Courier, April 2014.