Thoughts and prayers

This morning the world wakes to the news of yet another shooting in the US. And as usual the social media channels are full of people offering “thoughts and prayers.” Some of this is doubtless from people of faith who are genuinely praying for those caught up in the incident. But how much of it is really just the culturally expected response?

And what does it mean to pray in this context? Or indeed in any context. Surely our prayers must be active – we cannot use “I am praying” as an excuse not to respond in other ways – it can’t be a case of I’m leaving this to God so I don’t need to do anything. James is abundantly clear about this:

“What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.” (James 2:14-17, NIV)

Is this not what sections of the American church have been guilty of time and again? Offering “thoughts and prayers” to the victim of gun crime while doing nothing to support efforts for greater gun control. Indeed far too often it is those who claim the name of Jesus who have been arguing for a continuation of the current right to bear arms. I am usually cautious in criticising the views of those who are in a very different cultural context than myself, but in this case I have no hesitancy in stating that this is wrong.

To be blunt, if you continue to support the free availability of instruments that exist for no other reason than to injure and kill, while claiming to worship the God who said clearly, “Do not kill”, then you lose the right to offer “thoughts and prayers” for those who have been injured or killed.

Most people reading this will not be in the US, but many of you may know people in America. If you do, please do talk to them about this issue. If they are not yet speaking out in favour of gun control please urge them to do so. If, like all of my American friends, they already see the importance of this issue, then please encourage them to continue in this fight.

My thoughts and prayers are with those caught up in the incident in Texas. But they are also with all those involved in political and religious leadership in America – that they may have the courage to follow the leading of Jesus, to put faith into action, and to see the responsibility and the power that they have to be agents for change and to reduce the probability of this happening again.

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Who we are, not what we do

The course on which I am currently studying is excellent.  But there is one module with which I, and many others, are struggling: Missional Leadership.  The focus of the syllabus is around how we can lead our churches to grow numerically and spiritually.  So far so good.  But the content is based round a number of models, mainly taken from secular management and fitted into a church context.  The problem is, they don’t fit.

People today are in many ways more individualistic than previous generations.  But they are also seeking relationship, and that relationship has to be genuine.  The Millennials and younger will see immediately if they are being put through a “sausage factory”.  When it comes to evangelism, discipleship, and church growth, one size doesn’t fit all any more, if it ever did.

To be fair to the college, none of the models are being held up as the solution to everything – they are being suggested as tools from which we can pick those that will help in our context.  The problem is, I’m not sure any of them do.  Because no model, tool, or strategy, however good, can replace genuine, loving relationship.  People are individuals, with their own needs, hopes, questions, and aspirations.  Jesus knew that, and he approached each person he encountered in a unique way which would deal directly with what they needed in their situation.  We don’t have his insight, so for us that will take costly time and effort to get to know people, but it is time and effort we must be prepared to commit.

Ultimately, what will attract people to Jesus Christ, will encourage them into relationship with him, and will enable them to grow and deepen that relationship, is not a model or strategy, however well thought out.  It is as they see him shining through us, see his love at work in our lives, and see that Christians have something they are lacking.  If we genuinely understood how much God loves us, began to grasp the depths of the grace he has poured out upon us, our lives would be transformed in such a way that we couldn’t help speaking of him, and our actions would naturally back that up in a way that could not be ignored.  In other words, people will be won to Christ not by what we do, but by who we are.

So my strategy for Missional Leadership?  Well actually it’s God’s strategy, that he’s been speaking to us as a church in many ways over the past few weeks.  Pray, pray, pray some more.  Pray that we will be filled with the Holy Spirit, transformed into the likeness of Christ, and so become people who constantly attract others to the Jesus who lives in and through us.

Praying together

The ministers of all the churches in Beverley get together once a month for an hour, to share news and prayer requests for what is happening in our churches and the town.  By the time we have shared together and drunk coffee there is usually little time left to pray.  So we have now committed, in addition to our monthly meetings, to meet weekly just to pray, for our churches, Beverley, and the world.  This Wednesday morning at 7.45 saw 7 of us from 6 different churches gathered in Caffé Nero, bringing our praise, thanks, and intercessions to God.  It was really exciting to unite together in this way, and we trust this might be the catalyst for God doing new things in our town.

Would you like someone to pray for you?

As I mentioned in a previous post, as part of the National Prayer Weekend we at Beverley Baptist Church will be seeking prayer requests from our community in a number of ways.  Some may be sceptical as to the likely response.  We read the stories about Christians being sacked for offering to pray for people at work, and hear the rhetoric of the neo-Atheists, and expect that anyone who does not already have a faith will at best decline our request, and at worst be highly offended that we have even offered.

Two things this week have encouraged me that this is not the case.  The first is a member of our congregation describing the response at a local food-bank when they offer to pray for people, with somewhere up to half of people being willing to be prayed for, and I hope we can hear a little of this during next Sunday’s service.

The second is connected to the Prayer Weekend.  This week I emailed our local MP and 3 councillors seeking their prayer requests.  I was worried that I had left it a little late to get a response out of such busy people in just over 4 weeks, and would they even bother to respond at all.  Within 24 hours I had an email from one councillor and the MP’s office were on the phone, only too willing to be prayed for even though our MP would not claim to be Christian.

Which encourages me that there are others too who will value our prayers, and I trust that as we lift them to God he will answer and lives will be transformed as a result.

Prayer

I am firmly of the opinion that one reason we do not see God working in his church and his world more than we do is we don’t ask him to.  Prayer is something that we really seem to struggle with today.  The traditional prayer meeting model doesn’t work as well in our modern society, and we have struggled to replace it both in terms of praying together as God’s people and also encouraging individual Christians in their prayer lives.

So I am hugely excited that we at Beverley Baptist Church are one of over 800 groups and churches who have signed up for the National Weekend of Prayer.  What is particularly exciting is that this isn’t just about holding extra prayer meetings, but about creatively engaging with a local community to pray for them.  We already pray for Beverley, and particularly for the area around where we meet, but in September we will be going out to ask people what they would like us to pray for.  We’ll be distributing and collecting prayer request cards on the estate, as well as seeking requests in other ways, and on 27th September our morning service will be centred round praying for people and organisations in our area.

And hundreds of other churches will be doing the same.  Which is really exciting, as we look to see God answering those prayers, and lives being transformed by his Spirit.  Wherever you are, whether or not your church is involved, please do take the time to pray for those around you, and ask God to meet their needs and bless them at this time.