At a prayer gathering for Christian leaders and clergy:
Me: “You’re a senior pastor of a big church, may I ask you a question?”
SP: ” Errhh, Yes ……. of course.”
Me: “Is it OK just to pray for someone when they are in need?”
SP: “What are you asking? Prayer is powerful.”
Me: “That is not what I’m asking.”
Silence, this bloke is cagey, he’s been around long enough to know people have agendas. knows not to walk into unwanted questions. He started to give signals he’d move on.
Me: “Look I’m not out to have a go at you, I’ve been a Christian fifty three years. I love the church, weep over her condition and long to see Church become the church in my life time if God permits.” I saw as I spoke interest popped into his eyes and his body relax. I approached him because he was one of the movers of this prayer gathering. When he led the gathering in his segment there was a distinct element of the Spirit, a genuineness others lacked.
SP: “So what’s your question? What’s your name?”
Me: “Wayne, my friends call me Crock.”
He nodded his head in acknowledgement.
So I continued.
Me: “Prayer for me is not something I do ..” he raised an eyebrow, “prayer is everything for me with being with my Father, sharing my heart with Him and He with me, a communing between the two of us.” I could see the OK go on signal.
SP: Patiently he waited. I got the impression he was waiting for a nugget.
Me: “So the question is this, as important as prayer is, prayer is not enough when there is a need?”
Me: “Then why do we use prayer to avoid our responsibilities?”
SP: “I’m not sure what you mean.”
Me: “Allow me to clarify, tonight we were praying for the abortion legislation the parliament is considering. For me that was nice, but not sufficient ……. because as valid as our prayers were I believe they bounced off the heavens ……. not because God is disinterested but because we are disinterested in what God wants to do through us ……”
SP: “Which is?” Now here was a different man of God, not threatened but open to discussion with a stranger, patient with my ramblings, very different. Most Pentecostal pastors would have escaped by now leaving me with a clear message I was not in the Spirit, or not ‘wanted, of no interest to them. I had better hurry before I dragged this out too long. I understand all too well how others can ‘collar’ you to push their pet theories they think you should know. Usually the agenda is to set you right because they are right. That was not my motivation, this man exhibited something I couldn’t define, something I had rarely encountered. What was it? I couldn’t put my fingers on it?
Me: “Look SP cutting to the chase, so often these prayer gatherings are a smorgasbord of our concerns we want God to do for us, I know we say it is for His righteousness, which is nice but we are asking the government to do what we are to do. The first three centuries of Christians were concerned about practical issues in the Roman Empire, such as infanticide, usually they were female babies unwanted; same as in China today. They didn’t merely pray to the Lord to remove infanticide or to have the Emperor start a programme to look after all these babies the parents were disposing of on the garbage dumps of the empire. Do you know what they did?”
SP: “No I don’t. What did they do.”
Me: “Remember most Christians in the first three centuries were poor, illiterate and ill resourced, not like us today, wealthy, well educated and many opportunities in life; too many I often think, they distract us from being who He has called us to be. However they had something we lack. They would actively go out to the garbage dumps, the fields, the riverbanks, the seashores wherever local parents dumped their newborns. they would find the children, take them into their homes and the local community of believers, rear them at their expense. You see they didn’t merely pray, they loved. Their love for their Lord caused them to lay their lives down for those around them, to hazard themselves ………….. They, by their love so influenced their society Christianity was an unstoppable force.”
His facial expression expressed doubt, questioning my statement without attempting to correct me or stop me.
Me: “It greatly disturbs me when we have these prayer gatherings for the reason I have just said. We harangue God like He doesn’t care, when in fact He does. Simply we don’t understand what we say we believe. We don’t seem to understand what love is. I do not know how many times I have preached about love and everyone agrees then continues to live as they always have, sometimes with slight modifications to their lifestyles. Why do you think that is? It could be I’m a lousy preacher which is no doubt true. But I think it is more than that.”
SP: “Briefly what do you think it is? I have to go to a meeting with my pastors.”
Me: “Some years ago I had a stroke and resulting vertigo for six weeks. I was in hospital for six days. One senior colleague came up the hospital found he had got the message wrong because he thought it was another colleague. He simply turned around mumbling he thought it was the other bloke and left me there in emergency never to be seen again. He was too busy to deal with me and I was not significant enough for his attention. A well known man who you are friends with. At the time I was a single parent to two wonderful teenagers. Fortunately both my children were absent from home at the time away on high school retreats. I could barely stand, never alone look after myself. I was left to my own devices. One brother who I had supported in his fellowship came to see me at home, accused me of carrying on too much. I didn’t hear from anyone else. After three weeks one brother who I wasn’t connected to, found out about my condition and came and ministered to me. He holds a special place in my heart to this day because of what he did. Needs of the sheep are opportunities for the Kingdom to shine. So why do you think my colleagues were so unloving when I needed their help?”
There was a quiet as we maintained eye contact.
SP: “Wayne, I don’t know the circumstances but I am so sorry to hear you went through that. That is not how we are to be to one another. I have to go but I want to sit down with you because you are saying something I should think about.”
Me: “My children didn’t get to see the love of the Body for one of its members. What they did see was something they don’t want to be a part of. Yes I’d like to chat with you when I come to Sydney again. Thank you for your patience and listening.”
SP: “People don’t listen to you much, do they?”
Me: “They don’t think much of me never alone what I have to say. Why would they? I am a person of no account, no outward success or importance. So many of my brothers and sisters think I’m too down on the church, that I’m too negative. They have no idea of my heart, my weeping for His Body, that I have given my life to seeing His Body restored and whole. No, they never bother to find out who I am and what I believe. In typical Evangelical fashion they think I’m attacking ideas that are unassailable. Do you know what really saddens me?“
SP: I waited as his silence continued, diplomatic, well trained professional but this man has a heart and he struggles. I see it in him. He is asking many questions. Aahh! there is the difference.
Me: “The Church of Jesus Christ suffers because we do not ‘discern the Body’.” He went to make a comment; I raised my hand then continued, “Today I see things happening in the Church I never saw twenty years ago.”
SP: “Wha …. what things?”
Me: “Sickness abounds, great financial difficulties, marriage divorce the same as the world when before Divorce was extremely unusual, children and youth illiterate of basic Bible stories, a lack of acceptance of the ways of God, they seem to be absent from our midst. Church has become a rock concert each meeting with little depth of teaching. then we wonder why we have forty year old babies still bleating they want their milk, or I’ll go elsewhere. There is no understanding of who Church is! Brother won’t talk to brother, sisters gossip causing dissension in the Body, God’s people living for themselves as if only Sunday mattered to live pious lives then the rest of the week they live like the world, need I go on?”
SP: Distress, so he hasn’t convinced himself all is well even though he’s successful, “So why do you think we are like that?” Aahh his heart, a passion behind that question.
Me: The Apostle Paul’s first epistle to the Corinthians said clearly a number of things about how we as the Body are to be.” He nodded an OK go on, ” he called himself a servant to all then he speaks about matters in the Church in Corinth, he uses a Greek word koinonia to describe the Lord’s table, which no doubt you are familiar with, then in speaking about the Lord’s table in chapter eleven he speaks again about communion, an interesting translation let me assure you, he says whoever eats the bread or drinks unworthily is guilty of the Lord’s Body and Blood. We are to examine ourselves so we don’t experience judgement upon ourselves because we do not discern the Lord’s Body. This statement is clearly made in the context of the community of believers. Then he makes an astounding statement, one that is no where else in such clarity in the New Testament. “For this reason many are weak and sickly among you and even die.”
SP: “There is some dispute with that interpretation and connection you make.”
Me: “Yes there is. Usually because people read or study it out of context. Consider this the chapters nine to eleven speak about our oneness and togetherness then the next three chapters twelve to fourteen are still about us the Body of Christ on this earth, not merely some mystical Body of Christ in the Heavens. the Apostle is speaking to the Church and says God judges us when we don’t act in His New Covenant as a community of believers who love one another, lay their lives down for one another by the giftings He has given to each. Paul speaks about order when the family comes together to partake of Lord’s Body and Blood. Anyway i leave that to you to take before the Lord. I have no desire to convince you I am right. Either you hear the Spirit or I’m not speaking by the spirit. We can’t get away with our lack of love. Your choice SP.”
SP: “I have to go. Thanks for sharing. The wilderness is a lonely place, my friend. I must go. Please keep in touch with me.”
Me: Not likely SP, not likely. I smiled as I thanked him for his time. A good typical statement of an executive clergy. “Keep in touch with me.” Interesting! Even the best of us are so tainted with a system that makes us less than we are.
Imagine Jesus saying to the man from the pool of Bethesda, “keep in touch with me”. No, when the religious elite of His day cast the man out, Jesus didn’t send a disciple, He went Himself. Therein lies the problem of the Church. We have too many wrong understandings, too many demands and expectations that divert us from doing His will; too busy to love, too busy to engage; too busy to understand something important is happening.
SP was an unusual man, very unusual. Yet I can’t imagine Jesus upping stakes in the middle of a dialogue to the woman by the well in Samaria because he had some appointment because of religious duty. Oh! yes that’s right He didn’t have religious duties; He was a free man who had no time for pretense, self importance and laying burdens upon others.
“I have food to eat of which you do not know”. then He said in reply to His disciples question, “My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me, and to finish His work.” John 4:33 -38
It’s a long time in between drinks, in the wilderness, even then the waters can be muddied by others. You turn around trudge along knowing one day all will end, knowing you may never posess the promise Land in this life, like Abraham. However His Promises possess you and you know that you know His promises are true because He is faithful and True. The baton will be picked up by fellow wilderness wanderers; they will carry the light of His truth as sure as the Race has been run. Even so come Lord Jesus.