Friday, 9 March 2012

Prayer & Change

I reckon you could call prayer without action 'empty religion', action without prayer 'irreligion', and preparation, prayer and action working together 'changing the world'.

I see all three in churches, but recently there seems to be a lot of emphasis on the first 'empty religion' approach. Which is a pity, because the world is a long way from how it should be.

I've recently heard three rather different examples: a super talk by a young woman from TearFund (which is where the picture came from, click on it to see a larger, clearer version); a less super claim at a religious concert that 'my God is wealthy enough to deal with all your debts' (in a slightly grating Belfast accent); and the, at best ambivalent, suggestion shortly after Christmas that if your credit card is maxed out then 'take it to the Lord in prayer and stop worrying' (that one in a Yorkshire accent, as it happens).

In a previous recession I myself had a fairly serious credit card problem - the 'take money out of one card to make the minimum payment on the other' game. Burying one's head in the sand is a classic response to debt, so the suggestion that one can simply tell God about it then carry on ignoring the debt is really not a helpful one. On the other hand, talking to God about the problem and your worries then listening to what God says and acting on it - probably to DO something about the debt - and trusting Him enough to stop worrying whilst you act ... that's a different matter. So I call the suggestion 'ambivalent' because whilst the preacher may have meant the active latter, I strongly suspect many of his listeners heard the passive former.

It's not just 'doing' though: typically real, two-way, prayer results in change - change in attitude and change in approach. To forgive someone when they have really harmed us is incredibly difficult, and often takes a long time. But not forgiving continues to cause further harm. Prayer and change of heart go together: the journey may be long and hard but, in prayer, God is with you all the way.

Of the various quotes featured on TearFund's 'Reflect, Pray, Act' poster, my favourite is from CB Samuel: "A prayer in which we are not open to being part of the solution will never be answered". God is not our gofer  - He helps us, encourages us, supports us, wants us to grow and wants us to take responsibility for our actions. The Church is meant to be Jesus' hands and feet, heart and mouth.

The expectation in any prayer should be that God will respond and that we will be asked to take part: sometimes by waiting trustfully, sometimes by resting in the assurance of His love, sometimes by changing our attitudes, sometimes by saying something that needs to be said, often by changing our behaviour, often by getting our hands dirty. God will be with us throughout, and together we really can change the world for the better. "Your Kingdom come" and all that.

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