Notes from another country part 3
I’ve been leading a small Cornhill missions team this last week. We’ve been abroad somewhere hot and somewhere increasingly difficult to be a Christian. It’s probably not appropriate for me to say where (or necessary, even) because I don’t want to put believers at risk. But, as ever, my heart has been stirred and my faith has been challenged by being with believers from a different culture. For sure, other cultures have their blind spots – and they are painfully obvious. But, more to the point, being with Christians in another culture allows us to see our own blind spots more clearly. And it’s this I want to write about this week.
Prayer. I read just last week that the great tragedy of the western church was the declining church prayer meeting. There’s some truth there. The church where I minister was founded on a deep commitment to corporate prayer where Saturday night prayer meetings often attracted 1,000 plus. Today’s church prayer meetings are puny in comparison. I’m thinking about this having attended an all night prayer meeting. Our immediate reaction to such an event is that it is totally unnecessary: a typical piece of Asian enthusiasm which smacks of a kind of repulsive self-righteousness.
There may be some truth in the stereotype, but it is largely unfair and unfounded. There are also some precedents for all night prayer (think about it!). More basically, Christians here have a deep commitment to prayer and on waiting on God in prayer. I can’t pretend that all the prayers were theologically robust. That’s to be expected when young Christians pray! Nevertheless, the spirit of prayer was extraordinary. And this same spirit seems to apply to all walks of life. Nothing is beyond prayer. People are always thanking God.
I don’t think we’ll ever really get people praying in the UK and the west until they feel the need to pray. It can never be a duty – or if it is, will scarcely move beyond the momentary. What this means, in practice, is that we need to feel our poverty more. We need to feel our spiritual poverty more, we need to feel our evangelistic poverty more, we need to feel our effectual poverty more – but most fundamentally we need to feel the poverty of our walk with Christ. I’m sure that until we’re shaken out of our mediocrity, prayer will always be an after thought. Do we dare pray, therefore, for a spirit of supplication ( ). I’m not at all sure that such a prayer answered would not come with a refining time for the church which causes us to throw ourselves at God’s throne.
And perhaps that’s no bad thing.