My Prayer List for Our (God’s) Church

by Neil Richardson

  1. A Church grounded in its life in the Holy Trinity: lives conformed to Christ, prayers renewed and deepened by the Holy Spirit and all offered to the glory of the Father through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Experience of the Trinity came first, the doctrine and doctrinal orthodoxy later.

  1. A Church freed from anxiety and fear: anxiety about its own future and fear of the world.

Not forgetting Thomas Merton’s question: ‘Where am I going to look for the world first of all if not in myself?’.[1]

  1. A Church living St Paul’s ‘one another’ agenda: encouraging, loving, forgiving, accepting, supporting, praying for …….. each other.

Saying the Lord’s Prayer from the heart – and living that Prayer – is an important first step.

  1. A Church committed to worship which transforms,

and so helps us see each other, the Church, the world differently – through a deepening vision of and encounter with God.

  1. A Church of disciples embracing gladly the difficulties and hardship we would not have if we were not disciples.

That may mean sometimes distinguishing what God is asking of us from what the Church is expecting of us!

  1. A Church which lives in Christ and speaks of Christ – loving God and everyone and everything in God.

Christian’ (3 times in the NT) is the outward label; life ‘in Christ’ (everywhere in John, Paul and other NT letters) is the inward reality.

  1. A prophetic Church committed to justice and speaking truth to power.

How will the poor hear the gospel otherwise – and the Bible speaks even more about justice than about love.

  1. A Church re-discovering the heights and depths of prayer, including silence and contemplation.

Does our praying sometimes betray the anxiety which Jesus condemns in the Sermon on the Mount: ‘(they) imagine that the more they say the more likely they are to be heard’?

  1. A Church which looks in hope for the renewing of creation and the final revelation of Christ.

‘The Last Things’, even if interpreted differently today, remain an integral part of our faith.

  1. And all this in the closest possible fellowship with our brothers and sisters of other Christian traditions.

Can we draw closer to God unless we draw closer also to them?

Omitted from this list! References to
  1. Membership figures and evangelism

Linking membership figures with evangelism risks turning evangelism into proselytizing. Evangelism is not so much trying to make new Christians as unselfconsciously living and speaking Christ, and letting the Holy Spirit do (much of?) the rest.

  1. Kingdom values

A vague, slippery concept – hardly a scriptural idea. The Gospel is about truth (i.e. reality) not values (E. Jungel[2]).

  1. Relevance

The relevance of God, of worship, of the Gospel itself is axiomatic, (as Bonhoeffer said of the Bible), like the air we breathe or the bread we eat.  Attend to the fundamentals… (Matthew 6:33).

  1. Human Resources, whether money or people.

Scripture is noteworthy for what it omits and includes. Omitted:  references to ‘supporting’ the Church, keeping the Church going, etc, etc.  Included:  a miracle story, narrated in different versions six times, of overwhelmed disciples enabled by the Jesus who multiplied their meagre resources to feed a great crowd.

And finally:

The Inescapable Reality of God.  That is where the Bible starts and finishes – from the Garden of Eden to the heavenly Jerusalem, including the destruction of ‘Babylon’. Instead of church-centred thinking, we need God-centred thinking, living, praying and mission. Church-centred evangelism becomes recruiting, self-centred praying talking to ourselves and each other, rather than waiting upon God.

The inescapable reality of God may yet be the destruction of us all. If we do not breathe this air and eat this bread, how can it be otherwise? Think of climate change, the nuclear threat, the obscene expenditure on armaments, the iniquitous suffering of the poor in bloated, unequal societies. The inescapable reality of God means we reap what we sow.

But this isn’t where we start in preaching the Gospel. Yet – as a great American Wesleyan scholar, Albert Outler, said – ‘the Gospel hasn’t been preached until it’s been heard’. Can we, with God’s help, searching the Scriptures, waiting on God, and sharing ‘the fellowship of Christ’s sufferings’, re-discover the Gospel for our generation?

[1] T. Merton, ‘Is the World a Problem?’ in Contemplation in a World of Action (Unwin Paperbacks 1981), p.145.

[2] Eberhard Jungel, Theological Essays II, (T&T Clark 1995), pp.191-215.

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4 thoughts on “My Prayer List for Our (God’s) Church”

  1. The only thing that worries me about all of this is that Neil speaks as if God’s church consists only of Christians.
    This for me is the biggest hurdle that needs to be overcome if the church is to survive.

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  2. Thanks Neil – as always a good thoughtful response and always appreciated. Something to add maybe (at the risk of sounding like an old testament prophet) is a prayer to ask God to reveal our shortcomings. My reading of the bible would suggest that God adds people to the church and if God isn’t adding people the question must be why? The fault may lie with the rest of society, of course – plenty of times in the bible God seems to take this approach (e.g. abandon people to their own problems until they get the point) or maybe the fault lies with us – in which case it would be good to know what it is – it is easier to repent if you know what is wrong.

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  3. Yvonne, can you say more of what you mean? Why is this ‘worrying’? I sense it’s something to do with inclusion and exclusion. Neil, in writing of a church which is ‘in Christ’ would seem to be writing of a church defined by relationship, rather than by membership. That reframes our thinking about boundaries and inclusion/exclusion, and the question becomes not so much: “Who is a Christian?” as “If we are in Christ, what does that do to our relationship with all others?”

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  4. Thank you, Andrew.
    Yes it is all to do with inclusion and exclusion and I probably can’t articulate what it was that disturbed me about it.
    I’ll try though.
    Firstly the title, My Prayer List for Our (God’s) Church, suggests that only the Christian church is God’s church.
    I can’t accept that. God is not a Christian. Nor is He Jewish, or Muslim or Hindu or of any particular faith or denomination. All that exists belongs to God. People might encounter Him in a Christian church, or in a synagogue, mosque or temple, but God can also be encountered in the home, place of learning, workplace, social clubs, sports arenas, theatres, art galleries, music festivals, the great outdoors. There is no place that God isn’t.
    I agree with many of the points on the list, particularly no. 4, but then no. 10 seems to draw us all back into our exclusive religious club.
    We should be working towards the closest possible fellowship with people of all faiths and of no faith, not just with our Christian brothers and sisters.

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