A place where God is ‘forming a family out of strangers’ … all over the place
Lovely piece from 24-7 prayer founder Pete Grieg in the current Premier Christianity magazine, about stirrings of new life in the church in the UK.
Dynamic new churches are being planted in many traditions. The Methodists have partnered with the Pioneer Network to renew dwindling congregations and repopulate empty buildings. Vineyard churches are multiplying fast. Anglicans are replanting vibrant congregations in depleted parishes. The bishop in my own diocese just announced plans to establish 100 new worshipping communities in the next ten years (this would have been unthinkable five years ago).
The Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG) has planted 720 churches in 20 years from Newport in South Wales to Southend-on-Sea, and they regularly gather 40,000 people to pray all night at London’s Excel Centre.
We fed 100,000 hungry families in the UK last year and provided the biggest network of debt counsellors by far. We run thousands of schools, clubs and hospices, more than 50 per cent of all toddler and parent groups, and the majority of the nation’s extracurricular youth work.
With such a track record, perhaps we should walk a little taller through the corridors of power. As the American theologian Stanley Hauerwas says, “The most interesting, creative and political solution we Christians have to offer our troubled society…is the church. We serve the world by showing it something it is not, namely, a place where God is forming a family out of strangers.”
Prayer is at the heart of it. Pete points out:
It wasn’t so long ago that you had to go to Buenos Aires or South Korea to witness such things. These days you can stumble upon all-night prayer in Burton-On-Trent, Biggleswade, Bangor, Biggar, or Bournemouth.
I am reading a book whose title I just couldn’t resist: Chasing Slow by the blogger and interiors-stylist Erin Loechner. It’s gorgeously designed book and often beautifully written and due to be released in February. (I’m seeing an advanced review copy.) At one point she writes something like this:
What I said:
I hate my job
I hate Los Angeles
I hate this house
What I meant:
Are we going to be OK here?
I quoted this to my wife and we had the following conversation:
Me: How is anybody supposed to understand that?
Cordelia: How can anybody not understand that?
Me: If she’s worried about whether or not they’re going to be OK, wouldn’t it be better to say something like, I don’t know, just to pluck a random example out of the air, ‘Are we going to be OK?’ I mean, wouldn’t that be a bit clearer?
Me: (continued, expanding on the theme as, on rare occasions, I have been known to do) Her poor husband is probably already scanning the jobs pages, or the house listings. On the grounds that she’s just said she hates her current ones.
Cordelia (sighing) : Because it’s a kind of dance.
Me: What is?
I’ve been married for 27 years. I’m never going to get this.
The case for being on the back row, third from the left
‘Though famous speakers and evangelists today can reach thousands of people with one telecast, discipleship is done one relationship at a time by those we will never read about. Their legacy is seen in the lives of those they touched. Perhaps I will never find the spotlight. But my value to the kingdom of God is not determined by my ability to attract or hold the spotlight. Instead, it is determined by my willingness to listen, learn, and be used by Jesus, whenever and however he desires.’
(Losers Like Us: Redefining Discipleship after Epic Failure By Daniel Hochhalter)
I’m grateful to my colleague Miriam Cowpland for (reading this book and) digging out this quote.
Netflix’s software engineers put into Netflix a program called the ‘chaos monkey.’ Its job is to go through Netflix’s servers, randomly wreaking havoc.
Why do they do this? Because they wanted to be ‘constantly testing our ability to succeed despite failure.‘ Chaos monkey taught them to build programmes that continue to work with bad stuff happening all around. The random, mindless destructivity leads to better systems.
As Augustine says (Enchiridion xi): “Since God is the highest good, He would not allow any evil to exist in His works, unless His omnipotence and goodness were such as to bring good even out of evil.” This is part of the infinite goodness of God, that He should allow evil to exist, and out of it produce good.
Evil is God’s chaos monkey, and the world is better for it.
/Around 2008 an atheist SF writer named John C Wright prayed this:
Dear God. There is no logical way you could possibly exist, and even if you appeared before me in the flesh, I would call it an hallucination. So I can think of no possible way, no matter what the evidence and no matter how clear it was, that you could prove your existence to me. But the Christians claim you are benevolent, and that my failure to believe in you inevitably will damn me. If, as they claim, you care whether or not I am damned, and if, as they claim, you are all wise and all powerful, you can prove to me that you exist even though I am confident such a thing is logically impossible. Thanking you in advance for your cooperation in this matter, John C. Wright.”
In a single month a while ago I made four visits and had four snapshots of quiet revolution.
A tour round Jimmy’s Nightshelter in central Cambridge
Taking some furniture to be recycled at the Emmaus community north of Cambridge
Buying some fairly traded food at the Daily Bread Cooperative in the North of Cambridge
Popping in to see the manager of our own St Martin’s Centre for the elderly.
Each place exuded peace and a kind of a quiet well-ordered-ness. Each place runs through the hands of many volunteers and a number of full-time staff who are not paid well. Each fights almost daily battles with bureaucracy and politics that threaten to capsize the whole ship. Yet each provides a vital service to a large part of a city.
Each is an expression of Christian faith that is unsung, long-term, wholly appropriate for the 21st century.
Then I read this quote — more appropriate to regions outside Europe, but still relevant.
‘Alongside the political, economic, social and technological revolutions … which have commanded enormous media attention and coverage … there has been this far less trumpeted, but equally important revolution in the status and standing of worldwide Christianity. Few have taken on board what is happening.’ (Kenneth Hylsom-Smith To the ends of the earth ISBN 978 1 842 274 750)
To make the maximum impact for good with your life:
keeping doing the simple things that you love and are good at.
It might be called the ‘horse chestnut principle’. If a conker can avoid being stolen by squirrels or collected by children, it can become a horse chestnut tree, huge and lovely.
Here’s an open letter, from a much-loved Sri Lankan Christian leader Ajith Fernando, to elderly theologian J I Packer. It’s a testimonial to Packer’s long lifetime, to Ajith Fernando’s consistent service, and to the compounding power of faithfulness.
“Believing in him is not the same as believing things about him such as that he was born of a virgin and raised Lazarus from the dead. Instead, it is a matter of giving our hearts to him, of come hell or high water putting our money on him, the way a child believes in a mother or a father, the way a mother or a father believes in a child.”
― Frederick Buechner
So stirred by this quote. I think we can pray in many ways. Sometimes it’s good to lift up people we love and situations we care about, working through our lists.
Sometimes we can worship.
Sometimes we work our way through a psalm, or a liturgy.
Some of us like to use the Lord’s Prayer as a set of headings or jumping-off points, a kind of road map to guide our thoughts.
But I wonder if this best sort of prayer is beyond all of these. It’s to do with unpacking our problems before Christ until we come to a place, not necessarily of understanding, but of peace.
Or clambering up an impossible problem in prayer, scrabbling for a foothold, until again, Jesus reaches down and gives us something to hold onto, something that holds us and gives us quiet, happy hearts. The view all around may be terrifying, but we are safe and snug, supported by some promise or gift of trusting that is beyond our understanding.
We have stumbled onto the rock that is higher than we are: Christ’s own trustworthiness. We don’t know how it happens, but it happens.