This may be the most important blog I have ever written. It won’t get a lot of reads or re-tweets or comments or shares. It certainly will not be controversial enough to make a ripple in the blogosphere. But it is important, vitally important…perhaps the most important blog I’ve written, because it involves the future of an entire community.
So Augusta Heights started on a new journey in 2014. Like so many churches, we are trying to figure out who we are, where we are going, and who God wants us to become.
Yes, yes, some may view it as a bit clichéd and oh so typical of all us struggling churches, particularly Baptist churches. But kind of like the commercial says, it’s only cliché if it doesn’t work.
As with most churches, this process involves a group of committed people who are willing to pray for the effort. At AHBC, that group starts with our Common Ground Prayer Meeting and Bible study. I met with this group last Wednesday, and we launched this new effort at celebrating our past while visioning for the future. In the discussion, we talked about how we should pray for our church.
We started by listing all of the problems with our church. We came up with list of six problems that people felt were at the core of the things that needed to change or improve about the church (no need to list them all here). Then we began to talk about how we could pray for the church to deal with these problems.
That’s when it hit me: We need to stop. We need to stop praying for our church.
We talk all the time about how we need to pray for our church, pray for our pastor. But how much of that prayer involves us simply begging, “Lord, please solve all our problems!” When we pray for our church, we often pray that God will simply “fix” everything for us so that the church will run like a well-planned, well-oiled machine. We want the problems to be solved in a timely and efficient manner by an Authorized Power.
Here’s the thing: If God fixed those six problems for our church, we’d find six more in a matter of about six minutes. What we cannot fully grasp as disciples of Christ is that God is not in the business of fixing all of our problems. He is in the business of changing our lives in order to empower us to deal with those problems. Since problems themselves are not going away, then we have to become disciplined/discipled to deal with them.
Rather than praying for God to magically make all our problems disappear and for our church to be turned into some live version of CandyLand, let me suggest that we take note of Psalm 119:33-40. The Psalmist (maybe David) wrote about all of his shortcomings, all of his problems. But he didn’t ask God to make these problems go away; instead, the Psalmist asks God to make him better! He prays:
Teach me, Lord…
Give me understanding…
Direct me in your path…
Turn my heart…
Turn my eyes…
How I long for your precepts…
Instead of praying for fewer problems, this prayer asks for MORE OF GOD!
Instead of praying for God to “fix” our problems, our Wednesday morning group decided to pray that God would fix us to find Spirit-filled responses to the issues our church faces. I see these as being in the spirit of the Psalmist’s prayer:
1. More of God, less of US (pray to get over our selfishness & self-centeredness)
2. Calling on the Holy Spirit to fill us & lead us
3. Make us open-minded & open-hearted
5. Help us think “outside the box”
6. Get us OUT of our COMFORT ZONES
These are all good things for us to lift up in prayer. They’re also going to prove difficult if the Lord answers our prayers with a “yes”! But we are not praying for God to make things easy, but for help in getting things done. (I will have a little more on #6 in a few days).
Most of the time, when we are praying for church, we fall into the rut of praying that God will make all of our problems go away. This is particularly true in churches that are struggling to adapt, dealing with changing communities and cultures–and that’s many or most churches these days. Praying for God to remove the problems is a temporary solution at best; and deep down, we know that.
Churches have prayed for God to “fix” them for years; yet, we are still out here struggling and battling. Sometimes we are battling the same problems, sometimes a whole new set of problems, and often the same problems in many different forms.
You know what they say about doing the same thing and expecting a different result? Perhaps that is even true in our prayer life.
The challenge to you is to pray differently for your church and for yourself. Rather than asking God to solve your problems, may you begin to pray for God to solve you. And that list of six things is a pretty good place to start.
Whether you are a part of Augusta Heights or some other church, I challenge you to pray for these six things–for yourself and your community of faith–as we journey together in this new year.