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Maggie Durran: Power of prayer

18 December 2006

by Maggie Durran

What part does prayer play in this work to open up our churches and re-engage with our neighbours?

MY ANSWER to your question would probably fill a book, not just a column. First, there is what I believe about prayer; then, what I perceive about prayer; and then the many experiences of praying congregations up and down the country.

Engaging afresh with our neighbours when their demands do not fit our own agenda is incredibly difficult. It brings us to the often negative realities of human existence: where do we find God? How do we talk to and worship God? The basic tenets of our culture and our society don’t change, and we encounter them head-on, while the gospel has another world-view. Prayer helps us to keep that other world-view.

Change comes not in dramatic leaps, but in small changes, as people begin to believe that they can achieve things and get some order into their lives. Prayer about practical matters may best be on subjects such as learning from those who know more than we do, and listening to those we wish to help, as they know what they need and what they will accept. It is easier to listen for God in the people we encounter.

Fund-raising, building plans etc., remind us that our Christian faith is always played out with the same realities faced by everyone else in the world. We may fear we will lose our Christian uniqueness, but the inner-city churches where the staff team meets for the daily offices seem to me the most able to be sustained in their faith while they are enmeshed every day in the challenges of society.

Good planning and the Holy Spirit go together like two sides of a coin. The Pilgrim Fathers had a vision of a new life — plus a well-designed, seaworthy ship, and well-prepared supplies. Pray for skill in planning and management. Pray for advice from people who have worked through the successes and failures of a variety of projects.

Our challenges must include coping with failure. The people we try to help with our community projects fail all the time, but they may have unrealistic expectations. They may also be poor at maintaining relationships, and we cannot separate ourselves from those failures. Then our own failures come on top of that: all the times our skills and resources — personal and church — run out, or were never there in the first place. To know God in the midst of failure is par for the course.

You won’t make it without prayer, but there is a way of praying that helps you to get real both with God and with your neighbour.

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