40 Hours of Prayer- a Crazy Idea?

 

Today I finished 40 hours of prayer.

Not 40 seconds or 40 minutes or 4 hours but 40 hours. What’s going on?

I didn’t do it on my own, I shared the prayer marathon with the President and General Secretary of the Uniting Church along with a number of other Moderators and Synod General Secretaries.

To make the experience more deeply meaningful I and several others fasted for the 40 hours, no food or coffee, just water.

No, there is no pending nuclear attack, global financial crisis or crisis in the Uniting Church. Indeed the event was stimulated by a major celebration, it’s the 40th anniversary of the Uniting Church. In 40 days time, we will celebrate 40 years since that historic moment took place, the joining together of three churches, the Methodist, Presbyterian and Congregational. I was 20 plus at the time. If you are on social media, tag us using #40prayers.  

So our prayers began with praise, thanking God for many of the things that God has done in and through and at times in spite of our church over four decades. There is a lot to give thanks to God for; our congregations, our schools, our agencies, our growing relationship with the First peoples Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress.

At the 40 hour prayer marathon, we celebrated many things such as our cross cultural/inter cultural dimensions, our great diversity in suburban, country and remote areas. We thanked God for decades of faithful people who have loved God and their neighbour in the name of Christ and the Uniting Church. The list could go on and on. We also prayed repentantly recognising our many mistakes and sins.

We remember that Jesus spent 40 days in the wilderness in prayer and preparation for his ministry and how the Hebrew people wandered in the wilderness for 40 years. Our prayers were full of thanksgiving, repentance, supplication and hope.

My main take home was that prayer and lots of it , must come from the margins and be central to our life together.

May God teach us to be praying church.

Steve Francis
Moderator

PRAYER – for what it’s worth

When I became a Christian (still thinking about the right way to say that …) I had lots of advice from all kinds of well-meaning people. There were those who told me about behaviour, those who warned me about dangers and those who gave me instruction about the things I had to do and the rules I had to comply with. I heard them but largely ignored the advice.

It seemed to me that the most important part of being a follower of Jesus was that I should have a relationship with him. Few gave me any advice on how that might happen. I struggled initially through reading the Bible, attending worship services and joining fellowship groups. All were helpful in one way or another.

The common thread was prayer and I began to explore prayer as the way in which I could best relate with God. I found the old classics on prayer, Rosalind Rinker’s “Conversational Prayer” and O Hallesby’s book on prayer. I was drawn into this space and now spend a few hours in the early part of every day in conversation with God.

Of course, its not like a human conversation, but I speak and I listen. In my listening, (or meditation) I “hear” responses to my speaking. This has been the pattern of my forty years of building this relationship with Jesus. I used to write prayers in my journal, now I post them on Facebook. And while I get many “likes” each day, this is not what prayer is really all about. The written prayer is simply the end result, or summary, of a conversation.

There are many different ways of praying.

What I have described is the approach in my personal life. There are also community prayers, where prayers are prepared for or spoken out extemporaneously in the public space, particularly in worship services. I usually encourage people to say those prayers in their heart as the leader prays, rather than simply listening to them. In this way they “own” the prayer for themselves. I must admit that I do struggle with public prayers still, I am often too focussed on the human listeners, and getting the words right, rather than the Divine Listener but this is an ongoing journey. We also need more space to listen back in our public prayers.

On Sunday May 14, the Uniting Church in Australia begins 40 days of preparation to commemorate the 40 years of our existence since 22 June 1977. It begins with a 40 hour prayer meeting beginning on Sunday 14 May. The call to prayer has come from the President Stuart McMillan, and the Moderators and General Secretary’s from each Synod will be gathered in Melbourne for this time. Please join with us wherever you are in this time. If you are on social media, tag us using #40prayers.

I love the fact that the 40 days are being marked as Forty Days of Prayer. It is putting the focus in the right place – not on what we have done but what God has done through us. There are moments when we have been able to take strident steps, in the area of First People, Congress, Refugees and other human needs. The current Social Reinvestment WA program is particularly important. The program seeks to address ways of keeping people out of jail through focussing on correcting the conditions which might lead to offences. There have, of course, also been times when we have been unchallenged by the evangelistic call of the gospel, and even limited our involvement in sharing the Good News.

2 Chronicles 7:14 reminds us “if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” It is a call to prayer, humility and repentance with the promise of restoration. We need this so much in the world today, and it will only begin when those who are already followers of Christ apply this in our own lives.

For more about the 4oth anniversary celebrations and guidelines for prayer for the 40 days click here.  You can also find worship resources here.

Rev David de Kock
General Secretary

Beauty and Arson

Australians love fireworks. And it’s not just on Australia Day.

Almost every week it seems someone in the metro area is letting off fireworks as a way of celebrating a special event. As a child I grew up loving fireworks. In those days you could buy them from the local shop and set them alight wherever you wanted to. Eventually due to the negative effects of fireworks, things like severe burns, physical injuries and damage to property, they were banned.

The authorities rightly thought the risks outweighed the benefits. A few weeks ago, I came across a little book that I warmed to the title, The Imperfect Pastor by Zack Eswine. I haven’t read it yet but I can so identify with the title. I tend to shy away from books about being a successful or high achieving pastor. They tend to depress me as I fell that I fall short of their high bars of expectations.

Back to fireworks, in Zack Eswine’s book he likens passion or desire to a firework. It can light up the sky or it can burn down a house. Our passions require careful examination because they can end up like fireworks- being creative or destructive, either instruments of beauty or unsuspecting weapons of arson.

When Christ followers and especially Christian leaders begin to scrutinize their passion for ministry and service sometimes we can detect that they can be tainted by a desire to be noticed or to control. For me, it is not enough to simply be passionate about the gospel, discipleship, worship or justice, we have to look a little deeper to see if the passion is something of Godly beauty or of worldly ambition.

Christian ministry is not about the Babel tendency to make a name for itself, it is all about servant-hood that models the humility of Christ and shares in the passions he had.

Frequently local ministers, pastors and priests are called not to light up the sky with their personality and charisma but to seemingly insignificant un-applauded and dull chores over a long period of time. Jesus exposed the unworthy desires of James and John (Mark 10:35-52) as they passionately sought a position of privilege and status. When preaching the other day I had to ask myself, “am I wanting to impress a congregation with wise words and please people? Or am I simply willing to proclaim God’s word whether or not people find it palatable or not?”.

The art and practice of deep spiritual inner examination of our thoughts, words, deeds and desires is all too rare in our culture and in the church.

I am off to a retreat next week for a few days asking that God will help me discern the beauty from the arson in my passions.

Rev Steve Francis
Moderator