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Prayers God Loves to Answer: Praying for the Church (pt. 1)

According to Christianity Today, the United Methodist Church's General Session this weekend will be determining the church's stance on LGBT/gender issues.  At stake are questions like whether to ordain LGBT ministers, whether to perform gay marriages, etc. (1)

 

The stakes are high in all of this, and there are believers on many sides in this issue.  Words like "love" and "grace" get tossed around a lot, with definitions being assumed and never really spelled out (if you don't spell it out, no one can challenge it).

 

What does God think of all this?  How would he have us pray in the midst of a divisive situation with very clear implications for how Scripture is interpreted and applied, and high stakes when it comes to conformity with the culture?

 

Most believers - on either side of the issue - will pray for particular outcomes.  They'll pray for this decision or that decision, convinced that their prayer is aligned with God's will (or perhaps not having thought about it from that viewpoint).  I personally feel very strongly on this one, so it's hard for me not to pray for an outcome.  But can we learn anything from Scripture about how to pray in ways that please God in situations like this, and others where the church must decide between accepting and conforming to culture on the one hand and sticking to tradition on the other?

 

"I hold this against you - you have forsaken the love you had at first." (Rev. 2:4)

 

The church needs to love people well - both people inside and outside the church.  But, as the Bride of Christ, the church's first love needs to be none less than her Groom.  In her desire to love people well, she has at times forgotten her first love, paying more attention to the opinions and interests of men than to the Word of God.

 

Jesus is described in Revelation 1:16 as one who has a sharp, double-edged sword coming out of his mouth.  The obvious reference here is to the Word of God, which is described in exactly this way in Hebrews 4:12: "For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart."

 

In fact, we know from John 1 that Jesus himself is the Word (John 1:1, 14).  So love for the Word of God is the same thing as love for Jesus.

 

The warning to the church at Ephesus was serious:  "Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place." (Rev. 2:5)  The danger to the church today is that she may be removed from her place if she does not repent and regain that first love.  We don't know exactly what this means, but we do know that one of the main challenges of Islam, for example, to Christianity is the relative lawlessness of Christians - we do not obey the word we claim to believe.

 

As we pray for the church today, then, one of our first concerns ought to be to pray that the church will remain true to her First Love; and where that love has been forgotten, that it will be regained.  Let's pray that our churches' leaders will be so filled with love for God that their times of decision and debate will be characterized by much prayer, by earnest seeking of God's will, and pleading for God's wisdom (James 1:6).  Let's pray for repentance where that's needed (without our necessarily having to be the judges of where it is needed).  Let's pray that God's Word will be given its (and His) rightful place in our churches, and that our leaders will themselves be led by the Word that is also Truth.

 

And as we pray, let's grow in the area of lifting up the questions to God and letting him be in charge of the answers.  I'm very tempted to pray for certain decisions to be made, for a specific direction to be set, etc.  In other words, I'm tempted to give God the answers and just ask him to "make it so".  But I'm trying to learn to hold my own "wisdom" lightly and to seek first of all his wisdom.  Only he can see all sides of issues as complex as the ones facing the United Methodist leadership this weekend.  So only his wisdom could possibly be sufficient.

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(1) https://www.christianitytoday.com/news/2019/february/united-methodi..., accessed on 02/24/2019.

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