To my Hillside family:
Several years ago, while working in the Great River Region of the CC(DOC), one of our summer camps for young children focused on the theme of: F.R.O.G. The theme spelled out the name of an animal loved by many children, and some of the crafts and decorations played upon that, but the meat of the message was found in what the letters stood for:
Through play and song, lessons and crafts, worship and relationship, these kids explored what it can mean to rely on God in their lives completely. It was a fun camp and the kids seemed to absorb much of the message, but it also left me wondering how many of us, and how many of our congregations, actually do this? There’s not a way to accurately answer that question, but my hunch is this: not many.
It’s not that we’re bad people. I believe that a great many individuals and a great many communities of Christ-followers really do try to rely on God for their sustenance, their direction, their vision in life. I also believe that quite a few of those people and groups manage mostly to succeed in this endeavor, at least on the best of days. But the key word here is “mostly”. Because we don’t truly rely on God until we do it FULLY. Not partially. Not halfheartedly. Not as a last resort after all our other plans and schemes have failed. FULLY.
Just as the goal with a safety regulation is full-compliance, our spiritual goal is full-reliance. And just as it is physically dangerous to settle for less than full compliance with safety regulations on a work site, it is spiritually dangerous to settle for less than full reliance on God. We aren’t perfect, and we have to acknowledge that we will often fall short of this goal, but when we don’t strive for full-reliance, more and more of our own agendas start slipping into the mix. Our vision becomes more about our own desires and pride and less about God’s hopes for the world. When we don’t strive for full-reliance, we slowly cease to work for the Kin-dom – and more often than not, we fail to notice. Our wants become “God’s wants”, our views become “God’s views” and our work either becomes stagnant or destructive.
A church that ceases striving for full-reliance on God is a church destined to fall apart.
All of this can sound rather negative. So many of the wider conversations about “The Church” that are happening these days tend to take the negative approach: the Church is declining, the Church is losing members, the Church is no longer relevant in the world, the Church will cease to exist in X many years… And it is very true that the Church (with a “big C”) and our church (Hillside) both have real challenges that have the power to erode our witness to Christ and our usefulness for the Kin-dom in the world. The danger of this moment is very very real.
But there is also great hope in this moment! Not that sugary pseudo-hope that sings “everything is fine” despite all evidence to the contrary, but REAL hope. Resurrection hope. A hope, rooted in reliance on God, that can move us to stare faithfully and courageously INTO the face of our challenges instead of pretending that they don’t exist. A hope, grounded in God’s own vision, that can turn our gaze toward the future Kin-dom rather than a nostalgic past that never really was. A hope, woven through with God’s purpose, that can put flesh on our dry bones that we might get up and work for justice and beauty and on-the-ground love in the community around us. When I look around us in this moment, I see that real hope just as clearly as I see the challenges we face.
This is why I am so excited about the process of spiritual renewal that is taking place at Hillside. By entering into 40 days of prayer for our church, we have acknowledged some powerful truths:
1.We are facing some serious challenges that need to be met faithfully and head-on.
2. We want to live and to be fruitful!
3. We need to make a shift towards full-reliance.
4. God is still speaking in the world – and God has something to say to us in this time and place. God has a vision for our church and wants us to receive and live into/out of that vision.
5. You can’t rely on God without listening for and to God’s voice. Prayer (in all it’s diverse forms) is how we “shut up and listen” to God.
6. If we take the time to ground ourselves in prayer, we will come out of this time with a clearer sense of purpose, vision and hope – and that clarity will come from God, not our own desires, agendas or pride.
In my heart of hearts, I know that all of these things are true. And, based upon the number of you who have committed to pray for our church for 10 minutes each day and to meet and pray with two other people for 30 minutes twice during these 40 days, I can see that you know these things are true as well. We’re not at full participation yet, but by the end of these 40 days I believe that a majority of you will have participated in this process.
Our prayer has power! It has the power to change our own minds and hearts, to reconnect us with God’s vision, and to strengthen and deepen the bonds between us (and between us and our neighbors). And while ten minutes may not seem like very much, it can make all the difference in the world. It can be the difference between halfhearted reliance and full reliance. It can be the difference between abundant, vibrant, challenging life and a slow, easy decline into death.
So, if you’re already praying – let Rodger, Shandra and me and your fellow church members know how it is going. If you’re catching glimpses of God’s vision, tell us! If you haven’t seen anything yet, be patient and hopeful and tell us that too. If you’ve made the commitment and have fallen short, don’t beat up on yourself. That’s time wasted that could be spent getting back into your commitment to pray. And if you’d like to join in this process, let us know – we’ll jot down your name and make sure you get teamed up with two other prayer partners.
Throughout our 40 days of prayer, I will periodically share some of my experiences with you in writing – and with your permission, I’ll share some of yours. If you have something you’d like me to share, send it to me at: firstname.lastname@example.org or give me a call at the church.
But for now, be encouraged! Know that the Lord is with you, and turn your heart to God in prayer. Even if you are uncertain that this process “will work”, even if you don’t think that you pray well, even if you don’t know what to say, pray. Just be still, know that God is God, and give a few minutes of your life over to the Creator of all that is good.
I am very much looking forward to hearing what God has to say!
Blessings and hope,