Prayer and Change – More Thoughts on Hillside’s 40 Days of Prayer

Dear Hillsiders (and other blog readers/eavesdroppers!),


Today I’m reminded that serendipity can be a funny thing. Here’s why:

This past week, when I haven’t been working or praying for our church, I’ve been reading the required texts for my first D.min course. The entire doctoral program focuses on transformational leadership (read: how to help lead churches into new and vibrant ways of living out the gospel), so it shouldn’t have surprised me so much…but the texts apply DIRECTLY to the type of work we are doing at Hillside through these 40 days of prayer.

Since that has been the case, and since my hope is that this doctoral program will be of direct benefit to our church, let me take a moment or two to share what I’ve learned in that reading this week (what I’ve learned in prayer I’ll share first with my assigned prayer group!):

Right now I’m studying what it takes to lead through a period of adaptive change. Now, that sounds seriously academic – but there’s a simple way to break it down. Think about the role of a doctor. If you break a bone through a basic accident, you go to the doctor and it is her job to “fix it”. Using her medical expertise, she prescribes a treatment and, barring any complications, you come through the experience as good as new. That’s her job, to restore your health.

But think about a different type of health problem for a moment. If you went to the same doctor because of persistent heart trouble or type 2 diabetes, her response wouldn’t be so cut and dried. In fact, to deal with this problem she’d have to take an entirely different approach because she’s no longer dealing with a situation she can fix/heal/treat on her own. To fix this problem YOU have to do the work of changing your lifestyle, your eating habits, your exercise regimen, etc. If you don’t make these changes, you will likely become more and more ill, even to the point of death. All the medical expertise in the world doesn’t change the fact that she can’t do this work for you. Instead, she has to lead by encouraging you and empowering you to do the hard work of changing how you operate and live.

The second example – that’s a situation requiring adaptive change! And we’re in a similar situation here at Hillside. In order to live a healthy life as a congregation, some changes need to be made. But instead of changing our diet and our exercise habits, we have to change our understanding of what it means to be church, what it means to proclaim the Gospel in our community, what it means to follow Christ in this time and place. All the technical, pastoral and theological expertise in the world cannot change that your pastoral staff can’t do this work for you. The work has to be done by the whole church, not just her employees. And, similar to the doctor in the second example, it is our job in this time to lead by encouraging and empowering you to do the hard work of changing how we operate and live as a community of Christ-followers in the Northland.

This 40 days of prayer is part of that hard work that cannot be done by staff members alone. It is a time of focusing on God, a time of reorienting our goals and vision, a time of asking the right questions. Ultimately, it is the beginning of a transformed spiritual lifestyle for our church – one that should not end after the 40 days are up, and one that has the power to propel us into new life for the sake of the Gospel!

This week, as you pray for Hillside, I encourage you to ask God how we need to change our “spiritual lifestyle” in order to experience renewed health and life. As we meet together to discuss what we are learning through prayer, I look forward to hearing what you discover!


Rev. Lara

Fully Relying on God? – Some Thoughts on Hillside’s 40 Days of Prayer

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: 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,

Rev. Lara

The Best Smell in the World…

…is the scent of a living, breathing, uninjured husband.


Today I’m giving thanks that my husband and puppy are alive and well.  Earlier this afternoon they were involved in a hit and run accident.  The car is likely totaled, but they are fine and that all that really matters to me.

I would ask that prayers be lifted up for the people in the other car.  It turns out that they left the scene of the accident due to a number of warrants out in the car owner’s name.  I’m not sure what the warrants are for, but they were enough of a motivation to make the driver and passenger flee the scene, ditch their car and then run from the police in another vehicle.  No matter who they are, I pray that they (and everyone in their path today) are safe.  As for justice, we’re going to spend the weekend praying on whether or not to drop the charges we agreed to file against them.

A final thought this evening is this:  thank God for all the people who went out of their way to help us today.

  • Thank God for Kelli, my friend and coworker who drove me to the scene of the accident, waited with us, walked and entertained our dog, and drove us to the rental car facility!
  • Thank God for the police officer who came to the scene.  He treated Chuck with dignity and genuine concern – and clearly considers his job to be a calling.
  • Thank God for my other co-workers (Shandra & Rodger in particular) who kept us laughing, the kind and efficient insurance agents who got us into a rental car quickly, the tow truck drivers who stopped to help and ended up tracking down the other vehicle, and all the friends who sent prayers and other messages our direction.

It’s been a rough day, but also a day when we’ve experienced the best of people.  In their faces and actions, I have seen God.