Like many other countries across the world, Jamaica is struggling to keep afloat during in this period of economic recession. But we have bigger problems than most others in that we are one of the most indebted countries in the world - owing over one trillion Ja. dollars. We are also counted among the most violent nations in the world running in excess of 1200 deaths/year for some time now - we heard from a Northern Ireland representative to the Anglican Consultative Committee that they had suffered 4000 deaths in a decade of war.
These are very challenging problems for a small nation of 2.5m people and limited natural resources. So most sensible people, including the Prime Minister, are calling for the entire nation to pull together in order for us to " weather the Storm". "All hands must be on deck" is the mantra now! Will this clarion call for unity work? Others have issued similar challenges before. I can well recall reading how Sir Winston Churchill, in the darkest moment of British history, when the German army threatened menacingly, quoting from a Jamaican poet Claude McKay to inspire his people to defend their island home against the " axis of evil":
" If we must die, let it not be like hogs
Hunted and penned in an inglorious spot
While round us bark the mad and hungry dogs.
Making their mock at our accursed lot..........
So can this call for national unity by our political leader, in the face of one of the greatest challenges we have faced as a nation, really bear fruit? Only time will tell.
This week, in the spiritual realm, the Lord led me through situations, meditations and passages of Scripture, to point out the absolute need for Christians to work together in unity if His power is to flow through us to build His Kingdom. A Kingdom where Christ is not only acknowledged as Lord and Saviour (" Not everyone who says Lord, Lord shall enter the kingdom of God") but of equal importance, where His life is followed, by the power of the Holy Spirit, in true discipleship. A life which ensures that the good news is preached to the poor, the "blind" are given sight, the "oppressed" are given respite, the " captives" set free, and the year of the Lord's favor is announced. And further, that one of the great imperatives is a church praying constantly and in unity and with deep conviction that God will act, in big things and in small things, for His Glory and honor. So there is in fact no such thing as an individual Christian out there working tirelessly to do God's work. In the secular world, people of means and those possessed of a certain intellect may, mistakenly, believe that they can survive, regardless of what happens, around them. Christians, however, have no such option.
YOU WILL SEEK ME AND FIND ME
Mozarabic Sacramentary ( 3rd century) From the third through the eleventh century this liturgy was used by believers inhabiting parts of the Iberian peninsula - Spain and Portugal
Lord when we think of our own wants and desires, we are impatient to have them satisfied, yet in our hearts we know that such satisfaction will crumble to dust. Give us that spirit of hope which can enable us to want what you want, and to wait patiently on your time, in the knowledge that in you alone comes true and lasting pleasure.
O Lord, you have brought all your faithful people into a single universal family stretching across heaven and earth. Bind us together with a spiritual love which is stronger than any human love, that in serving one another we may neither count the cost nor seek reward, but think only of the common good.
( This prayer in particular spoke to our encounter, as a church family today, with members of the Anglican Consultative Council - a Primate ( the Archbishop from Australia), a professor and theologian from Madagascar, a lay member trained in dispute resolution in Northern Ireland, and a representative to the World Council of Churches in Geneva. And our discussions about Mission to the poor and needy.
O God, through the death of your Son you reconciled us one to another, drawing us together in the bond of peace. In times of trouble and adversity, may your peace sustain us, calming our fretful and anxious hearts, and saving us from all hateful and violent activities.
( This is the prayer which touched my heart in respect of the need for unity. In fact the Jeremiah passage was sent by a dear friend in response to a discussion on " troubled times", and having read it in my " Classics Devotional Bible" I found these prayers. As the peace which sustains us in times of trouble, or any other time, comes from both our reconciliation to God and to each other. So we need each other. To live together in unity as " the body of Christ", and to pray together and for each other, as the " body of Christ". Individual prayers are important, but much more so are the collective prayers of the church. And not just the prayers of the Anglican church to which I belong, but to the wider church - the Pentecostals, the Church of God, the Seventh day Adventists, the Baptists, the Methodists, the United church, the Moravian Church and the Salvation Army and all the other evangelical churches)
Make us O Lord flourish like pure, white lilies in the courts of your house, giving forth the sweet fragrance of your love to all who pass.
O God, in revealing to us the perfect spiritual beauty of your Son, you have shown the grotesque ugliness of our depravity and so filled us with remorse. We beg you, Lord to reach down to us in your mercy, re-creating us in the image of of your Son, that we may be fit to live with him in your heavenly kingdom.
THE WORDS OF SCRIPTURE
After spending time on Isaiah 43: 1-4, again sent to me for reflections, I kept on reading and came across this verse which I had underlined many yeas before:
" Yet you have not called upon me, O Jacob
You have not wearied yourselves for me, O Israel"
Isaiah 43: 22 NIV
One of things the the Lord accused His people of, was their superficial and unsustained prayers. A problem which afflicts the " New Testament" people in today's world. We too are guilty of not " wearing out" ourselves in prayer before and for God. We have not spent long hours in diligent search for God and for the things of God. Jesus, in the garden of Gethsemane, when He was going through His hour of greatest need, and His disciples had fallen asleep, exhorted them to
" pray without ceasing lest you fall into temptation". As a church, as the body of Christ, we have not together, in unity, prayed without ceasing, for the release of our country from the hands of wicked men, and from the economic challenges which confront us. Private prayers, yes. But the collective prayers of the body of Christ in Jamaica - not sufficiently.
This reflection then led to the Roman chapters on the fate of the people of Israel and God's mercy. And finally:
"Therefore, I urge you brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God - this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not confirm any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to to test and approve what God's will is - his good, pleasing and perfect will."
Romans 12: 1-2 NIV
Finally the God who is always ahead of us provided this meditation today:
"I know you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me".
THE WORD Too often our prayers are the private matter of our own hearts. That is, of course, where to begin. That is where God deals with us and speaks to us. But not all prayers are to be left there. The glory of God is a public matter, and nowhere on earth is God more glorified than when He is clearly at work. Miracles occur every day, but they often go unnoticed by or are considered " coincidental" because no one heard the specific prayer of someone's heart that God answered in His mercy and power. When mercy and power come, the prayer needs to have already been on the record. God is glorified as He responds to public requests.
Jesus spells this out for us. As He approaches the tomb of Lazarus, He is grateful for the public forum. He could have done this miracle with a minimum of of onlookers and in the privacy of the tomb. He could have lifted up a silent prayer, leaving people to wonder whose prayers were answered. Was Lazarus raised because of Mary and Martha's goodness? Because of Lazarus' faithfulness? Because of a huge medical misunderstanding? No, it was a divine response to Jesus' prayer. it was, in essence, yet another sign from heaven saying, " This is my Son". It was validation that God was at work in Jesus and that Jesus was doing God's work. How do we know? Because before Lazarus got us, Jesus prayed. Out loud.
IN DEED We're afraid to pray such risky prayers. That's understandable; we should only pray them after we've arrived at a position of faith and confidence in God's will and with sensitivity to his timing. But once we're there, we need to let God show His glory publicly. His demonstration of power is usually not a private, personal matter. It is more often a showcase for His mercy. When our prayers are witnessed by others and then God answers, He receives honor, and the faith of others is strengthened.
What does all of this mean for me, and for the church? This Internet ministry had been under girded by the prayer my church used for " the decade of evangelism" many years ago:
" Lord renew thy church beginning with me. Lord renew thy church that the church may renew the nation(s)"
I am convinced that a major part of the renewal of the church is the need for the renewal of its prayer life. We need to pray together. We need to pray with conviction and with power. We need to pray "big" prayers for the nation, so that the nations of the world may be renewed. We need to " offer ourselves as living sacrifices......by the renewing of our minds so that we will be able to test and know God's will". And then pray accordingly for mercy and for his honor and glory. But for our minds to be renewed, we must pray without ceasing lest we fall into temptation and not " weary ourselves before and for God". Amen