Monday, 19 November 2012

Prayer and commitment

I recently officiated at the funeral of an 88 year old who, in later years, made it his ambition to win the lottery. He kept meticulous details of the winning numbers that came up week after week, tried to work out the recurrence of certain combinations and even bought a book or two on the subject of mathematics, statistics and number patterns. In fairness he did experience moderate success, once winning £1000 and a few £10 prizes, but I suspect that this was down to luck rather than some scientific or mathematical formula.

There is something in us that likes to look for methods, formulae and guarantees in life. Perhaps that same inner desire is what is behind consulting palm-readers or fortune tellers. Perhaps it is the old Adam wanting the sort of knowledge that gives power or control, a desire to be like God? Either way it's a futile search doomed to failure. But it doesn't stop us.

Take the Christian life and ministry. As a Vicar I would love to find a way of guaranteeing church growth or a sure-fire sermon that will win people for Christ. In fact - for the right reasons you understand - I have over the years assiduously read dozens of books and articles which tell the stories of how this church grew from 10 to a 1000 people, or this revival that saw hundreds turn to Christ over a short span of time. I have delved into the personal lives of revivalists and famous evangelists, and I have dug deep into the scriptures for any information I can glean about what may be missing in what I am doing (or not doing) or what shortfalls there are in my prayer-life that need correcting. I have confessed every sin I can, digging deep into my past life to weed out any possible overlooked niggling misdemeanour. I have attended renewal conferences, listened to countless tapes by this or that speaker and sought the counsel of leaders I admire and respect. All to no avail. There is no magic formula or sure-fire method (or course) that can be discovered that will achieve success in  ministry because that is not how it works. God is a person not a project, and the ministry is about service not success. The wind "blows where it wills" Jesus once said, and there is no way of telling it (Him) what to do or where to blow (See John 3).

So what do I do? I can throw my toys out of the pram and do something else? I can look for something that will produce visible and measurable results? I can engage in important building projects or find an absorbing hobby? Or I can just "serve God as He deserves, give (to Him) and not count the cost, fight and not to heed the wounds, toil and not to seek for rest, labour and not to ask for any reward" (St. Ignatius of Loyola).  The human thing is to do one of the former. The Christian thing is to do the latter.



1 comment:

Ann Owen said...

Forgive my effrontery, but might your ambitions be the problem? The miraculous growth and the sure-fire sermon...could there be too much of the ego in there? You possibly are not seeking the appropriate outcomes. Only a suggestion, Mark...

How do you grow a church?

How can you take a dying church and make it grow again? That is a $64,000 question hundreds of struggling ministers would love to know the...