Thursday, June 18, 2015

Prayer & Fasting for Community Ministry

On Friday 19th June we are having a day of prayer and fasting for the mission of God in our communities.  Why are we doing this? People have many needs – from parenting to purpose in life, from social needs to salvation in Christ.  Just recently we have seen people's homes and businesses damaged by flooding.  As winter cold bites, some people cannot afford to heat their homes.  So we are praying for God’s love and power at work.  And we are praying for the leadership retreat on 20th June when leaders will work on a plan to achieve greater cohesion across our community ministry, discern which high impact activities God is leading us to focus on, and identify how we can sustain our community ministry financially.  We also want to gain greater awareness and support within the church for our community work.

But why do churches these days need to be so intentional about community ministries?

When plagues hit the Roman Empire in the second and third centuries AD, people stood a significantly higher chance of survival if they were a Christian or had Christians living nearby.  Why? Because Christian values of love and charity resulted in showing care for their neighbours and community solidarity.  Plague sufferers were less likely to be abandoned in the street to die if there were Christians around.  Christians would pray for them and care for them.  The Christian Church grew both because of the powerful witness of this loving care, and because more Christians survived.

We need to pray for this distinctive witness and power again.  In our day, at least three key factors reduce our community impact.  First, today’s health and social service agencies, and emergency services usually provide good care so Christians tend to leave it to them.  Christian love for others doesn’t shine as brightly in our communities, even though the principles of the welfare state largely come from Christian values, and organisations such as St John’s Ambulance, Salvation Army and Presbyterian Support clearly have Christian origins.

Second, over the centuries churches became institutions and built buildings.  There is a huge tendency for the time and energy of Christians to be absorbed by the church.  We will care for people…if they come to us.  We need to pray for God to send us out again.  Pray for us all to shine the light of Christ in our communities again.  Pray for us to resist the gravitational pull that limits our Christian life to church. 

Third, in the modern era faith became regarded as a private matter.  Faith joined politics and sex as matters that shouldn't be discussed at dinner parties.  We need to pray for the gospel to become in Lesslie Newbigin called public truth again - able to be discussed and debated in society.

That’s why I called the church to a day of prayer and fasting for the mission of God in our local communities.  We need God's grace and power to tackle these big issues.  And we need the leading of the Holy Spirit if we are to discern the next steps God has for us.  East Taieri Church is involved in the community in many ways.  We need to ensure we are doing the key, high impact things that God is calling us to do.

I often give people the following advice on fasting:
If you aren’t used to fasting, you could try simply skipping one meal and using that time to pray.  Your stomach will tell you that you are starving, but unless you have a health condition that would prevent you fasting, most people can.  Other ways you could “fast” that day are to have a day without TV or Facebook.  Fasting is not a hunger strike, nor trying to force God to do what we want.  It is just one biblical way we can focus on God and put non-essential things in perspective.  Fasting affirms our citizenship in another kingdom, and helps us learn about trusting God to meet our needs.  Fasting develops self-control and often reveals the things that control us like anger or pride.  Fasting is feasting on the things of God.

With you in prayer,