A Call to Prayer

Vineyard Canada, Nov 12, 2020, 2:45 AM
Vineyard Canada Global Moderator
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History belongs to the intercessors – those who believe and pray the future into being.

Walter Wink - Scholar, Theologian and Activist

We are in the final stretch of our national discernment process reaching for current and fresh articulation regarding our theology, ecclesiastical structures, pastoral care and discipleship in how we engage with sexual minorities. Many of you have participated in various and sundry forums of dialogue, prayer, and study at local, regional and national levels. As we are sure you are aware, we are most certainly not alone in this process. At the most recent Evangelical Fellowship of Canada denominational leaders gathering in Montreal, it was a major topic of discussion and will be front and centre as a topic in their 2020 gathering. A poignant example of how this is impacting all of us right now across the Church world.

In the midst of all of this process, we have been tending to the fires of prayer across the country. Our National Initiative PULSE has been engaged in prayer and gleaning what we are hearing nationally in our prayer rooms. Ruth Rousu has been gathering intercessors monthly on a national prayer call. This continues front and centre in our prayer and reflection as a Foundations Team. Many of you have been stepping into this space with intentionality and fervor in other ways - for which we are deeply grateful.

One of our key guiding texts the past several years has been Colossians 4:2-6:
Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful.
And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may
proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains.
Pray that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should.
Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity.
Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.
Prayer is critical. Prayer is central. Prayer is key.

Prayer allows us to be ready to cooperate with what the Spirit of God is initiating and where God is moving. It aligns us with His way. With His heart. With his purpose. Something we are needing as a national family right now. We believe that this is a time to be intentional about calling us into prayer. To not shy away from a clarion call. For this to be effective however, we need to be on the same page about some things. Before we unpack the essence of this call, we thought it important to acknowledge that there are several potential misnomers regarding "how" prayer works. Clarity will help us to be able to "pray in agreement" and to be leaning in, in the same way.

One misnomer is that prayer is transactional. You put in a coin - you get a prize. You "pay up" in prayer - you should get the guaranteed results. The pitfalls of this kind of approach should be obvious, but many times we are blinded to them. From our Vineyard understanding of the kingdom, we are praying into where the future kingdom, and Gods rule and reign (heaven) is currently breaking into our present scenario, and how to cooperate with the Lord in the moment. He is making all things new, and we participate in this work, vs. our contending for some ethereal heavenly realm to be pulled down onto the earth through our intercession or declarations and we fix everything. All things are being made new. Yet creation groans. The kingdom has come and is coming. Why embrace such a limited faith where if we don't see the fullness of the kingdom breaking through like we hoped in our present moment, the kingdom hasn't come at all? Why be so small? God is at work – now. The kingdom has come. We need eyes to see and ears to hear.

Another is that prayer is formulaic. Almost like a chemical reaction. If we just get the formula right – then God will surely move. Worse than that however, is when we think we've gotten the formula wrong and then we begin to find out "who" or "what" is messing things up and we lose our moorings resulting in prayers of judgement, "preach praying" at one another and fear influencing our posture more than faith. We think it's pretty important to avoid this practice.

A final observation, although there are many more things that could be addressed, is the concern that our prayers do not become demanding, or belligerent. Instead of approaching the throne of grace from a place of rest, as Romans 8 encourages, we are anything but at peace. Or restful. Not only towards the Lord, but towards each other. This is not the posture of prayer that the biblical text invites us to, but rather imitates more pagan ritual than anything. Remember Elijah on Mount Carmel. As Colossians 3:15 states, "Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful."

Perhaps we could capture the essence of prayer by comparing it to the way that a master sailor is able to navigate all the different variables wind creates as she learns to either move with the wind, at times sail against the wind, and yes, face the inevitable and deeply frustrating doldrums. Prayer enables us to navigate the wind of the Spirit, the winds of life, the winds of culture, the buffeting gusts of change and the times when the wind has totally gone out of our sails. Cultivating a life of prayer, enables us to lean into a depth of spirituality and grace, both individually and corporately, that helps us discern not only where and how the wind is blowing, but how to maneuver and cooperate with it. Or when to wait. Thanksgiving. Intercession. Petition. Supplication. Faith. Imprecation. Contemplation. Fervency. Consecration. Adoration. This beautiful and artful array of prayer laid out in the biblical narrative should give us more than ample proof that prayer is not some static, formulaic way to make God move, but rather a recognition that, as Jesus said, He's always at work and we must see and engage with what He is already doing. Prayer brings us into this place of a non-anxious presence and confidence that God is with us.

This is our time to lean into prayer. Into corporate prayer. The winds have, and are, shifting. Our tacking and jibing that helped us navigate the waters some years ago are in need of some assessment, and perhaps adjustment. It is prayer that will get us there. It is in the prayer and the waiting that we will discover the discernment that we need.

Another text that has been on the front burner the last years is Mark 9:29:
"This kind can come out only by prayer (and fasting)."

In this encounter of Jesus with his disciples, and as NT Wright explains, " ... they had previously been able to cast out demons in Jesus' name, but this one had them beaten. They were as puzzled as we, the readers, are likely to be; we didn't realize that there were, so to speak, different degrees of demons, some being harder to deal with than others. All Jesus will say, by way of explanation, is that this kind takes prayer (presumably prayer was always part of the operation; this must mean special prayer, a particularly focused spiritual effort)."1

To further expound here, we have found comfort in this text for it points us to the reality that:

1. – there are various "kinds" of challenges and opposition that we will face as we move into kingdom activity. Later in the New Testament story, the Apostle Paul would make it very clear for us that this is not about "flesh and blood" (Ephesians 6), but there are forces at work in this present age that we are on a collision course with. We believe we are at such a juncture. And this reality stretches far beyond our processing around sexuality and human flourishing.

Things are not the same. Things that seemed to be so tried and true in our approaches to ministry and the journey of bringing people into a place of freedom and liberation just don't seem to be "working" anymore. Take heart. Take courage. This is not a time of chaos, rather this is par for the course for those who follow Jesus into bringing his grace and healing into a broken world. What are we running into here? What "kind" of challenges are we currently facing? The answer is not to find the formula, but to realize we are in unchartered waters and we need discernment more than answers. Wisdom more than platitudes.

2. – we must lean into prayer. "A recurrent theme in this passage is the inadequacy of the disciples in ministry with Jesus. Service in fellowship with Christ is characterized by constant awareness of the inadequacy of the servant. As this story illustrates, Jesus calls disciples to tasks beyond their abilities, and the fact that the tasks surpass their abilities is evidence that the ministry is Christ's, not theirs. The inadequacy of disciples is not their fault, nor should it have the effect of impairing either their faith or fellowship with Christ. Rather, inadequacy drives the disciples to prayer, which is God's gift to them and another form of fellowship with Jesus as their Lord."2

1 Wright, T. (2004). Mark for Everyone (p. 119). London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge.
2 Edwards, J. R. (2002). The Gospel according to Mark (p. 281). Grand Rapids, MI; Leicester, England: Eerdmans; Apollos.

As Edwards notes here, the disciples are driven to prayer, what Wright calls, "special prayer." The original manuscripts do not contain the injunction to fast, but as several commentators have noted, this would become a part of regular practice in the Early Church and certainly something engaged in with prayer throughout Church history. It is fair to see fasting as key when dealing with scenarios such as is described in the text and we experience.
With these texts as our backdrop we want to extend to our Canadian movement a call to "special prayer". The times warrant it. The process warrants it. Our inadequacy and utter dependence on the Spirit of Christ warrants it. The historic nature of where we are at in our movement warrants it.

We wanted to give you a heads-up regarding our call to prayer this side of the Christmas swirl so that we can hit the ground running in January. Please be watching for updates and instructions as to how we will be engaging corporately throughout January. We will be accessing multiple means of prayer throughout this season. Our hope is to find ways to engage together right across the spectrum of the contemplative and intercessory to the use of common prayers and fasting.
Be thinking and planning ahead about entering a fast for 21 days from January 11th through the 31st. Our Foundations Team will be meeting on that initial weekend and will step into the fast together during their session on that first Saturday of this prayer window.

One final thought. We have a snapshot of some of the first followers of Jesus gathering in Antioch in a posture of fasting and prayer while saturated in worship and waiting. "That they were fasting indicates the church was in a mood of particular expectancy and openness to the Lord's leading. Although evidence suggests the Jewish practice of fasting was regularly observed in some early Christian circles, the association of fasting with worship suggests a time of intense devotion when normal human activities like eating were suspended."3

Let's not lose the place of worship in all of this. It's deep in our Vineyard DNA. Jesus is at the heart of this all. He is our centre. He is our king. He is the object of our affection and devotion. Perhaps we'll discover some new liturgy, visual and other artistic expressions and music out of being in this space together.
More information will be coming right after New Year's. Be watching for details.

Have a tremendous Christmas. We are praying for you and your communities. Let the kingdom come.
David and Anita Ruis

3 Polhill, J. B. (1992).
Acts (Vol. 26, p. 290). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.