(Appeared first in April 2010, The Mennonite. Reprinted with permission.)
By Ervin Stutzman
One of my most humbling experiences in the past months is to have so many people say they are praying for me. I suppose two things have prompted these prayers. First, I have taken up a new and rather visible role in the church. People sense that my task will not be an easy one. Second, many congregations and church agencies responded to the planning committee’s invitation to write a prayer of blessing for my formal installation service at Park View Mennonite Church on March 7. I expect to be buoyed up by those prayers for a long time, especially during tough times.
The installation service was much more than recognition of my appointment; it was a celebration of God’s work among us—past, present and into the future. I recognize that our work as a church will come to fruition only as it aligns with God’s intentions for the world. This understanding lies at the heart of a missional church.
Although we’ve committed ourselves to become a missional church, I hear plenty of worry that this goal may be beyond our reach. Will we be able to survive our internal differences? Will we be relevant to the next generation?
We will do well to heed the counsel the Apostle Paul once gave to his protege: “I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone—for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness,” (1 Timothy 2:1).
Paul’s advice was a response to the tough situation that Timothy was facing in his ministry of oversight at Ephesus. Paul clearly believed that the first and proper response to difficulties was to pray, not only for the individuals at the center of the trouble but for all those who surrounded them. His concern stretched even to kings and all those in authority. In this time of anxiety, we can benefit by putting things first—committing ourselves to prayer in a new and deeper way. Let’s cultivate a deeper awareness of God and increase our sense of communication with God.
In this vein, I was encouraged by the words of Merrill Moyer at the Mennonite Church USA Executive Board meeting in Hampton, Va., in February. In a devotional reflection, Merrill cited a pastor who said: “If we fail to regularly remember who God is, what he’s done, what he’s going to do, we will make decisions on the basis of what we can accomplish without him, which restricts us to life of the ‘possible.’ This leads to discouragement, mediocrity, burnout … and other problems when we lose touch of what God is doing.”
At the same board meeting, David Miller, professor at Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary in Elkhart, Ind., spoke of “tracking God,” cultivating the capacity to detect the signs of God’s presence and movement among us. This discipline clearly informed Paul’s prayers; he wrote expansively of God’s work in the world. He prayed with joy for the people at Philippi, full of confidence that God was at work among them (Philippians 1:3-6).
How then shall we pray for each other in the struggles and worries we face as a church? As for me, I feel like I’m still learning how to pray most effectively for others. At times I worry that my prayers simply add to a mountain of requests that arrive as “junk mail” at God’s celestial mansion. Yet at other times, I pray with a strong confidence that God already knows what people need and that the Holy Spirit is interceding for them—sometimes with groans too deep for words. I invite us to learn together how to join our own groans with those of God’s Spirit, tracking with God’s actions in our church and far beyond.