The last few days have been busy – here are some first thoughts on the GPF topic of how context affects preaching/what goes on in the church.
On Thursday night we attended a prayer service at RedPoint, the church who is very generously hosting us. Like many of the things we attended in our first week, we were not entirely sure what we would experience. When I heard “prayer service” for “about a hundred people” I thought that we would sit or stand in a circle or a couple of circles and pray together (one person at a time), as well as praying silently by ourselves for a time.
I was in for quite a surprise! We began by standing and singing a few songs. There were no rows or circles of chairs – in fact, there were no chairs set out at all. The room, a smaller worshiping area than the main gathering space, quickly began to fill with people singing, swaying, raising their hands. People arrived ten, fifteen, twenty minutes late and just popped in, joining the music.
And as I was thinking to myself, “What a strange prayer service this is with no prayer”, the prayers began. I’m not sure how exactly it started now – it’s been a few days and the energy in the room was so palpable my head was spinning. The general pattern was that someone would come up to the front and read a passage from the Bible or tell the congregation something that they thought needed prayer. And I remember thinking what an amazing thing – that people would get up front in the church and ask for God’s presence and healing and grace in different parts of their lives.
A man on the church’s staff came up to the microphone, asking for prayer for ROC, RedPoint’s ministry on the university campus just about a kilometer away. There have been strikes by the students in recent days, and ROC was not sure if they would be able to have the regular Friday night gathering because of it. This young man told us all about what was going on – a police officer hit with rocks, burning tires, and other riotous behavior because of the fees the university is imposing. And then he started to pray. He prayed crying out to God for God to calm the rioters, for dialogue to be opened up between the Student Resource Council and the University, and for the campus to be made safe again so that it could open for both learning and ROC’s ministry.
As soon as he began to pray, so did everyone else. But not in the hands folded, head bowed, mumbling quietly under one’s breath or silently sort of way. The gathered assembly of God’s people broke out into spoken prayer as well, inspired by this young man’s need and his own prayer. The energy was palpable. The clamor of noise was tremendous. The number of conversations going on with God were too many for the human ear to latch onto and comprehend all at once. The people prayed with fervor, with earnest, submitting their request to God. Some hands were folded, some not. Some heads bowed, some stretching toward the ceiling. But all were praying for God’s presence in that request.
And it was the same with each of the other six or eight or ten people who came to the front to bear their needs before God and the community.
It was something I’d never before experienced.
Afterward, I began to think about this fellowship proposal, and of how changes in society, culture, and life affect how the Gospel is preached. And no, this service wasn’t one with preaching – but these events clearly affected the spiritual lives of those who experienced them. These changes that they lived through shone a different light on the Gospel message that they had already heard. I’m not sure exactly what that was for them, but for me that new light was a simple reminder that God is active in the world and that we need God to be active in the world. No matter how many times I’ve heard that very message before, it was an inspiring reminder to receive.
On Thursday night, the Gospel was clearly preached to me, without a formal sermon. In the presence of a community of people who believe in Christ, I heard the message that we need God to be active and we believe God is active in the world. I heard the message that we need to be surrounded by communities of believers on a regular basis. I heard the message that prayer matters. And I heard the message that God listens to his children.