Prayer Changes People

In June we held a gathering of Fresh Expressions pioneers focussed around prayer. During this time, Emily Sharman shared her story, which she’s put into words for us below.

Spring on the Leicestershire Nottinghamshire border is an organised event. The fields are either green or yellow and are bordered by muddy brown tracks and green hedgerows.

This is the landscape of my twice daily walk and my most productive time of each day.

This is when I pray.

I’m involved in corporate prayer in churches and colleges, friends homes and community spaces but for me, they are the spoken prayers rather than the prayers which power mission.

And today I’m talking about the link between the two… prayer and mission.

I find prayer quite intimidating, I look at other people’s prayers and they looks like the fields I’ve just spoken of. All ordered, planted and planned, nurtured, watered and fed and I know are hugely productive. They are part of the organised church and have supported huge missions and movements, they are the traditional expression of our faith.

My prayers are more like the hedgerows, I’ve always had them, I’m not sure who planted them, they are mixed wild trees with fruit bushes and weeds all around and occasionally something flies out the side and scares the whatnot out of me. But still I love them and return to them, the fields are someone else’s responsibility and the hedgerow mine.

When I first encountered prayer and mission it was in a traditional church who had been praying for a local mission project and I was its new leader.

The idea of celestial slot machine, God had got four churches praying for the same project, the more prayers they racked up the more successful the project. From the outset this seemed to be working, but the theology behind it was terrifying –  back God into a corner and convince him that your will was the right way to go and all these people thought so too…

Uncomfortable isn’t it, so prayer became a quirky interest of mine. How do you pray is not an easy one to ask at parties, but ask I do…

People pray with ropes, beads, silence, stillness, song, stones and knitting

Prayer and movement seem to go hand in hand, whether running, walking, driving or cycling people are able to pray on the go.

Almost everyone prays, even those without faith, the language is different but the action the same.

It’s a communication between humanity and the other, whatever that may be.

Prayer has great power change, and you can’t prove it but great things happen more regularly if you pray.

But the question of how does it work would not leave me, I have little time for deep theological study because I’m an activist, I just want the answer, and often that’s what I pray for.

Because I want to follow God’s will. I try to listen, I look for answers and often they are unexpected and challenging and sometimes they are exactly what I don’t want.

But the hedgerow prayers are the great tool of the Fresh Expression, they are quirky and don’t look how many think God’s mission should look, but the business as usual expressions of church are not going to reach those who are transactional, individualistic and proud.

Mission today is to our networks, our digital neighbours, our allotment friends and our coffee houses. Lego church may not help you talk to God but barefoot wanderers does. Contemplation and poetry may be your vehicle or rock music and quizzes. Reaching people and sharing the Good News is mission, the outworking of prayer.

Mission? A much-used word that many don’t have a definition for but a familiar scripture passage helps..

Matthew 28:16-20 : The Great Commission

16 Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. 18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

The Anglican Communion spelt it out as…

  • To strive to safeguard the integrity of creation and renew the life of the earth (I know this is the last one, but I think if you don’t have a planet you can’t do the other four)
  • To proclaim the good news of the kingdom
  • To teach, baptise, and nurture new believers
  • To respond to human need with loving service
  • To seek to transform unjust structures of society

This is what the physical out-workings of prayer look like. This is strong stuff, or as Andy put it, dangerous.

Mission is God’s action in the world, we are not the initiators we are the followers. Mission is the divine movement which we are all drawn to.

So how does prayer impact God’s mission?

It doesn’t, God is unchanging,

Which raises the question of, why bother if it’s just some great delusion which just makes us feel better?

Because prayer is a building block of our relationship, a chatter which opens the hardened hearts, un-stops the ears and allows us to breath in God’s spirit but all of this takes practice. So we pray all the time, listing the wounds of our world and wish list as long as your arm, we prattle on about the small niggles, the great sorrows and reach out for affection and protection from God.

I was on mission, in a pub with a Bishop a few weeks ago, I know it sounds like a joke, I promise it isn’t.

A young man full of anger and aggression threw a barrage of questions at the Bishop demanding to know the answers to questions which maybe government or the MOD could have answered. The Bishop quietly listened and then spoke, not answering the questions or dismissing the anger, he spoke directly to the pain of this man.

I was humbled to see such a missional response, such a prayerful response. Prayer is a way of communicating with God, a way of developing our relationship with the divine but it is not access to the divine amazon prime service, this is a two-way communication of love.

And to love is to act. Action is the visible prayer. Taking the Gospel out to those yet to hear it. Loving those yet to be loved, and being the children of God we are called to be.

You see that’s something I had missed, all the time the churches were praying for the same project, God was shaping each individual, through their prayer.

The whole towns praying power, was being opened to God’s power, and  given eyes to see and ears to hear, society was changing.

Missional activity was increasing, volunteers were stepping forward, money was donated and ideas were actioned because of the changes affected by God.

The hands and feet were given purpose and direction through the development and deepening of their faith.

But then they stopped praying, a Pastor retired, a vicar moved on, a Priest got tired, and a Deacon got a bigger work load, and the prayer declined and the project declined but it didn’t stop….

A new worker started and prayer is her mission, she’s visiting churches and asking for prayer, she’s got the project back on the prayer lists, and back in the paper and imaginations are sparking, and it looks good for the future.

They answered their own prayers. Or that what was my original conclusion, until I saw that it doesn’t explain the miracles, nope, it’s just an idea an observation and it may well be wrong.

God is still mysterious and we are still trying to understand our part in the divine plan.

We know that God is missional, he sent his only son to live and love among us and then die for us. The heart of God given to ensure that we find our way home.

So, we follow the muddy paths worn through the fields of prayers, they were made by the saints before us. We shall continue the work of the church in our quirky hedgerow ways, not as a replacement but a companion, listening to the wisdom of the fields as we hunt for the surprise in the hedge.

The mission of God is to love us, and us to love him, if we can pray our way to be a better future through the changing of our own souls, then happy days, I’m going for a walk.

Has anyone got a dog I could borrow?


Cover photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash