We Do Not Know How To Pray As We Ought
Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how topray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes* with sighs too deep for words. – Romans 8:26
Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. – Romans 12:12
But we appeal to you, brothers and sisters,* to respect those who labour among you, and have charge of you in the Lord and admonish you;esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves. And we urge you, beloved,* to admonish the idlers, encourage the faint-hearted, help the weak, be patient with all of them.See that none of you repays evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to all. Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise the words of prophets,* but test everything; hold fast to what is good; abstain from every form of evil.- 1 Thessalonians 5:12-22
As bishops of The United Methodist Church, our hearts break because of the divisions that exist within the church. We have been in constant prayer and conversation and affirm our consecration vow “to guard the faith, to seek the unity and to exercise the discipline of the whole church.” We recognize that we are one church in a variety of contexts around the world and that bishops and the church are not of one mind about human sexuality. Despite our differences, we are united in our commitment to be in ministry for and with all people. We are also united in our resolve to lead the church together to fulfill its mandate—to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. As we do so, we call on all United Methodists to pray for us and for one another. – Statement from The United Methodist Council of Bishops
One would think the Bishops had asked us to poke one another in the eyes with sharp sticks, if one only considered the comments both on the linked piece as well as the comments on the same linked piece at the Facebook Group “Progressive United Methodists”. Acknowledging our division; speaking the name of that which divides us; calling upon all of us to pray for the Bishops, for one another, and for the whole United Methodist Church: These are not just important steps in a far longer process. The Bishops follow in the tradition of St. Paul, part of whose legacy is not only prayer for others, but admonitions to pray in all circumstances, indeed to pray without ceasing. To live one’s life as prayer.
In the midst of our disagreements, nothing is more necessary than prayer. Prayer for our leaders, from our local pastors up to and including our Bishops. We need to be in prayer for our local congregations, for our districts and District Superintendents, for our Conferences and the member churches, the Administrative and Episcopal and Ecclessiological leaders and servants. Most of all, we need to be in prayer for those with whom we know we disagree, even if we may not know their names, because there is little doubt there are those with whom we disagree strongly. It was Jesus Christ who called us to bless those who curse us, to love our enemies, to always live in love toward others, even if it meant our death. Nothing that drastic is involved here; the Bishops are doing nothing more than calling upon the whole Church to be in prayer for the whole Church. This is not just proper Episcopal advice; it is proper Biblical advice.
All one need do, however, is scroll down the linked article at the United Methodist News Service, and it becomes quite clear that a call to prayer sounds . . . weak to many in our midst. For example, revlar wrote in part: “With all due respect; this is a weak and disappointing statement. We have been called to be in prayer regarding human sexuality but that is not prophetic or ground-breaking or Pastoral.” Conqui wrote:
Asking people to pray, talking about loving each other, encouraging us to make disciples of Christ are nice platitudes but does nothing to have specific conversations about the specifics of disagreement. What in God’s name has the so-called task force accomplished towards the specific goals it was given a year ago? The ways the Cou[n]cil of Bishops is avoiding dealing with actual things that will result in true and specific conversations are more than shameful, they are destructive.
Finally, someone posting only as “You’re not welcome anymore” was the most harsh:
“guard the faith”…. Translation: protect the book of discipline and keep Gays and SSM couples out of the church at any cost. Worthless fools guarding the gates reassuring some of us there is no “open door, nor an open heart” to be found in the old mainline UMC.
It’s almost like some folks resent being reminded that we are to live in prayer. It’s almost as if some folks do not believe in the power of prayer to change lives.
The title of this post comes from St. Paul’s letter to the Romans. He reminds his readers that even our most earnest, fervent prayers are little more than jumbled nonsense, groanings that the Spirit translates and hears as the deepest needs of our hearts. Rejecting a call to prayer . . . it goes against Scripture. It goes against tradition. It violates the most basic canon of reason. It makes a lie of our experience of prayer. It is, in other words, as unWesleyan as you can get.
Not only should we heed this call to prayer; we should advocate it in our local churches, making it a request during congregational prayers – asking for prayers to heal the divisions within and among the people called Methodist; for our leaders who are no less divided than we are; for a passionate but ultimately fruitful conversation and process in which we hear the answer of the Spirit in our collective life.
I’m disappointed by so much vitriol directed at a call to prayer. It hurts even more than the divisions and acrimony at the heart of our disagreements, and is all the evidence we need that ours is a hurting people, in need not only of prayer but the Holy Spirit to come and be with us, among us, in us, and for us. We are in this together, so praying for all of us is as necessary as breathing. What else can we do, if we are to be the people of God gathered as United Methodist Christians?