Pastor's Pen - November 2019
"We have not ceased praying for you and asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of God’s will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so that you may lead lives worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, as you bear fruit in every good work and as you grow in the knowledge of God.”
- Colossians 1:9-10 -
Each Wednesday, I send to members and friends of our congregation an email with a devotional which I've written and the prayer requests which were shared in worship the previous Sunday. Each of those devotionals begins with the greeting, “To those who pray with and for First Presbyterian Church of Berthoud.” The italics are meant to remind us that both prepositions matter in terms of the focus of our prayers. We pray with one another in the church as we thank God for our joys together and as we name the needs of our fellow worshipers and our neighbors before God. But we are also called to pray for First Presbyterian Church as a whole. Dieterich Bonhoeffer wrote in his book Life Together that, “A Christian fellowship lives and exists by the intercession of its members for one another, or it collapses.” Applied to our life together, that means prayer for the well-being of our congregation is essential to our continuing life of worship and mission together.
While I was attending the Presbyterian Church USA's Vital Congregations conference in October, I was given a helpful resource to help us pray for our local church on a regular basis. As I said in my sermon on October 20, leaders from our denomination’s office of Theology, Formation, and Evangelism have identified seven marks of churches that are thriving. These marks are like vital signs, the heartbeat and oxygen level of a healthy church. These seven marks are:
· Lifelong Discipleship Formation (in contrast to complacency and lack of growth)
· Intentional Authentic Evangelism (in contrast to methods that feel manipulative or inauthentic)
· An Outward Incarnational Focus (in contrast to focusing inward on our own survival)
· Empowered Servant Leadership (in contrast to having the pastor do everything)
· Spirit-Inspired Worship (in contrast to stale rituals or consumer entertainment)
· Caring Relationships (in contrast to façades that hide judgment or hypocrisy)
· Overall Ecclesial Health (in contrast to dysfunctional systems, toxic patterns of relationship, or obsolete tools and practices)
When congregations do exhibit such health, we can never claim to do so under our own strength. Apart from Christ we can do nothing (John 15:5) and our churches are merely “clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us” (2 Corinthians 4:7). Yet that extraordinary power of God can also “work within us to accomplish abundantly more than we ask or imagine” (Ephesians 3:20). But this can happen only through prayer. Prayer enables a church to share in the power of God.
To help us practically live into such prayer, the Vital Congregations Initiative produced the prayer card which you see pictured here. Each day has different prompts for prayer based on the seven marks listed above. Like Paul’s prayers for the churches in his letters (Romans 1:8, Ephesians 1:16, Philippians 1:3), each day’s prayer begins with thanksgiving and praise. But each day’s prayer also asks the Lord for his help in bearing faithful witness. We need the Spirit’s power and guidance to proclaim the good news of salvation, grow in the image and likeness of Christ, and love and serve one another.
I want to invite you to make this a regular practice in your prayers for First Presbyterian Church of Berthoud. If you're reading a paper copy of this Parish Sounds, you might trim out this prayer card and keep it inside your Bible to remind you to pray when you have your devotions. Or, you might put it on your refrigerator or somewhere else where you will see it on a regular basis. If you're reading a digital copy of this article, you might take a screenshot of the prayer card and make it the background on your phone or your computer desktop to remind you to pray. Also, if you don't currently receive our weekly prayer email and would like to, you can just email Elizabeth in our church office and she will be happy to add you to the list. We even print and mail copies to those who prefer to paper to email. As a congregation, we are called to pray with and for one another, and as pastor of this congregation, I want to do anything I can to equip us for that work.
I sometimes wonder how the Apostle Paul could say, “We have not ceased praying for you” to the church in Colossae, or tell the church in Philippi that he was “constantly praying with joy” for them (Colossians 1:9, Philippians 1:4). How did Paul remember to pray for all of these different churches regularly? Did he have any system to keep track of the many prayer requests he’d received? Unceasing prayer doesn’t just happen. It requires discipline and practice. Tools like this prayer card help train us to pray daily, leading us to intercede for the Church with perseverance and persistence. Jesus taught his disciples to “pray always and not lose heart” (Luke 18:1). May we, too, aspire to such prayer together.
Grace and Peace,