Monday, January 28, 2008

Praying

And lo, the Lord passed by. There was a great and mighty wind, splitting mountains and shattering rocks by the power of the Lord; but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind—an earthquake; but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake—fire; but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire—a still, small voice.
I Kings 19:11-12

The Times-Dispatch editorial column this morning (January 28) contained this “In Brief:”

The lower crime rates cited in Mayor Doug Wilder’s State of the City address justify considerable gratitude. The credit is widely shared. Many of the region’s most loyal citizens would direct at least a portion of it to Metro Richmond at Prayer.

Now, I’m not sure who these “most loyal citizens” are. I don’t even know whether their loyalty (to Richmond City, to Greater Richmond, to the Commonwealth, to the US of A, to the Braves?) is really significant. But, I would like to talk about how Metro Richmond at Prayer may have helped lower the crime rate here abouts.

For those of you with a short attention span, Metro Richmond at Prayer, an endeavor by Christian faith communities to “pray weekly for the community of Metro Richmond,” began just about two years ago. In its mission statement Metro Richmond at Prayer indicates:

We believe that God desires the healing of this metropolitan area. We also believe that God desires us to pray together and to pray specifically for transformation in our own time.

Metro Richmond at Prayer publishes for its participating churches a weekly prayer to be included in their prayer services.

Aside from its exclusionary nature (faith communities that are not Christian need not apply), I support the objectives of Metro Richmond at Prayer. I believe in the power of prayer. Prayer can be a life changing force when it motivates people to improve themselves and the world in which we live. As stated in a prayer book from an other-than-Christian faith community “Who rise from prayer better persons, their prayer has been answered.” However, as I stated in an unpublished letter to the TD editor in February 2006, “prayer without action is not enough.” In that letter, I questioned whether any amount of prayer alone would cause God to “fix” Richmond’s problems. I said,

[I]t was not God but people, through their actions and omissions, who brought Richmond to its present state. And, it will not be God but people, acting as agents of God, who will save our city.

We cannot look at prayer as a wishing well. We cannot view God as a jinni in a bottle who will “grant us three wishes.” Prayer does not change God; it changes us. As the prophet Elijah learned in the biblical passage I quoted above, God does not usually act in this world through dramatic events and miracles. Rather, God acts through a “still small voice” that causes us to change our attitude and our behavior.

If, as the TD suggests, Metro Richmond at Prayer has had a major role in reducing the crime rate, it is not because it has somehow gotten God to intervene and stop crime. It is rather because it has motivated people to change their behavior, to act as a community dedicated to improving the quality of life here in Richmond.

For members of Metro Richmond at Prayer, and for others for whom prayer is an important part of life, I offer this prayer, by Rabbi Jack Reimer, as your prayer for next week:

We cannot merely pray to You, O God, to end war; for we know that You have made the world so that all of us must find our own path to peace within ourselves and with our neighbors.
We cannot merely pray to you, O God, to end starvation; for You have already given us the resources with which to feed the entire world, if we would only use them wisely.
We cannot merely pray to You, O God, to root out prejudice; for You have already given us eyes with which to see the good in all people, if we would only use them rightly.
We cannot merely pray to You, O God, to end despair; for You have already given us the power to clear away slums and to give hope, if only we would use our power justly.
We cannot merely pray to You, O God, to end disease; for You have already given us great minds with which to search out cures and healings, if we would only use them constructively.
Therefore, we pray to You instead, O God, for strength, determination, and willpower–to do as well as to pray, to become as well as to wish.

1 comment:

BenjaminVa said...

Thanks for the blog entry, and for your plug for prayer (I also love the prayer you give at the bottom.) Metro Richmond at Prayer is not intentionally exclusionary. It’s just a joint effort of Christians who don’t normally do anything with one another. I am not aware of anything that I agree with, and certainly anything said by Jesus, my Lord, that suggests that God only hears the prayers of people who call themselves Christian. (that would be particularly difficult for Jesus, being Jewish and all). Personally, I hope and trust that persons of other faiths will grab a hold of the petitions in Metro Richmond at Prayer and be rigorous and faithful about them. But we’d need others to push that within their religion. So far as the theology is concerned — whether Metro Richmond at Prayer has anything to do with lowering the crime rate — I have no idea. I pray because I have to (and because I’m commanded to) and because I think God is trying to get us all on his agenda, which is the healing of the world. Prayer without action is pure hypocrisy. Prayer should drive you to action. And any action worth the name should drive you to prayer. I do believe that our God is working all the time to bring about the healing of the metro city and the world, and that he is praying for us and this healing at all times. As the prophet Hosea says — and as Jesus was fond of quoting him -- the Lord says, “I desire mercy and not sacrifice.” Thanks, Maven, for the intentionality of your concern and your witness to what is important.