Reflection on Prayer and Spirituality.
Fr Owain Mitchell
I mentioned some time ago that part of my daily discipline is to spend an hour reading. I’ve just finished a great little book by Peter Kreeft and Ronald K. Tacelli called The Pocket Handbook of Christian Apologetics (2003). To be honest, it was a little hard going, Alister McGrath’s Mere Apologetics, or John Pritchard’s How To Explain Your Faith are much more accessible. But there’s some good material in Kreeft and Tacelli’s book, and it was worth persevering with.Â We also reflected recently on the Great Commission to go and make new disciples (Matthew 28:16-end). This month, I want to combine the two strands, and see if we can find encouragement, confidence and strength of spirit to share our faith with others. The two, our attention to God and the working of the Holy Spirit within us as we imitate Christ, and our making new disciples go hand in hand. If we say we love God, and value all that He brings to our lives, we want to tell others of these blessings, we want to share with others the good news of all that God does for us; want others to come to the way, the truth and the life.
In their conclusions, Kreeft and Tacelli state that they wrote the book for both Christians who may be trying to better understand the faith, and to learn how to argue for the faith, persuading others of its truth (apologetics) and for non-Christians who are perhaps reading their book out of curiosity, to find out what Christians believe, and why. The authors then address both groups, stating that, Believers can interpret [the following] remarks as practical battle plans, for they have already chosen sides. Nonbelievers can interpret them as a travel agent’s layout of the stages ahead on the Christian road …’. Clearly, as faithful Christians, we are in the first group. We, as disciples seek God in every thought, every conversation, every action. We seek our homeland in heaven, and we seek to deepen our relationship with God through prayer and spirituality. Part of our vocation or calling is to fight alongside Christ for the salvation of souls (not language we often hear in Churches anymore!) We are rarely hesitant to share our thoughts on a film, a restaurant or a place we’ve visited, yet the idea of sharing our faith story with others often scares us.
Four steps in becoming a Christian are then outlined:
- Mental belief. You cannot pray to a God you do not believe in. We pray, therefore we must believe.
- Repentance from sin
- Saving faith – which they describe as faith in more than just a mental sense. Saving faith is the ‘acceptance of Christ as Saviour’. It’s taking our faith from our heads into our hearts.
- Living out the Christian life.
The authors argue that you cannot accomplish steps 2, 3 or 4 unless you take step 1. [Remember, the book also aims to help Christians encourage non-Christians to take step 1]. But they go on to say that even for step 1, the intellect is not enough, and the will in necessary. ‘For no one will believe unless they are willing to believe … it takes the will to open the mind as well as to close it. They go on to say that prayer is the evidence of God. It may take time, but the surest evidence for God is that He hears and answers prayer, when our prayer is asked according to His will and in His time. ‘… if you do not put unfair restrictions on God, like demanding a miracle (your way, not His) or certainty by tomorrow (your time, not His). [Prayer requires] honesty, not faking a faith you do not have. Honesty is a choice of the will – the choice to seek the truth no matter what or where – it is the choice of light over darkness, ultimately heaven or hell’.
Kreeft and Tacelli’s final paragraph reads, “Honesty is infinitely more momentous than we often think. It is also much harder than we think. Our culture trivializes honesty into merely ‘sharing our feeling’, telling others about the state of your nerve endings. That’s not the opposite of dishonesty, it’s just the opposite of shame, or shyness. Shallow honesty seeks ‘sharing’, deep honesty seeks truth. Shallow honesty stands in the presence of others; deep honesty stands in the presence of God”.
This month, Nina has done just this. She has stood in the presence of God and openly shared with us something of her faith, and of what God is doing in her life. We all do this implicitly as we worship God together, or talk over coffee. We may even have conversations about what we believe with those who profess to have no faith, maybe family members and friends? We attempt to live out that Great Commission. This is sharing our faith and engaging in apologetics.
When I first read the Church of England’s recent report, Reform and Renewal: Setting God’s People Free, it seemed to simply be suggesting that because clergy numbers are so low, and likely to continue to fall, the laity must be trained to do the Vicar’s role. However, following a discussion at our last Diocesan Synod on the document, I now see it in a different light. The paper is really a revising of the 1949 Temple Report. It’s about how the church equips and enables the laity to have the confidence to share their faith with others; to make new disciples, that is, to do apologetics. A mix of lay and ordained people then spoke for no more than two minutes, about how they share their faith. It was a fascinating time. One of the speakers, a practicing Barrister, pointed out that if a church has 100 congregants over the week, and each one shares their faith story with ten people, that’s 1,000 people that have heard the Christian message, add to that the 1000 the priest may encounter in 2000.Â If just 1% respond and begin searching, then that’s 20 potential Christians. And faith is infections – if a church grows by 80 each month, others will wonder what the attraction is and start coming along to their local church, if only to see what the attraction is.
Another speaker (a priest) has kindly let me have his script and allowed me to share his thoughts with you:
Setting God’s People Free, Clergy Response
I welcome the report, which I believe is a timely call for the whole church to recruit church leaders who are able and equipped to train and release ordinary church members into operating as disciples of Jesus Christ in their ordinary everyday lives 24\7.
Mission is for the many not the few!
The health of the church is not measured by is seating capacity but by its sending capacity. Christians gathered for worship on a Sunday need to be equipped to be Jesus disciples in the world, as we are sent out Monday to Saturday.
How can we give greater confidence to Christian disciples to witness for Christ every day?
- Sharing my story. A simple 2 minutes explanation about how I came to faith in Jesus Christ and the difference he makes to my life. Write it, practice it, use it. Confidence!
- Sharing Jesus story. Learning a simple outline of the good news, so you can explain to someone else the story of Jesus. Practice it, learn it and use it when the opportunity arrives
- Sharing Bible stories. Teaching Christians to learn some gospel stories about Jesus that they bring into a conversation or invite someone to explore with them over a number of weeks. Four or five simple questions. What does this story say about God? What does this story tell me about people? Where do I fit into the story? Is there a command to obey or a promise to believe? What one thing do I want to share with someone else from this story?
- Teach all disciples of Jesus to offer to pray with people when then share a need. Make the offer, pray out loud so they can hear your prayer. People will be touched and become more open because of your care and concern.
- Help the congregation to know what their spiritual gifts are so that they can understand how God may be already using them in the work place, through the gifts he has given them, in leadership, pastoral care, concern for justice, administration, teaching etc.
Prayer and spirituality is not about locking ourselves away from those around us and standing in God’s presence. Our prayer and our spirituality are the resources which enable us to stand in the presence of God and speak honestly to those around us about our faith, and about what Christ has done for us, and continues to do for us. It is about becoming open to the stirring of the Holy Spirit within us, that Spirit which Jesus assures us will give us the words He wishes us to share with others when the opportunity arises. In the words of the famous hymn by Revd. E. Burns, “We have a gospel to proclaim, good news for men in all the earth“