Things Hoped For

I’ve been privileged to serve as a columnist for Faith Today magazine here in Canada for two stints, the second of which continues to the present. (Yes, of course you subscribe, don’t you?)

But I recently happened across the “signing off” column of my previous stint (1997-2003), and it was sobering to see how, after a decade, the concerns and aspirations I had then are chief among those I have now…

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I have had the privilege of hoping for a lot of things in this space. As I give way to someone else, I’ll list a few more hopes I have for the Canadian Church:

  1. I hope that we will help younger leaders who are quietly struggling to take their places in the shadow of older ones. Empowering younger people is hardest, it seems, for leaders who once themselves were “young lions” and who hate to admit that they now represent the past more than they do the future. How many people in leadership on your board or staff are under 50? How many are under 40? Are any under 30?
  2. I hope that we will improve our financial support for churches and other Christian organizations. We are a wealthy country, yet there is hardly a Christian organization from coast to coast that isn’t very hard pressed to do its work well. Yes, we can keep telling them to learn to do more with less. Wouldn’t we prefer them to enjoy the challenge of doing more with more?
  3. I hope that we will learn both to confront genuine and important sin in authentic church discipline, and also to lovingly moderate our complaints about secondary matters. We need more discernment, fibre and, yes, fire in our hearts about issues that are central to the gospel, and more charity, humility and temperance about issues that aren’t.
  4. I hope that we will recover our denominational distinctives, so that the gifts God has given peculiarly to each tradition—whether Presbyterians, Pentecostals, Mennonites or Brethren—will not disappear into a generic evangelicalism. Let’s rejoice in our ecumenical harmony, but not in our increasing monotony.
  5. I hope that we will improve adult Christian education. We persist in terminating people’s Christian education as soon as they finish high school. The result shows up in that many churches across the country by now have offered Alpha programs to inquirers—only to find that their own Christian members were enjoying it as brand new teaching!
  6. I hope that our intellectuals will enjoy our mystics, and our mystics will affirm our activists, and our activists will support our intellectuals—and that we will all seek to learn from each other, since none of us is only a head, or a heart, or a hand.
  7. I hope that we will care more for the needy: for the poor, for the mentally troubled, for foster kids, for the elderly, for the sick, for the dying, for the lonely. We are all so busy, and Jesus one day will ask us, “In all of that activity, did you ever care for me?” (Matthew 25:31-46).
  8. I hope that we will value our children and particularly their spiritual formation. We need to provide excellent Sunday schools and kids’ clubs, with good materials, good spaces, and good teachers—not just babysitting. We need to provide excellent youth programs, whether our churches are large or small. (How much status and money go into youth work in your congregation?) And we need to provide excellent “family services” that really do aim at the whole family in tone and content, rather than remain adult services with perhaps a “children’s moment” as garnish.
  9. Finally, I hope that we will pray more and better. That we will read more and better. That we will recover Scripture memorization, spiritual conversation, separation from vice, purity of speech, family Bible reading, and other disciplines of vital holiness even as we reach out to our neighbours with the affection and vigour and persistence of our Lord.

 

I dare to hope for all of these because I have faith that our Lord hopes for them, too.

A Prayer for Every Day

This last month, while venturing hither (vacationing in the Okanagan Valley) and yon (working in Sydney, Australia), I have been paging slowly through a splendid collection of the spiritual writings of Alexander Men (1935-1990), the astonishing Russian Orthodox pastor, teacher, and martyr, translated fluently by Christa Belyaeva and edited sensitively by one of our alumnae, April French.

Here is a prayer he composed for Lent (what the Orthodox call “Great Lent”), but it’s a fine prayer for any and every day:

I believe, Lord;

Establish my faith.

I hope in you, Lord;

Strengthen my hope.

I have loved you, Lord;

Purify my love and kindle it.

I am broken, Lord;

But increase my repentance.

I honour You, Lord, my Creator;

I groan for you and call on you.

Direct me by Your wisdom;

Protect me and strengthen me.

I surrender my intentions to You, my God;

May they come from You.

May my deeds be done in your name

And my desires in your will.

Enlighten my mind, strengthen my will;

Purify my body, sanctify my soul.

May I see my transgressions,

That I may not stumble in pride;

Help me to overcome temptation.

May I glorify You

All the days of this life you have given to me.

Amen.

Well, Maybe, Sister Anne…

Concerned friends have asked me about Anne Graham Lotz’s recent call to prayer that will culminate tomorrow (July 7) in a 7-hour time of prayer and fasting. So for what it’s worth, let me register here a few questions and concerns.

There is never a bad time to call God’s people to pray. There is never a time when we do not face a “day of the LORD.” And I believe in the imminent return of Jesus, so urgency should always mark the Christian’s life. Still:

1. Is this about America, or the world? (Or are the two pretty much the same thing?!) I recognize that America has a unique role to play in current world affairs, but it doesn’t follow that America is the key to the world’s welfare. So why this confusion of categories between “the world” and “the USA”? Read the rest of this entry »