When we think about influencing our culture for good, what are the first things that come to mind? What are the sorts of things we do when we want to make a difference?
Take politics, for example. When Americans want to steer the nation in a better direction, we vote. Elections only happen every two years so we don’t get to cast our vote very often which means we are merely observers of the political drama most of the time.
People who are really interested in politics might follow current events on the internet, watch political programs, and maybe even express their views through blogs, tweets, status updates, and chain emails. Those who are extremely engaged go so far as to attend or organize rallies, give money to candidates or political parties, or find other numerous ways to express their activism.
If Christians want to “win the world for Christ,” we form committees, draft mission and vision statements, publish our statements of belief, execute giving campaigns, preach, teach, start small groups, upload sermon podcasts, create a proper social media platform, and invite people to our buildings for events.
But after all of this noise and activity, what is really accomplished? And what price have we paid for our “success”?
Many Christians fail to take advantage of a form of power, influence, and service that is unique to the kingdom of God: prayer. Whether we’re talking about social activism or Gospel ministry, when we set out to make an impact on the world around us we rarely start with prayer. Christians too often try to influence society for good by gaining political power or by imitating the strategies of the corporate world, but the Church’s greatest form of social activism is prayer.
For those who like to ask, “What would Jesus do?,” one answer is certain: pray. Jesus modeled a lifestyle of prayer throughout his ministry. “But he [Jesus] would withdraw to desolate places and pray,” (Luke 5:16). “In these days he went out to the mountain to pray, and all night he continued in prayer to God,” (Luke 6:12). “Now Jesus was praying in a certain place, and when he finished, one of his disciples said to him, ‘Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples’,” (Luke 11:1). And when Jesus was facing the greatest trial of his life, he prayed: “Then Jesus went with them to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to his disciples, “Sit here, while I go over there and pray” (Matthew 26:36). If we want to follow Christ, we must follow him in prayer.
We not only have the example of Jesus, we have his instruction as well. One of Jesus’s most famous teachings on prayer is the Parable of the Persistent Widow.
And he [Jesus] told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart. He said, ‘In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor respected man. And there was a widow in that city who kept coming to him and saying, “Give me justice against my adversary.” For a while he refused, but afterward he said to himself, “Though I neither fear God nor respect man, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will give her justice, so that she will not beat me down by her continual coming.” And the Lord said, “Hear what the unrighteous judge says.”
The woman received justice because of her unrelenting appeals to the judge and Jesus teaches his followers to do the same in prayer.
One final note on prayer. The widow in the parable sought justice against her adversary. We could get motivated to pray against our enemies but what about praying for our enemies? In Luke 6:28 Jesus says, “Bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.” Jesus instituted an upside down kingdom unlike anything the people of his day expected and hoped for. Love for our enemies is one of the greatest and most challenging “upside down” aspects of kingdom living. What would our social activism of gospel ministry look like if we blessed those who curse us and pray for those who mistreat us?
Do you seek justice? Pray and continue praying! Do you have adversaries who curse you and abuse you? Pray for them! The ways of God and his kingdom are very different than the ways of the world. Prayer is a great example of this. Oftentimes the methods and manners that seem most implausible to us are very ones God has chosen to operate through.
Image: Courtesy of: http://troopstransition.wikispaces.com/riskprotect