Our prayers will not be delayed
Daily Scripture reading and the Lord’s Prayer are as much part of my elementary school memories as multi-coloured crayons and freshly sharpened pencils. Our class would stand by our desks and recite the prayer together, regardless of faith or creed. Ursula (Lutheran), twins Sandra and Sam (atheist), Zahida (Hindu) and I (Catholic at the time) all dutifully prayed at the beginning of each day.
As a child, I figured everyone believed the same things I did. My thinking was confirmed as I watched my classmates recite the Lord’s Prayer. Of course, time revealed that not everyone shared my worldview.
Twenty-five years ago, three Ontario parents argued that reciting the Lord’s Prayer violated the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms (especially for children of non-Christian faiths). The court ruled in favour of the parents, effectively removing the prayer from the majority of Canadian public schools.
I don’t lament this loss. I’m inclined to see missional opportunities in the midst of a post-Christian, pluralist culture. I’m keen to learn what other people believe, and I’m honoured to tell them about my relationship with Jesus. I just don’t think faith – or prayer – can be legislated by the government.
A culture of prayer in our churches
As Mennonite Brethren, we are people of prayer. We pray easily and freely at our gatherings – for example, our recent study conference began with a concert of prayer, and each presenter was prayed for on stage. We take time to pray for others – I’ve been on the receiving end of many prayers offered earnestly and genuinely over the phone.
In cross-cultural settings, our commitment to prayer is evident. MB Mission – through SOAR and other short-term programs – is raising up a generation of young people who practise listening prayer as effortlessly as breathing. MCC representative Tim Schmucker said he was deeply moved by the prayers of Mennonite Brethren participants on a learning tour to Colombia: the spontaneous prayer they offered at each stop “was really powerful not only for us, but also for the Colombians.”
Congregations across Canada faithfully carve out time for community prayer. Consider the following examples:
• In Winnipeg, Philadelphia Eritrean Church’s regular prayer meetings often stretch into the early hours of the morning. Pastor Habtemicael Beraki says it’s hard to get people to leave, even when they have to work the next day.
• Every month, North Langley (B.C.) Community Church hosts an all-family night of prayer, which includes prayer activities for children.
• Calgary’s SunWest Church called its congregation to 24 hours of continuous prayer last November during a time of significant transition. “Our place is to pray, pray, pray, continually. We are in a battle and the power of prayer has more impact than any words I can write,” said pastor Bruce Gordon.
And now, the Canadian conference is calling all Mennonite Brethren churches to set aside time to pray this January, using the enclosed prayer guide.
I’m inspired by the thought of spending time with Jesus at the beginning of the New Year – to hear his voice and recommit myself to his purposes. I’m heartened that these prayers and reflections will be shared in churches across the country.
And I’m even more enthused (okay, daunted) by the thought of bundling up against the winter weather, trudging through snow and cold to meet with brothers and sisters to pray – every day for a whole week!
An old idea breathes new life
The concept of a week of prayer isn’t new. For many years, the Canadian conference published a prayer guide in the January Herald, joining with denominations across the globe by calling believers to prayer and unity as the calendar turns.
This year, the prayer guide is back. With an invitation to dedicate this time to meet God, I trust we will gather to raise our voices in a concert of prayer and praise, no matter what the weather’s like.