Many churches begin the year with an emphasis on prayer and fasting, seeking God for his direction, empowerment and missional blessing. In the January Herald, I invited you to join me in praying for the ministry of our conference and churches across Canada. Thank you for presenting leaders and congregations to God in praise and petition.
We started the year on our knees, but now it’s time for action. We put our dreams on paper, preach Holy Spirit-inspired vision, and execute plans and programs. The spiritual once again becomes practical. Soon our visions and activities will be weighed and called to account for their effectiveness.
So where do prayer and deed intersect? How do we take the petition of Acts 4:29–30 and turn it into bold action? “And now, O Lord, hear their threats, and give us, your servants, great boldness in preaching your word. Stretch out your hand with healing power; may miraculous signs and wonders be done through the name of your holy servant Jesus” (NLT).
The Protestant work ethic shouts: “Work harder, do more, give more!” The contemplative ethic tells us to pray more, go deeper with God, reflect on our activity. Perhaps the answer is in both.
I’ve often heard we should “pray as if everything depended on God and work as if everything depended on you.” This proverb (often attributed to Ignatius of Loyola) seems prudent – an appropriate mix of dependence on Christ and the Protestant work ethic that has served us so well.
While this saying appears wise at first glance, it’s poorly conceived. If we apply it to our lives, we risk falling into self-sufficiency and independence from God. It’s the Jesuit version of “God helps those who help themselves.” If I work as though ministry is all my responsibility, I’m liable to create my own kingdom based on my good works. Who needs God if I work as if everything depends on me?
Some suggest that St. Ignatius’ comments were more along the lines of: “Work as if everything depended on God, pray as if everything depended on you.”
Father Mark Stengel, who contributes to the Country Monks blog, summed it up well:
If I pray as if everything depends on me, I would have to pray with a greater sense of urgency and need, recognizing my own inadequacy. I would have to pray for the wisdom and strength that I will need. I would need to seek forgiveness and humility, so that my past sins and my present flaws might not be stumbling blocks for those I am trying to serve.
If I work as if everything depends on God, then I will go forward with greater confidence and energy, since the work to be done is in more capable hands than my own. If the outcome is in God’s hands, then I will perhaps be able to persevere in the face of opposition and apparent poor results. If it all depends on God, then I will not hesitate to ‘step out of the boat,’ out of my own comfort zone, as I try to serve. And if God is in charge, then he will not allow my mistakes to ruin his work, but will make all things work together unto good.
Shoulder to the wheel, submitted to God for his glory, led by the Holy Spirit in word and deed. Let’s make this practical.
The bigger picture
Although the personal application of Spirit-led, God-dependent ministry may be clear, what about our ministry as churches and conferences?
February kicks off provincial convention season. These events give voice to the past year’s ministry, and celebrate the coming year’s hopes and dreams for Mennonite Brethren across Canada.
The conventions will culminate with our national Gathering in Vancouver June 11–14, 2014. Mennonite Brethren from coast to coast will gather to worship, pray, report, discuss and make decisions. These events provide space to process ministry that our affirmed leaders have initiated in obedience to the Spirit’s leading. These leaders prayerfully and faithfully grapple with their responsibility to lead us in fulfilling God’s missional calling on his church in Canada.
We continue to reflect on Acts 4, praying for God to give us boldness in ministry – in preaching and ministering to a broken world. We continue to pray for the Spirit to pour out his supernatural ministry of healing and miraculous signs and wonders in the mighty name of Jesus, so that many will come to know salvation in Christ.
I urge us all to engage in our provincial and national conventions and to access the resources and opportunities to work together to join God in his mission. We have a responsibility to extend God’s reign in our communities and cities and to the least reached of Canada.
—Willy Reimer is executive director of the Canadian Conference of Mennonite Brethren Churches, and lives in Calgary with his family.