Be strong and pray at all times!
Good advice from Paul in his letter to the Ephesians, and helpful that it is our reading on the same day as a difficult passage in John’s gospel, where the reality of some of the challenges of following Christ are brought into focus.
Being Kingdom People, followers of Jesus is the very best way to live, but it also encompasses death. Death to self, following Jesus to the cross, laying down our lives as he did - difficult teaching to accept. No wonder the disciples grumbled and complained, and some of them decided they couldn’t, or wouldn’t, take the tough parts of this faith journey along with the blessings. But those who knew Jesus best, the twelve who had walked closely with him, they were sure they had found the Holy One of God, the one with words of eternal life, the one who they would follow to the end. They had certainty that his words were indeed words that gave life, but they were also close enough to him to know that the life on offer was one they could not live in their own strength. They would need the Holy Spirit. Their strength would need to be in the Lord.
I am sure that you, like me, at times feel simply that life is just too hard. Certainly in this last year we have faced so much, and even as we emerge in fits and starts from the pandemic, life is a struggle. The ongoing impact of covid will be felt for a long time to come, and we don’t yet fully know the toll it will have taken on the education of our children and young people, jobs and the economy, hospital waiting lists and mental health issues. So how are we, as people of faith, to respond?
Be strong in the Lord and the strength of his power, standing firm, clothed in truth and righteousness, confident and secure not because we are good or strong, but because God is. When our faith is in him, when we are growing as kingdom people because we are rooted in prayer, holding on to the word of God and worshipping him creatively, we are able to withstand the ravages of covid, knowing our eternity is secure, and that the Spirit of God gives us life.
Then we can prayerfully proclaim the gospel of peace, inviting others to explore the mysteries of the kingdom of God, that they too may come to believe, become disciples of the one who gives life in all its fulness.
We have a vision in this diocese for many, many healthy and sustainable churches, groups of disciples who will share hope and transform their communities. The wider Church of England vision urges us to become a simpler, humbler, bolder, church.
I believe this short passage in Ephesians captures both those themes wonderfully. Simpler - pray at all times about everything, as led by the Holy Spirit. If we do simply that, it will change the way we live! Humbler - be strong, but not in our own strength, in the strength of the Lord. Those early disciples who gave in when it got tough are example enough of just how hard the life of a Christ follower can be if we try to do live it in our own strength. True humility means recognising our utter weakness and acknowledging that there is nowhere else reliable to go other than to Jesus. We need all his strength, wisdom and protection to get through. Bolder - with that prayerful strengthening, we can be bold to share the message of the gospel, knowing it is truth and life.
If our churches are full of people growing in this simple, humble and bold way, they will be healing and sustaining communities of faith, healthy and sustainable churches, able to withstand whatever comes our way.
May we be communities of faith who are strong, and who pray at all times!
- One of my friends used to encourage her children to prayerfully put on the armour of God on their way to school each morning. What might help you to get into a daily routine of clothing yourself in God’s strength?
- What could help you pray simply, humbly and boldly at all times?