The voice and words of Bishop Rueben Job have been a source for both comfort and challenge in my ministry for the past 28 years. This quiet and gentle man with a voice that was rarely above a loud whisper could silence a room of shouting Methodists not with volume, but with the sheer power of his words. I had the privilege of calling him my bishop for 8 years. He ordained me…twice (that’s how we United Methodists did it back then; evidence to the contrary, it was not an act to remediate my ministry). I saw him silence an arena with nearly 2,000 fussin’ and fightin’ Annual Conference members; not only that, he got these 2,000 members to actually kneel and pray. Understand, we UM’s sing and talk about praying on our knees; but we rarely do it.When they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken; and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God with boldness. – Acts 4:31 (NRSV)
How often has the Christian community of which you are a member prayed for boldness to declare the Gospel? Probably not very often since we don’t place great value in boldness to declare the Gospel. But what if we did? What difference would it make in our lives, our congregations, and the communities in which we live? The early disciples found that praying for boldness gave them the wisdom, the faith, and the power to live faithful and effective lives. What are we praying for today? - Rueben P. Job, A Guide to Prayer for All Who Seek God, p. 270.
For these reasons and more, I am always keen to hear/read and consider his words. The quote above has challenged me over the past few days. I feel convicted by the questions he asks…
· How often do we pray for boldness?
· What would happen if we did?
· If we’re not praying for boldness to proclaim good news, what are we praying for?
I think back on years worth of “celebrations and concerns” shared by my church families before the pastoral prayer. I’ve never – that I can remember – been asked to pray for boldness on behalf of the congregation’s ability to proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ through word and deed. Mostly, we pray for people we know with problems and conditions that concern us (national and international tragedies/disasters being the exceptions). Mostly, we really are expressing our feelings of helplessness in light of those problems and conditions and camouflaging them in expressions of concern. I’m not saying this isn’t important. But, to limit our communal prayer time to individual requests and concerns robs us of an opportunity to pray, as a community, for a boldness of witness that can only be accomplished when Christians function as community.
I think Bishop Job is correct in his observation that we place little value in boldness for the purpose of declaring the Gospel. We value boldness in declaring support at athletic events, political rallies and concerts, among others. But, expressing ourselves with boldness for the purpose of declaring unconditional love, immeasurable grace and the continual opportunity for transformation??? Not so much.
I dare you. This week, if you’re in a worship service and the person up front asks for prayer requests, ask that God bless that church with holy boldness in proclaiming Good News in word and action. If you’re the person who is up front asking for the prayer requests, then add your own petition for boldness (if no one else beats you to it).
Seriously…I dare you. I’ll double-dog dare you if that’s what it takes. Let me know what happens…