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Prayer

At our weekly Bible study yesterday evening we began what is intended to be a series of meetings looking at the practice and understanding of prayer in the Christian tradition using written prayers from its various periods and strands along with passages reflecting on what prayer is or was thought to be. We began with a selection of Old Testament “prayers” (excluding the Psalms and using a fairly wide definition of prayer).

We read:

  • Abraham’s plea on behalf of Sodom and Gomorrah from Genesis 18;
  • David’s response to God’s promise that his descendants would sit on the throne in Jerusalem forever from 2 Samuel 7;
  • Solomon’s appeal for wisdom in 1 Kings 3;
  • Nehemiah’s prayer for success in his meeting with King Artaxerxes of Persia to ask for help in rebuilding Jerusalem (Neh 1)
  • Job’s repentance of his defiance after God appears to him in the whirlwind (Job 42)

What I found fascinating is how much easier we find it to think about God and God’s nature than we do to pray. Our discussion of prayer was overshadowed and crowded out by a set of issues only indirectly related it:

  • Do we believe God to be active in the world or do we believe that the course of events is independent of anything God wills or does not will?
  • Do we believe that God is implicated in the suffering of the world by allowing or even causing it?
  • Who or what do we think is named by the name “God” and in particular is the God we name the same God as the one named by Moslems, Jews or other religious believers?
  • Does the Biblical text have any authority over or even relevance to contemporary people, including those who call themselves Christians and attend churches?

My own answers to these questions are predictable in minister of the Christian church who professes a faith bound by (my understanding of) the normative orthodoxy expressed in the confession of faith of the United Reformed Church (UK). I believe that God is active in the world, that the relationship between God’s will and the world’s ills is inseparable from human sin and God’s mission of salvation, that the one true God is the three-in-one, one-in-three Father, Son and Holy Spirit revealed in Christ and that the Biblical text is the highest authority over our life and faith.

That is, though, only the beginning of the discussion since how we should conceptualise all these matters is both complex and contested. If we had to answer any of these questions definitively before we could pray then there could be no prayer. Indeed I think that they are important only insofar as they act as barriers to prayer. Somebody who can’t answer any of them AT ALL but who can sincerely and prayerfully address themselves to God is in a much better place spiritually (which is to say has a much healthier relationship with God) than somebody who has sophisticated and well worked out answers to them all but is unable to find a way to come into God’s presence.

This is not to suggest that we wasted our time going round these matters again but rather to say that it is only worthwhile if it removes barriers that are preventing prayer. I sometimes worry that theology can be a form of prevarication, a way of delaying the dreaded moment when one comes face to face with God in the privacy of one’s own room (as Jesus recommends in his teaching on prayer during the Sermon on the Mount).

Prayer, it seems to me, is ultimately an admission of dependence and helplessness. We turn and appeal to God when we know ourselves inadequate or overwhelmed. This is not the only kind of prayer, of course, we offer praise and thanks and we offer almost routine pleas for blessing but in all of these we acknowledge a power beyond us towards which we can turn only an appeal, not an offer or a bargain.

Our unwillingness (or inability) to do this is the heart of sin and some of our discussion of theology expresses this as it finds reasons to delay and evade the simple act of saying: “Lord God, help me in my doubt, guide me in my uncertainty, comfort me in my suffering, soothe me in my anxiety. Lord, be gracious to me and bless me, in the name of Christ”.

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Different people will have different ideas and feelings about what is happening in intercessory prayer:

  • some will have a vivid sense of addressing requests to a personal God who will listen and respond while others will struggle to imagine such a God and have more of a feeling of sending their words into the unknown;
  • some will believe that their prayers might make a real and important difference to what happens while others will find that difficult to accept, for a variety of reasons;
  • some will feel comfortable with expressing their own wishes and desires in prayer while others are more inclined to say to God “as your will not as mine”;
  • for some it will be natural to pray about things that are concerning them at the moment of prayer while others will feel that some things are more worthy of prayer or more important than their own concerns.

No doubt there are other such differences between those who are offering prayer. It might be interesting to explore them in our sessions in the future. The main point for me now is that as the person leading the congregation in prayer the intercessor has to try to do two things at once. On the one hand it is essential that the prayer offered comes from the heart of the one leading it. It is vital that you mean what you say, that your prayer expresses your own true relationship to God in that moment, whether that be total trust and love towards the Father of Jesus or a doubtful hope in an unknown distant God. On the other hand the prayers have to be ones that the whole congregation can sincerely join in with. Prayers that don’t mean much to many members of the assembly are not appropriate in public prayer.

One reliable way to manage this is to use familiar forms and words from the traditions of the Church. These have evolved over a long time to be helpful to a wide variety of people in all sorts of situations. For this reason they are a safe and helpful resource when in doubt. There are a variety of such forms offered by a wide range of books and web-sites. My own first preference is to use one of the prayers offered by the URC Worship Book when I’m struggling to write my own.

These traditional forms can quite legitimately be used exactly as they appear but can also be adapted and expanded if there are particular prayers that need to be added. In most cases there will be a suitable “slot” where they will fit. In our case the prayer focusses in the prayer cycle and anything in the prayer request book will need to be put in in this way.

These traditional forms are also helpful with some “technical” things. For example they guide us in making sure that all our words are addressed to God (as is right in prayer) and not to the congregation. If words are to be addressed to the congregation (and sometimes this is helpful if otherwise they would not be clear what they were praying about) these can be separated out as what are known as “biddings”. These call the congregation to prayer about some particular need or situation, so we might have a bidding that says:

“Let us pray for our friend xxx who has suffered from a heart attack and is in hospital at Barnet General.”

This would be followed by a prayer that says:

“Lord, we pray for the comfort and healing of xxx bring her through this time of trouble and restore her to fitness.”

This avoids the awkwardness of appearing to be telling God what’s happened in order to inform those praying.

For some of us prayer is primarily about asking God to do things, to bless, heal, reconcile, feed or comfort. For others these actions need to be carried out by human beings and prayer will tend to take the forms; “Lord, help us to …” or “inspire people to …”. There are good arguments for both and nobody should feel they need to pray in one way if their heart inclines them to pray in the other. Nor is there anything to prevent a single set of prayers including both kinds of prayer. We might say: “Father, bring healing to those who are sick. Guide and lead those caring for them.”

The most important thing of all is that the prayer offered is sincere. If you can’t mean something then don’t include it. If world peace seems to you just too much to ask for, then don’t ask for it. If you are uneasy about praying for our Queen and her government, then don’t. One of the gifts we get from having a large number of different intercessors is the assurance that if we don’t pray for something then somebody else probably will.

Similarly don’t worry about being having a wonderful way with words. When we join together in prayer the main thing is the quality of our connection with God. This will be enhanced for some people by beautiful words but these might even get in the way for others. A simple statement of what you want to say to God is the best thing. Look into your own heart and discern what you are being moved to ask for and then ask for it directly and without fuss or embarrassment.

The form of prayers should be clear and easy to follow. It is usually best to group them into clearly demarcated sections. A traditional structure is to pray for the Church, then for the nations, then for those near to us. Prayers for those in need may follow – the sick, the lonely and the troubled.

If responses are to be used these should be clearly communicated before the prayers begin and kept quite simple.

snailHaving just started my second year in stipendiary ministry I’ve realised that I have failed to keep a promise I made to my congregations and to myself. I said I wouldn’t even try to change anything in my first year. I have made some changes, or rather tried to introduce some new things and I rather wish I hadn’t. On the other hand some new things have “happened” without my particularly trying, and those I am very happy about.

 

This has led me to reflect on a number of different things and this post dwells on one of them. What time do we live in and at what speed? For tonight’s church meeting I am using one of the daily lectionary passages as the basis for my opening devotions. I have been given (or chosen) the well known passage from 2 Peter 3 which says that: “With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day.” My year here is like 365,000 years and like a minute and a half  and the 80 years one of my churches has existed and the 70 years the other has are like 25-30 million years and like a little over an hour and half, God’s time.

They are periods longer than anything meaningful to a human being and periods too short to do much at all. My ministry and even the ministries of my churches are on a scale where, in God’s time, nobody’s efforts make much difference to anything. Why then do I so often feel burdened either by the feeling that I don’t have enough time (in all sorts of ways) or that I need to hurry? Living at God’s speed(s) I either couldn’t keep up or wouldn’t be able to discern any movement.

All too often we are driven by a desire that Christianity or the Church be relevant, that it should “make a difference” but we constrain that desire by forcing it to conform to our time, which is neither of God’s times as Peter describes them. We live in a middle time, determined primarily by the length of our lives. In that time, and on that horizon, it is impossible to discern the things that really matter from the point of view of God’s time.

From that point of view the two kinds of things that matter are: on the one hand, the great historical processes and shifts that no individual can really control or determine, the changes in patterns of family life, of economic organisation, of political structures, of technological infrastructure, of language, of thought; and on the other the individual moments of a life, the connection with one loved, the help offered to one in extremis, the prayerful insight into God’s nature and will. The vast and the tiny are what matters at the scale where a day and a thousand years are exchanged for one another.

Some of the areas where I have tried to hurry and short-circuit the processes of congregational development and discernment to which I am theologically committed have been driven by my trying to make God’s time conform to my time rather than submitting to God’s speed.

I have discerned the need for things to happen and have thought that they need to happen at MY scale and in my time. I need both to slow down and to speed up. Slowing down means really valuing and prioritising what happens in a moment and with one or a few people. I know this, really, the Bible studies I lead are some of the times in my ministry where I feel most nourished and most in touch with the Spirit. When we gather round the word and insight comes and the Spirit present I thrill to God’s love and action in Christ. Nothing obvious happens as a result, no projects or transformations are easily discernible afterwards but when one day is like a thousand years a 2 hour Bible study is like a whole lifetime. What happens in that session has its own absolute value.

Equally when a thousand years are like a day then the whole of my ministry here amounts to a fleeting moment in a lifetime. It can be spent any way that seems best at the time since it will soon be over and can be forgotten and moved on from. Looking for “results” from it is futile and unnecessary, that is in God’s hands, as I am an instrument for his use. I shouldn’t worry about what will be achieved but rather submit to the guidance of the one who can see at the scale required.

I found it challenging but fruitful to pray the prayer for grace with which I was taught to begin each session of the Ignation Spiritual Exercises:

Lord, grant me the grace that all my actions, operations and intentions be ordered solely to the service and praise of the divine majesty.

This grace would enable me to live at God’s speed(s) and I pray for it,

lazySomeone I know socially and who has no connection with or experience of the Church asked me this week about what my objectives were and how my success was measured, as an employee of the Church. This is a question I have thought about quite a bit and in answering I set out these basic starting points:

  1. I do not regard myself as an employee of the church. The money I receive is a stipend, not a salary. It does not reward me for work done but rather frees me from the necessity of supporting myself and my family by working. It allows me to live a particular way of life rather than paying me to do certain things.
  2. I was not recruited by the church to fill a role. I was called by God into this way of life and the church recognised and supported that call. I did not choose this way of life out of a range of options having considered the pros and cons of each. Rather I was chosen for it,
  3. The way of life of a minister of word and sacraments is a continuation and special case of the way of life of any Christian disciple, We are “set apart” to some degree, as recognised by our ordination, but this is a matter of degree not of absolute difference. All Christians are set apart by their call into the Church, a setting apart recognised in the sacrament of baptism.
  4. The relationship between being a Christian and being in and serving the Church is a difficult one to fully grasp. I do believe that there can be no real discipleship apart from the Church, the body of Christ, but I also recognise the validity of, for example, the hermetic life, or of new communities of discipleship answerable, initially at least, to no earthly ecclesiastical authority. Whether the Church exists to enable individual discipleship or vice versa is not a resolvable question, in my view.

This set of starting points implies, for me, that some of the measures of success in ministry cannot be really adequate:

  • Growing the church numerically: while this is a good thing in most cases it cannot be a real test of whether a minister or church is faithfully responding to their call. Some churches grow without, in my view, showing forth the gospel in a fully realised way. Without wanting to join in the knee-jerk condemnation of the “prosperity gospel” I do have reservations about it. Sometimes and in some places it is easy to grow a church by following a tried and tested formula. There’s nothing necessarily wrong with this but neither it is either the only or an infallible test of ministerial integrity (there’s a first clue to what I think is at stake in the question)
  • “Making a difference”: some would contend that the first responsibility of the Church and of its ministers is to improve the lot of those who suffer, “pastoral” care in the sense of looking after people. This might express itself in things like soup kitchens, food banks, bereavement counselling or various kinds of advice, support and social provision. Again these are undeniably good things but I can imagine ministries that include these kinds of thing but leave me feeling that some core elements are missing (Word and Sacraments, roughly) while others that have little of this but seem to me to be faithful and complete.
  • Proclaiming the Gospel: this comes nearest to being a completely adequate account but has some difficulties. It could be argued that if one faithfully and consistently proclaims the gospel to the best of one’s ability, in terms of understanding and of exposition, then that’s enough. However this can’t be all there is to it. Loving particular people is clearly demanded and more central than this would allow.

It may be that one is unable either to grow the Church, or to make much difference. One’s opportunities meaningfully to proclaim may be limited by there being nobody willing to hear, None of this prevents a ministry that is faithful and successful.

The key is in the idea of vocation, in my view, and in the vocation as a particular one. Each is called as the person they are and called to a particular place and a particular life. The only measure of success that makes any sense to me, theologically, is against the call. Has the person called discerned what they are being directed to and have they striven as best they can to answer, to obey? Anything else must be a secondary matter that supports this core.

Discernment is a difficult discipline. It requires a struggle against the self and against temptation. But if we are at all serious about our language of vocation and of call it is the only kind of assessment of the ministry of individuals and of churches that makes sense. There is no “objective” yardstick that can enable us to short circuit the prayerful listening for the Spirit that enables discernment.

My training in this has been primarily in the Ignatian tradition, through the Spiritual Exercises, and I remain committed to the principles of this way of prayer. In it the Christian is encouraged to trust in the promptings of the Spirit in what gives life and hope. One pays attention, in oneself, to what feels right and what feels wrong. The truth is sought in the way the Spirit moves one in quietness and contemplation.

The only true test of success in ministry, on this basis, is the way in which the prayer and spiritual life of the minister develops. Do I experience the love of God more fully, day by day? Do I love those among whom I am placed more, day by day? Am I more confident and faithful in respect to God’s promises? If so, then I am probably responding as best I can. If not, if I do not grow in love for my community, if I am dissatisfied and distrustful in respect of God, if I am unhappy, guilty, angry, bored, then something is wrong.

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When I was ordained last September I made a number of promises:

  • to live a holy life and to maintain the truth of the gospel, whatever trouble or persecution may arise
  • to fulfil the duties of my charge faithfully,
    to lead the church in worship,
    to preach the Word and administer the Sacraments,
    to exercise pastoral care and oversight,
    to take your part in the councils of the Church,
    and to give leadership to the Church in its mission to the world
  • as a minister of the United Reformed Church to seek its well-being, purity and peace, to cherish love towards all other churches and to endeavour always to build up the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church
  •  to exercise my ministry in accordance with the statement concerning the nature, faith and order of the United Reformed Church

Of all of these the one that seemed most challenging as I prepared was that to “lead a holy life”, not least because it’s far from clear to me what that means. It’s worth noting that there is no qualification to this. It doesn’t say, for example, “to lead a holier life” or “to lead as holy a life as I can”. I promised to lead “a holy life”.

So what does a holy life look or feel like, now that I’m leading one (assuming that the strength of Christ, on which, following the form given in the Basis of Union, I said I would rely, suffices, and that the the life I am now leading is holy)?

The answer, if I’m honest, is not holy enough. The holy life feels like a struggle. This week in particular I’ve been struck by a strong feeling of not living in a holy enough way precisely because I don’t feel myself to be relying enough on the strength of Christ.

The main way in which this lack holiness expresses itself for me is anxiety. I find myself worrying quite a lot. Am I meeting expectations? Is my worship sufficiently worshipful? Have I visited everyone I should have visited? Have I done enough about this or that difficulty facing my churches? Am I well enough prepared for that event or meeting? Is there anyone I should have spoken to that I haven’t? Will this plan or project come to fruition? Is there more I could do to help it do so?

This worrying does not feel holy. This worrying is not productive. It distracts me from prayer and from pastoral care and oversight. It does not, to me, seem like relying on the strength of Christ. Relying on the strength of Christ would, if one were really to be able to do so, pretty much prevent worrying, I think.

My worries, I suspect, all come from my seeking to control the future and to get a firm grip on my own performance. I want to rely on my own strength and resources. I want the “holiness” of my life, the validity and “success” of my ministry, to be mine. This means first that I need a set of outcomes I can observe and measure so that I know that everything is as it should be. This might be growth in the church. It might be the approval and even affection of those among whom I work. It might be financial, it might be any of a number of things. I want to be able to look and see and say “this is going well”.

The difficulty with that is that having a result I’m trying to bring about means that failure is possible. Depending on one’s approach to goal setting it might even make failure inevitable. How much growth is enough? How much love do people have to show? How many visits? How many services? How much evangelistic endeavour?

This way of proceeding, of setting targets and measuring results, comes naturally to us. Our education system is constructed largely around it and during my years of secular employment I took part, on both sides, of the “appraisal” systems that rely on exactly this structure: set targets, monitor, assess. This was to set an “objective” score of the individual’s performance.

I’m coming to think that a central aspect of the holy life is a break with this. Holiness, it seems to me, must be most of all about repentance, about changing one’s mind, so that one becomes less sinful. And contrary to a widespread view I don’t see sin as primarily moral. Sin, in its essence, I believe, is reliance on one’s self. The primary (“original”) sin is precisely morality itself, the attempt to know good and evil for oneself, to eat of the fruit of the tree.

Holiness is reliance on God, on the strength of Christ. If you’re worried about your holiness (as I am) this is a sure sign that you’re not holy enough (yet) but it’s also, perhaps, a sign that the Spirit is working in you to make you more so. The worrying isn’t the Spirit’s work of course, it’s the way you’re resisting it.

So, this next week I’m going to try to worry less and pray more. Come, Holy Spirit, come!

This week Anne Sardeson, our synod training officer, came to run one of a series of sessions she has been delivering to the elders at Potters Bar. These have been going for a while but this was the first since I arrived. I was looking forward to it, since although I’m new to the synod I already knew Anne and expected good things. I was in no way disappointed.

The theme for the evening was pastoral care and in particular this aspect of the elder’s role. We looked at the various aspects of pastoral care in a Church context and especially at how it relates to spiritual growth. We touched on the historical development of this part of Church life and at its relationship to discipline (on which I have previously written here). We thought about the general issue of how to combine “managerial”, “pastoral” and “spiritual” leadership in the collective body of the eldership.

This led me to reflect on what has been, to me, the most surprising part of my formation for ministry, the place of prayer within it. Until quite recently (say within the last five years) prayer made no sense at all to me. My Christianity began with ideas (as explained here) and progressed to participation in the Church community but the kind of direct personal relationship with God required (in my view) for prayer came late. To address oneself in speech of thought to God seems to me to necessitate confidence that there is somebody there to hear.

Without this confidence prayer can feel or seem inauthentic (I sometimes hear public prayer that appears to me actually to be addressed to the assembled people rather than to God, the “Dear God help us to ,,,” model of intercession as sermonette), I could never reconcile myself to this and so repeatedly refused to lead intercessory prayer in my congregation where lay participation in this part of the service was a well established practice.

I began to learn how to pray first through making the Ignatian Spiritual Exercises (something I’m surprised to note I’ve not written on before). This discipline of prayer (which I undertook on retreat for the first part, praying for an hour five times a day for a week, and in daily life, praying for an hour daily 5-6 times a week for a year with some breaks of a few weeks) made a huge impact on me.

Initially one learns and practices a variety of techniques that enable listening to God and the address to and conversation with God is something to which one comes gradually and carefully. This worked wonderfully well for me. My sense of faith as relational developed and grew using these techniques and under the guidance of the director or companion who helped me through the process. Doing the Exercises made prayer (and discernment) real for me.

This meant that as I began my formation for ordained ministry my prayer life had reached a point where I was able to lead public prayer with feeling fraudulent (although I can’t really say, of course, whether my prayers have always seemed real to others). The practice of regular prayer in worship helped me further. As somebody who values the liturgical tradition I have always tried to fit my prayers to the classic Reformed orders. Approach and confession, thanksgiving and intercession. These four great movements of the Reformed liturgical pattern structure and discipline my public prayer and I love that great movement and pattern.

What seems like a great breakthrough came, though, late in my training, during my final placement. One of my fellow students told me about his experience with his supervising minister. This minister placed a strong emphasis on prayer throughout the life of his church and especially always included prayer during pastoral encounters. This will probably seem obvious to many people but as I was told about it it came to me as a revelation. This is what distinguishes the pastoral work of the Church from that of, for example, a school or a commercial organisation. We are committed to the idea that when we meet together God makes a third. Prayer is our acknowledgement of this.

In discussions of pastoral “work” in the Church I have often heard puzzlement and frustration expressed at how to “add a spiritual dimension”. I used to wonder about this myself. Now it seems obvious and unproblematic to me. The answer is prayer. I now always offer prayer as part of my pastoral encounters (or when I, occasionally, don’t regret it). This, often very short, shared prayer is for me the centre of the event, although temporally it usually comes at the end. In prayer we come together before God explicitly stating his presence as the condition for our meeting.

All this came fully into focus for me through our very open and powerful discussion of both the joys and the difficulties of the role of pastor (ordained or lay). I had, myself, a strong sense of the Spirit at work among us, leading us into a new phase of our life as a congregation and especially as its leaders. I anticipate both challenges but also opportunities to deepen my own prayer life as I explore it with the people among whom I have been called to serve. Together I believe we can all journey further into our relationship with God and discipleship to Christ.

As I prepared the prayers for our worship at Greyfriars this week I was struck forcefully by something I had never previously reflected on about my approach to public intercessory prayer.

The prayers in our services almost all follow the order; approach (with praise and adoration), confession (with assurance of pardon), [the Word including sermon], thanksgiving, intercession, [blessing and dismissal]. This ordering makes enormous sense to me in the context of the faith as it finds expression in our Reformed traditions.

The way I have habitually framed the second set of prayers (which usually groups thanksgiving and intercession together) is that it begins by offering thanks to God both for creation and redemption. I thank him for life and for all that gives life and I thank him for seeking us out when we turn away. This is filled out by reference to what I find in the Scripture, the hymns, and the circumstances. I then turn to intercession, to the requests we wish to make.

It is at that point that this week’s revelation came to me. I almost always (in my mind if not always in the words of the prayer) think of this in terms of confession. I assume that our request is that God act to make things other than they are. My thoughts and prayers turn from the things for which we can be and are thankful to the things we would prefer to be different. My intercessions focus on violence, sickness, loneliness, disaster, poverty, hatred, famine and war. The link to confession is that all of this must be connected somehow to sin (I say somehow, I don’t claim to understand the connection and I don’t think every suffering can be traced causally to some human failing).

As I prepared this week’s prayers I looked, as I sometimes do, at the worship books both of the URC and of the Church of Scotland. On this occasion I was particularly struck  by one of the sets of intercessions I found in Common Order. This was a lovely set of requests that God bless a range of people and activities. There was no focus on the ills of the world but rather a wide ranging invocation of the shape and texture of human life with a call for God’s gracious government over them. This seemed very beautiful and faithful to me and linked the intercessions more organically to the thanksgiving.

In some ways this is very true to the lives of many of our congregations and members in the mainstream churches. While everyone has their problems, hurts and woes our people on the whole are to be found among the comfortable and successful, in my experience (which I know to be partial and incomplete). They experience sickness and death, of course, but not so much war, famine and disaster. Their relationships do break down but if statistics are to be believed they are better than most at sustaining their marriages and family lives.

In any event as I reflected on this contrast (my inclination to focus my intercessions on all that is broken against asking for blessing on what is functional and nourishing) my thoughts turned to the great problem (for me) of faith. If the world is redeemed why do children starve? How can the death camps exist in a world under the sovereignty of Christ? If Jesus came to save the world why does it still look so fallen? How do we make sense of the already and the not yet of the Kingdom of God?

I don’t (you won’t I suspect be surprised to hear) have any answer to these questions that could close them down. This problem seems to be to be the very heart of faithful living. To sustain one’s belief both in God’s sovereignty and God’s goodness in the face of the world as it is, of the awful and undeserved suffering of so many, is the great challenge.  The attempt to resolve it (perhaps through the medium of an afterlife that restores balance, like Kant’s, or through the causality of sin) seems to me to fall short.

When Jesus commanded us to pick up our crosses and follow perhaps part of what was meant was exactly this. An unflinching awareness both of our responsibility to all who are broken and despised, bullied, tortured and abused, hungry, cold and abandoned, along with our incapability to discharge that responsibility is what I reach for whenever I prepare for a confessional prayer. There is so much that is wrong , so little we can do, that sometimes our charitable and campaigning action can seem to me like mere gesture, just a salving of our consciences.

The only way that I can go on is to trust in the God revealed in Christ, both that he sees and forgives the inadequacy of my response to all that I see and that, somehow, justice will be served, the oppressed will be set free, the hungry fed and the lonely comforted.

This is my faith, insofar as I can, by the grace of God, sustain it, and I believe our task to be to live into it. To strive to live as Christ would have us live while never losing sight either of the inadequacy of what we can do or of God’s love that sees and forgives it.