Summary: Reaching out to new people demand that we pray for them first and foremost
During a recent church service in one of the “nicer” neighborhoods of Portland some visitors came to worship. They weren’t dressed like the rest of the folks. They had robes, neat but not spotless. The men wore beards and sandals and the women or headscarves. Their skin wasn’t milk white, in fact they were pretty dark. One long-time member in a gossipy whisper that was meant to be overheard said, “If they join we’re out of here.” Sad to say if that person doesn’t repent they may just wind up in hell for you see that Sunday Jesus, his disciples and Mary Magdalene were present for worship and they didn’t even see them. This person, so frightened of those people who didn’t look like they did, dress like they did, smell like they did, or talk like they did, needed to be asking the question that the teacher of the law asks Jesus, “Who is my neighbor?”
Last week we started looking at how we prepare our community to tell them about Jesus? And we started in a great place—prayer. But the community wasn’t our first object of our prayer. We were praying for ourselves. We pray we are able to accept those people that God puts on our hearts. We pray we will be able to ask the correct questions that lead to a chance to share our story. And we pray we will be able to step up and accompany them on their spiritual journey. We are the focus of those prayers. Because we don’t want to be like those gossiping in the back of the church. Say, did you wonder about my statement about them being in hell? Check out 1 John 3:14 “We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love our brothers. Anyone who does not love remains in death.”
But we’re going to avoid this because we have already this week become involved in the process of coming before God and asking Him to change us. I know that we haven’t all arrived at this place yet and that’s okay. But today we’re going to move on and look at specific ways that we are going to pray for the people that we’re writing on our lists and for our community as a whole.
As a general rule of thumb most people will come to us with needs and desires that they believe are at the root of their problems. If only this or that were taken care of then everything would be great. We need to pray for these “felt needs” of our neighbors. If the issue is job security we need to pray for their work. If the issue is health then we need to pray for healing. If the issue is peace than we pray for peace. But we also pray for insight into any deeper needs that may be there.
Let me describe a couple of scenarios that may well take place. You’re visiting with someone on your prayer list as you are pulling out the trash. After saying “Hi”. The person approaches you and small talk continues. During the conversation they tell you that their family is all messed up because of a shirt-tale relative who is now living with them. You sense God is telling you to “SAY SOMETHING STUPID” and so you say, “I can’t imagine how messed up that must be for you. I think I’m going to remember you in my prayers.” You part ways and you do just that, you remember the concerns in your prayers.
As you pray you also ask God to show you what else may be at the source of the disease you felt from your neighbor. And as you go about the next week or so you see someone you don’t know hanging around the house and you think to your self, “Self, this must be that person who moved in.” You introduce yourself and welcome them. In a few short moments you discover that they have become very discouraged looking for work and feel like a drag on their family for having to live there.
Part of the actual problem is one of jobs and work not just living arrangements. So you are able to start praying for something closer to the real need. As you continue to pray you’ll come to understand more and more what the “real needs” are. You might be told that money is an issue when in fact it’s how that money is used that’s the issue. McManus who spoke Monday night at the Gathering at Sunset Presbyterian told how the people near the church in East LA got saved and moved away. He said, “It’s amazing what you can do with beer money.” You may hear that the need is for their children when the real need is for better parenting skills. You may hear the problem is about dead end jobs when the real need is for the ability to read so that they can move beyond the limitations some people get stuck in. Do you see the difference between “felt” and “real” needs? Both are in need of our prayers but we pray through the felt needs to discern the real ones and that insight only comes through the power of the Holy Spirit. A