Faith in action
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Over the last fortnight, there has been a fair amount of ridicule and criticism directed at the Prime Minister over his suggestion that Australians ought to pray for farmers in light of the ongoing drought.
Many of the comments have been predictable, focusing on the supposed futility of prayer, and we as Christians shouldn’t be surprised by this. It is unreasonable to expect people with vastly different assumptions about the world to meaningfully comprehend Christian beliefs and practices, including prayer.
However, prayer does become a practice worthy of critique when it is used in such a way as to shield the Church from the necessity of being an alternative, witnessing, radical Christ-centred community in the world.
Whenever we pray for rain without needing to be a church that, in its common life, challenges the habits of consumerism, disposability, and disconnection from creation — habits that contribute to climate change — our prayers are a barrier to discipleship.
Whenever we pray for refugees without needing to be a church that, in its common life, challenges cruelty and nationalism, and welcomes the stranger, our prayers are a barrier to discipleship.
Whenever we pray for religious freedoms without needing to be a church that, in its common life, challenges the denigration of other faith groups, whether Christian or otherwise, our prayers are a barrier to discipleship.
Whenever we pray for marriage in Australia without needing to be a church that, in its common life, challenges domestic abuse, infidelity, and male domination, and seeks to foster healthy, lifelong partnerships amongst its married members, our prayers are a barrier to discipleship.
Whenever we pray for truth, justice, and reconciliation without needing to be a church that, in its common life, listens to the voices of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples of this land, challenges racism and national mythologies, and seeks genuine restitution for past injustices, our prayers are a barrier to discipleship.
And the list could go on.
If our prayers are the end of our concern, they are also the end of our discipleship. Indeed, our prayers may testify against us, and we should be willing to accept their judgement.
However, what if our prayers were not empty platitudes, but deep communion with God that led to faithful, Christ-like action? What if, instead of leaning back in our pews, we leant forward in our prayers, fully anticipating that this would propel us into participating in God’s justice?
That’s why I’m proud to be part of a movement like Common Grace that refuses to pray half-hearted prayers that absolve us of a compulsion to act. For we in this movement know that prayer transforms us; it is a practice that, by the Spirit, animates Christian discipleship, including our participation in justice and reconciliation.
The one who prays faithfully to the God of love and justice can never be passive in the face of evil. The question for us is this: Are we prepared to pray, knowing that it might turn the world upside down?
Matt Anslow is theology educator, a founding organiser of Love Makes a Way, and serves as the Vice President of the Anabaptist Association of Australia & New Zealand. He also has a PhD in theology from Charles Sturt University. Matt lives at Milk and Honey Farm with his wife, Ashlee, and three young children.