This is a very interesting moment for the people called Methodist at Hope. Our denomination, and, sadly, our congregation, appears to be on the brink of fracturing over the issue of how the Bible informs our understanding of God’s will for human flourishing. On top of that, three years of Covid have shrunk our in-person worshiping congregation to about half what it used to be. If you look at opinion polls and church attendance numbers, you might think that the end is near…not just for Hope, but for the church of Jesus Christ in North America.
Six weeks ago, I participated in an online retreat for pastors hosted by Seedbed. One of the speakers was a woman named Becky Tirabassi. Decades ago, Jesus pulled Tirabassi out of a pit of alcoholism and self-destruction, and quickly led her into sharing the gospel with teenagers through Youth for Christ in her city. Her ministry exploded, and she was soon a leader within the Youth for Christ organization. She took her staff to a gathering of Youth for Christ leaders, convened by former heads of the organization. One of them told a story that changed Tirabassi’s life.
Three representatives from Youth for Christ had traveled to India to meet with government officials to get permission to bring YFC to India. It had been very difficult to get a meeting with government officials at all, and difficult to travel to India. At last, the day of the meeting arrived. The three leaders were escorted into the government official’s office. When he realized who they were and what they wanted, he immediately said, “No. Youth for Christ may NOT come to India. Please leave the country immediately.”
The three men went back to their hotel…and prayed all night.
The next morning, a messenger came to the hotel with a message from the government official. He had changed his mind. Youth for Christ was welcome in India. Thousands of people in India have come to saving knowledge of Jesus Christ through YFC in the years since.
Great story, right? But what hit Becky Tirabassi was that if that had happened to her, she would have gone home. And when those words came out of her mouth, I thought, “Me, too, Becky. Me, too.”
But God didn’t condemn Becky with that realization. He woke her up to something she didn’t realize she had access to: the Throne of Grace. God spoke to Becky at that YFC conference, and before she left, she knew that God wanted her to spend one hour a day with Him in prayer…and she WANTED to spend an hour a day with Him in prayer. And she has. Every. Single. Day. She jokingly calls it “the hour of power,” but that’s really what it is. Intimacy with God through prayer has changed her entire life, and through her life of prayer, God is building His kingdom. What happens between Becky and God in prayer is sending ripples of grace far, far out into the world.
When I heard Becky speak I knew God was speaking to me. I wandered around my house for a few minutes in kind of a daze. I found myself pulling a book off my shelf that I had read the first chapter of and abandoned years ago, Wesley Duewell’s “Mighty Prevailing Prayer.” I began to read Duewell, and his words stirred up a hunger in me to pray. And to pray knowing that my prayer was heard, and that prayer is genuinely a part of how Christ is building His kingdom in this time and this place.
The next day, I realized that we needed to start organizing for Alpha, and went to the alphausa website. What jumped off the screen at me was this sentence: “Alpha is perfectly designed to fail if God doesn’t show up. PRAY.”
I followed a suggestion from the Alpha website to launch an “11:02 Prayer Campaign” to encourage people to pray for “my friends, my community, and for Alpha.” My alarm goes off every day at 11:02, and I DELIGHT to pray for an ever growing list of people—people in the church and outside the church; people I know and people I have never met; people who love Jesus and people who are hostile to Jesus; people who are saying yes to our invitations to Alpha and people who have said no. And the more I pray, the hungrier I am to pray, and more I am aware of God’s love for me and for the world around me. Praying is changing who I am, and I believe it’s sending ripples of grace out into the world.
There’s tough stuff happening in the church and in the world. But God. We’re getting ready to launch our biggest ever Alpha courses at Patty and Russ Clements’ home on Monday March 6. Our Epic of Eden small groups and worship focus are taking us deeper into our relationship with the God of the Old and New Testaments. Attendance is even up a little!
I haven’t heard a word about it on my secular media outlet, but on February 8, God began to move powerfully among college students on the campus of Asbury University (yes, where Ben went for a semester) in Wilmore, KY, in way that was completely unexpected and unplanned. Dr. Steve Seamands, professor emeritus at Asbury Seminary, said that he believes that Jesus “is on a mission to give His heart to Gen Z.” That sounds like the Jesus we know, doesn’t it? Aslan is on the move.
Yes, the world is a hot mess.
How about less “ain’t it awful” and more prevailing prayer?
God may not be top of the charts in the North Eastern United States these days, but He’s still on the Throne. His kingdom is unstoppable, unshakeable, and unending, and every believer in Jesus Christ is a citizen of that kingdom here and now. Through your prayers, God wants His children to know the joy of seeing His kingdom come, His will being done on earth as it is in heaven. Right here. Right now. And this world is our mission field.
“Do not be afraid, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you; I will uphold you with My righteous right hand” (Is 41:10).