Missional Reflection #8 in a series where I quote a theologian and reflect on how it might shape a missional imagination. This quote is from Henri Nouwen.
"To pray is to unite ourselves with Jesus and lift up the whole world through him to God in a cry for forgiveness, reconciliation, healing and mercy. To pray, therefore, is to connect whatever human struggle or pain we encounter—whether starvation, torture, displacement of peoples, or any form of physical and mental anguish—with the gentle and humble heart of Jesus. ...
Prayer is leading every sorrow to the source of all healing; it is letting the warmth of Jesus' love melt away the cold anger of resentment; it is opening a space where joy replaces sadness, mercy supplants bitterness, love displaces fear, gentleness and care overcome hatred and indifference. But most of all, prayer is the way to become and remain part of Jesus' mission to draw all people to the intimacy of God's love." (Henri Nouwen, The Only Necessary Thing, 36).
The doorway into God's mission does not turn on the hinges of action. Nor does it open to us through Bible study or reading theology. We cannot embark upon mission through mission statements or clear strategies. We can do a lot of good things through such means—many of which might look missional—but most of the time we are trying to carve out a doorway toward something that ultimately is not God. This is the reason why pragmatic questions like "Can you give me a list of things our church can do to be missional?" are so dangerous.
Of course action is required for mission. Faith without deeds is no faith after all. The Bible and good theology can shape our imagination for what mission actually is and help us know the God that is on mission. And clarity of calling in our local setting helps us focus how God wants to move through us so we are not bogged down with endless needs and never actually do anything. But we still cannot start there.
God's mission begins on our knees.
We need God's eyes to see the needs around us. We need God's compassion to feel the pain that we see. We need God's love for people so that we will consider them more important than ourselves. We need God's power to do something about it. We need God's voice so we act with wisdom.
It is God's mission in the world, no ours. It's not the church's mission. It's not the mission of a missional community that makes a difference.
Prayer opens the door for entry into mission. Prayer as waiting on God. Prayer as coming before him with all that would hinder us from being bearers of his love. Prayer as a means for formation so that we can actually be God's light in the midst of the darkness.
Prayer actually makes us into the kind of people who have something to go forth on mission. It is a missional practice, on that shapes us to be missional instead of just doing missional action.