Prayer & Intentional Action

Part 1: Prayer

In their book, Becoming the Answer to Our Prayers, Shane Claiborne and Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove look at three key prayers in the Bible and draw out lessons for “ordinary radicals.” The title of the book highlights the over-arching theme–after we have prayed for the needs of people around us (“God, encourage my struggling friend.”) or the world (“God, take care of the hurting, provide food for the hungry, spread your peace.”), we need to get up off our knees and be about this same work.

Matthew 9:35-38 and 10:1-15 demonstrate this progression from prayer to action. At the end of chapter 9, Jesus instructs his disciples: “The harvest is huge. But there are only a few workers.  So ask the Lord of the harvest to send workers out into his harvest field” (9:37b-38, NIRV).

Ask the Lord to send workers. Pray to God, requesting people to be sent.

And immediately in the next verse we read: “Jesus called for his 12 disciples to come to him. He gave them authority to drive out evil spirits and to heal every illness and sickness” (10:1). After naming the twelve, the Bible reports: “Jesus sent these 12 out…” (10:5a, NIRV).

I pray, “God, send someone.” And God replies, “I’m sending you.”

Part 2: Three Dimensional Answer

In both books and in conversations, I have heard the sentiment that Jesus’ acts of compassion were secondary and minor compared to his real work of dying for our sins. I’ve heard this from mainstream evangelicals and in Adventist Sabbath Schools.

For example, Kevin DeYoung and Greg Gilbert present this argument in What is the Mission of the Church?: Making Sense of Social Justice, Shalom, and the Great Commission. Excerpts:

We know this sounds heartless, but it’s true: it simply was not Jesus’ driving ambition to heal the sick and meed the needs of the poor, as much as he cared for them. He was sent into the world to save people from condemnation (John 3:17), that he might be lifted up so believers could have eternal life (3:14-15). (p. 55)

Don’t miss this fact: there is not a single example of Jesus going into a town with the stated purpose of healing or casting out demons. (p. 56)

In Mark, as in the other Gospels, there are plenty of miracles and acts of service to celebrate, but they are far from  the main point. (p. 56)

The focus of his ministry is on teaching. The heart of his teaching centers on who he is. And the good news of who he is culminates in where he is going–to the cross. (p. 57).

The authors do spend significant portions of the book discussing appropriate social action for Christians. “We are of the strong opinion that the Bible teaches that we Christians are to be a people of both declaration and demonstration, and that our churches are to be communities of both declaration and demonstration” (p. 223). Yet, consistently they stress the prominence of proclamation over demonstration. This could be seen as a splitting of hairs if not for how they apply it to evangelism and church ministry, prioritizing word over action.

In contrast with DeYoung and Gilbert, the first half of Matthew 10 speaks against this dichotomy or hierarchy. Before returning to Matthew, let me interject a quote from Ellen White that was used in two presentations at The One Project in Chicago this past weekend:

Christ’s method alone will give true success in reaching the people. The Saviour mingled with men as one who desired their good. He showed His sympathy for them, ministered to their needs, and won their confidence. Then He bade them, “Follow Me” (Ministry of Healing, p. 143).

Dustin Aho used the quote when discussing UReach ministries at Loma Linda. Additionally, Sam Leonor incorporated this into his message on evangelism. Sam broke it down to three words–mingle, proclaim, demonstrate.

Returning to Matthew 10, we see these three dimensions clearly as Jesus calls the disciples to be the answer to their prayers. After giving them authority, Jesus instructs the disciples to go and mingle: “go to the people of Israel” and “look for someone who is willing to welcome you. Stay at that person’s house until you leave” (10:6, 11).

Proclaiming the message of God was also central. “As you go, preach this message, ‘The kingdom of heaven is near’” (10:7).

Finally, they were to demonstrate the reality of the kingdom. “Heal those who are sick. Bring those who are dead back to life. Make those who have skin diseases ‘clean’ again. Drive out demons” (10:8). The fact that this element of demonstration is not a minor after-thought is seen in Jesus original bestowal of authority in verse 1–“He gave them authority to drive out evil spirits and to heal every illness and sickness.”

All three components were critical to, or central to, the way of Jesus–mingle, proclaim, demonstrate. Relationships, words, and actions are all essential. I believe we should not minimize any of the three central features of Jesus’ call in Matthew 10 as DeYoung, Gilbert and others argue. May we follow the guidance and example of Jesus as presented in the Bible and by Ellen White (and Sam Leonor and Dustin Aho). May we keep this balance in our own lives and congregations and ministries.

– – –

Clarification. My wife responded: “It sounds like you only want people to read the Bible and Ellen White, but I think you mean to say there is good in our history to draw on without excluding all other.” Me: “Good clarification. There is much important writing outside our faith community, and also within it.”

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