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This year I’m encouraging our teams to allow God to make it a journey of ambitious prayers and a faith that expects the Living Grace to miraculously touch others through our words, actions and lifestyles. The thought is partly inspired by a remark of CH Dodd’s in his commentary on Romans1: my latest breakfast reading book.

 

He explains that the etymological meaning of the word ‘Shaddai’ (an ancient divine name of unknown origin) is ‘he who suffices’, which is helpful, given that the more common rendering ‘almighty’ has become set in the concrete of cliché. He also points out that there is a deep and powerful generative moment in faith that is ‘the negation of all activity, a moment of passivity2 out of which strength for action comes, because in it God acts.’ We western, activistic people of faith have frequently been guilty of killing or even skipping that ‘moment of passivity out of which strength for action comes’ and hence not allowing God to act at all. Instead of opening a door, our so-called faith closes the door on God’s power and gives ‘faith’ a bad name—but what is worse is that the lying illusion of faith remains unchallenged, like an imposter prime minister ruling a nation.

 

We are all implicated in this charge of reverting to what could be called the ‘hollow faith’ of a man in a hurry who blusters about ‘simplicity’ and has no time for learning and reading. But reading is where you get to ‘stand on the shoulders of giants’ and to mine their treasures. One such treasure-book is a collection of letters called ‘Yours Jack’ by CS Lewis. In there he repeatedly tells his friends to be sure not to leave their main prayers until just before they go to bed at night. I read this a number of years ago at a time when I was battling with extreme busyness and praying mostly just before I collapsed into bed at night—but God wouldn’t let up on me about it and eventually I made a commitment to take ten-minute prayer-walks at certain times during the day. What I discovered was that this passive/contemplative aspect of my prayers became much richer, enabling more strength for action and nerve to wait and allow God to act.

 

One definition of faith says, ‘Faith in Jesus Christ is not an understanding of the world but an event that has happened, is happening and will happen.’* Another says that it is ‘belief + trust + action’. Looking back on my faith journey (and it will probably happen again in the future too) you would think that sometimes my definition of faith was simply ‘belief + action’, which is not much different to a secular vision of religion where God is at best a noble lie maintained by ‘Cultural Christians’ whose faith is a mild version of the ‘belief + action’ type. So much for all that stuff about the ‘event’ of a surrendered soul unleashing God’s power to change a heart and a neighbourhood.

 

If we aren’t careful we ourselves can become a self-fulfilling prophecy, a ‘belief + action’ producing Christian who’s a sorry imitation of the real thing and impotent in the face of evil simply because we have not allowed that creative passivity, out of which strength for action comes: the trust element of faith. Instead (for example) we are paralysed by the sheer emotional busy-ness of a soul that’s stuck in front of a computer screen on a lounge chair and literally has no time or space for this kind of thing in their frantic soul. We could call it ‘franticide’: dying slowly of emotional busyness.

 

Such a way of life prompted Nicolai Berdyaev to say, ‘There’s something morally obnoxious about modern activistic theories that deny contemplation and recognise nothing but struggle. For them not a single moment has value in itself except as a means for what follows.’ Is that moment of passivity, where you could be inviting God to act, being stolen from you by nothing more than worry-wart prayers about your budget? Planning how to win the next level of the game? Or maybe just the screen itself—sitting there in front of you, a symbol of your impotence, a mocking accusation that your faith is so devoid of strength for action that you can’t even get up for a ten minute prayer-walk down the road because ‘all that stuff about trust complicates things too much’? Belief + action is so much easier.

 

1Dodd CH. p.15 Romans 1:16,17 Hodder & Stoughton 1947

 

2ORIGIN late Middle English (in sense 2 of the adjective, also in the sense ‘(exposed to) suffering, acted on by an external agency’): from Latin passivus, from pass- ‘suffered,’ from the verb pati .

 

*Can’t remember the source

 

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