Let all your works give you thanks, O LORD, and let your faithful ones bless you.
Three themes run through these readings – perseverance, praise and peace. Jesus promises peace, but not as the world gives peace. In the story in Acts we see very clearly that “worldly” peace didn’t materialize for the disciples. They face stoning and persecution. Yet, they persevere and rejoice in the evidence of God working in their midst despite the danger and chaos around them.
We see in the passage from Acts some community practices that may have helped the church community persevere in praise and peace in these troubles. In two places the passages talk about “commending” some ministry to the Lord. They clearly understood that “commending” the ministry to the Lord didn’t mean that no work was required on their part – they didn’t just pray for the Gentiles, they went to work with them. However, they also recognized that it was not all up to them – they came back to report “what God had done with them.” One can imagine the prayers of expectancy in the community – the calls on the promise of the Lord to be present in those ministries and the expectation that the Spirit would move through those called. The prayers could be all the more confident given the reports coming back to the disciples of answered prayers. These commending prayers were considered of vital importance – important enough to justify fasting and spending considerable time together on them.
Are we willing to invest in this kind of commending prayer for ministries of which we are a part? Are we watching with expectancy to see what God is doing through those ministries? Are we eager to report the things that we see to others and give God the praise? Can we encourage one another with these reports? If we’re troubled and afraid about what we see happening in our church community or world can we consider the promise of Jesus that he offers peace and will be working with us? Can we spend time praying with others (beyond the prayers of the faithful at mass or the congregation prayer at the worship service) and pray with expectancy that Jesus will be working through us? Can we take the time then to watch for the ways that the Spirit works through us in order to give thanks and praise to God and encouragement to one another?
I belong to a congregation that has recognized this past year that we’ve been lacking in faithfulness in this kind of community prayer. We have one very small group that has been very faithful with this kind of prayer for years and we’ve been blessed numerous times with reports from people about answered prayers. This past year we’ve been trying to get a few more people to meet regularly for 45 minutes a week to engage in this kind of prayer for our ministries. It’s humbling to recognize how hard this has been for us to do. It’s still much easier to get people to meet to discuss plans for a project than to get people to spend time in prayer together. Yet, despite our fits and starts we can see the great faithfulness and generosity of God at work with us. We see decisions that we made tentatively that end up being confirmed later by circumstances, we see volunteers emerge where none were before, we see otherwise unexplained healings and changes in circumstances and attitudes. Moreover, from personal experience I can say that the peace that Jesus promises pervades the prayer meeting itself. The value of the community prayer is not just in what God will do later – the experience of praying together in itself provides a sense of peace and encouragement for the work ahead.
May we commend our ministries to the LORD and may our mouths speak the praise of the LORD.
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