“Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf…” (Jeremiah 29:7)
On Thursday December 3 the cover of the New York Daily News read “GOD ISN’T FIXING THIS” calling thoughts and prayer “meaningless platitudes.” While the editors were commenting on specific politicians’ prayerful tweets coupled with inaction, I think this represents our society’s view on prayer as a whole: nothing but a meaningless platitude.
I’m going to get a little counter-cultural here and say I think prayer actually does do something. I believe just as we are physical beings in a physical world, we are also spiritual beings in a spiritual world. If a spiritual realm exists, then what’s going on in it? And if a spiritual realm exists, how do we interact with it?
St. Paul wrote to the early groups of Jesus followers in the 1st century that there are spiritual forces at work that have influence in our society- including areas of systematic oppression and injustice. Paul instructs his friends to both pray and put on the shoes of “readiness given by the good news of peace” to stand against these spiritual forces. We pray for our region because we believe there is a spiritual reality that exists in our region.
But prayer also has social impact. Prayer changes us. Stephen Colbert, our favourite prophetic talk show host on the Late Show commented on the Daily News cover defending the power of prayer by saying, “thoughts and prayers is … to in some small way share the burden of grief.” We pray to enter other’s pain, and so often when in the face of tragedy we can’t even find the words to pray, so God prays for us. We pray for our region to enter into its brokenness.
I’m a part of a global network of small groups of people who commit to communally living and praying in high-crime, low-income apartment buildings and slums – urban monks and nuns of sort who give up certain comforts for the cause of love. As God entered the brokenness of humanity, we move in to enter the brokenness of our neighbours. As we seek God and carry the dark and messy burdens of our buildings into light, we find that something in us changes. We believe in a God who feels compassion in the Divine Gut; who isn’t just in heaven but chooses to suffer with us. That is the whole point of the incarnation (why we celebrate Christmas).
Suffering changes us, God included. St. Paul, who was put to death by Caesar for claiming Jesus as Caesar, actually celebrated his suffering, “knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” Since hope is birthed out of suffering, through perseverance we can pray in hope. Jesus said prayer “is a little like a helpless widow who refuses to accept her helplessness and instead stands up to injustice, and her persistence wins the day.” We persistently pray for our region because we have hope.
We live in a culture that is obsessed with the instantaneous. We value quick results and action, even at the expense of long-term solutions and critical thinking. Prayer gives us a space to listen and be changed. We see this in St. Luke’s account of Christ where Jesus instructs his followers to pray for more workers of peace… only to then (in the same breath) commission the very same people who are praying! God speaks to us when we make space to pray. This action is different than reacting to problems at hand. This season of advent (December 1-24) reminds us that we are waiting on God, but we are also invited into his work of restoration. Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin were dedicated to prayer, but were deeply disturbed by the social issues that presented America in the 1930s. Through prayer, The Catholic Worker Movement was birthed (from which we get our beloved The Working Centre). Prayer serves as a boiler room that refines us to act and not react immaturely. We pray for our region because prayer is where we make space to listen—and then act.
Through Jeremiah in 626 BCE, God instructs a weak, captured tribe to seek the welfare of the city in which they have been exiled into and pray for its behalf. Their land has been taken away, they are surrounded by the towering imperial powerhouses Egypt, Assyria and Babylon with no fighting chance, and God instructs them to seek the welfare of this foreign land and to pray for it. For some reason God likes to make himself known through suffering, weak people. Maybe it’s just me, but I feel like our world hasn’t changed too much. Can you think of anyone in exile from their homeland today? Can you think of towering imperial giants vying for power? Who might God be working among today? Surely not a middle-eastern couple in exile seeking refuge… Let’s stand and pray in solidarity with our brothers and sisters in exile and as we pray let’s listen to how God is calling us to act.
Sam Kamminga is currently the MoveIn Vision Team rep for Kitchener-Waterloo-Cambridge. He lives in an intentional community in Kitchener and is passionate about praying for the betterment of our community. If you’d you like contact Sam, feel free to email him.
 Ephesians 6:12-18
 Romans 8:26
 Surah al-Ma`idah 5:82
 Paul’s letter to the Roman Church 5:3-5 in 57 CE
 Richard Foster on Luke 18:1-8