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June 2022 CCNL prayer prompt
Gathering together...

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Provided by CCNL (Christian Churches Network of London)
Photo by Small Group Network on Unsplash

Some songs over time can get lodged in our heads, commonly called ‘earworms’ or ‘sticky songs’ that repeat and repeat. Children especially seem to love to sing these songs loudly in the car, like this one about gathering with others…“The more we get together, together, together, the more we get together the happier we’ll be. For your friends are my friends and my friends are your friends…” And it just keeps going and going and going seemingly endlessly. Who would have guessed that scientific studies confirm that song is true - for God created us with an ingrained need for community, and it is good for our mental health! Over the last two+ years, the pandemic not only negatively impacted many peoples’ physical health, but also severely compromised our mental well-being due to isolation, fear, anxiety, and increased conflict. As we begin to enter in social settings again, we may be discovering some of our “gathering muscles” have atrophied. Maybe you have found yourself standing in a group of people recently and experienced that sudden awkwardness reminiscent of grade eight school dances!

The definition of gathering in this context means to congregate with other people in some way, to come together perhaps either with careful selection and/or with common purpose. Or maybe randomly in an impromptu space with strangers. In large, small, or in-between groups. Throughout June, we invite you to join us in prayer to our heavenly Father to explore get-togethers. Let’s go on a spiritual fitness journey to get our “gathering muscles” back in shape! Together, we pause and thank you God that you made us for one another. Sovereign Lord, who cares about the whole universe…and about these details of our everyday lives.

As we pray Lord, we ask that you be very present among us and in us:

…when we gather face-to-face. Teach us God how to savor the moments with real live people again – the hum of the crowd, the sounds of laughter, the waiting patiently as someone shares a story, the curiosity about filling in missing bits of lives. Maybe it begins with catching up with neighbours we prayed about last month. It may be with co-workers, in meetings or during breaks or at community events or family gatherings. We praise you God for the privilege of just being together with various ages and stages of life, the assortment of accents and languages, habits and expectations…all treasured gifts from you. We display differing comfort levels, exercise different cautions for a variety of reasons, and will need to gradually sort out each new step – our social world got shaken up for an extended time, God. Help us to demonstrate much respect for one another in this new phase and seek to safely and oh so very gratefully gather with others.

…when we gather to worship: We can worship you anywhere, anytime, alone or with hundreds of others – not just on Sunday morning - at a certain time - in a designated building - with familiar people. Worship is a sacred reflection of our souls’ devotion to you, and our inner desire to turn to you and honor you. We can worship in living rooms, in the woods, by a lake, in our cars, on a screen or waiting in line. Matthew 27:19-20“When two of you get together on anything at all on earth and make a prayer of it, my Father in heaven goes into action. And when two or three of you are together because of me, you can be sure that I’ll be there.” There is a beautiful mystical synergy God that can happen among people of shared faith. It restores us, it creates holy spaces equally energizing and calming when we pray, sing, learn, be quiet together – part of a sacred rhythm of life. May we not take that habit for granted nor neglect it. (Hebrews 10:25) Remind us Lord God of that as we worship collectively - a ‘worship service’ is a communal exercise of personal faith and not just another club, a performance, or a good time to see our friends – we gather with you Holy God, present and preeminent in the center of it all.

...when we gather to intentionally remember or honor others. Being present with one another matters deeply in times of grief, and in times of joy. Over the past two years, weddings have been postponed or shrunk, funeral services put on hold, birthdays celebrated alone, new additions of births, adoptions, new in-laws to families not yet welcomed. We have missed many opportunities and privileges of our shared lives with family and friends. That beautiful passage in Romans 12 vs.10-15 that starts with “Love each other with genuine affection and take delight in honoring each other” and ends with “Be happy with those who are happy, and weep with those who weep.” Let’s recall our common memories and experience these missed moments as best we can while we re-enter life together. Thank you for these precious times.

…when we gather on task. We can also begin to meet/work/plan face to face now, God – wow – another careful step at a time! While it does pose some great inconveniences of leaving our kitchen table, our comfy couch, and even maybe our comfy pants too…help us yearn to recapture some of that catalytic energy and creative spark that can happen when common purposes and enthused people are together. Many of us are weary, tired of facing unknown challenges in recent months so often on our own. God help us to notice body language, to see facial expressions not noticed on a screen, to appreciate differing ideas that pop up and pursue questions that might need to be surfaced. Every meeting has a purpose of some kind, at least hopefully they do. May we be patient as we seek to integrate new ideas, new people, or new challenges or maybe revisit some old ideas that got lost somewhere. In these opportunities, may we appreciate gathering in shared spaces for congruent purposes and richness of ideas and thinking.

… when we gather to care for each other. God, many are struggling – financially, emotionally, socially, spiritually and we see that much care is required everywhere - it can at times feel overwhelming. Please make our hearts so very tender to these needs. In the last few years, we often intentionally had to focus on caring for ourselves and those closest to us. At times, it’s hard to sort out the who, when, and how we can best care for others. Well-known author Edith Schaffer in her book “Affliction” prays this beautiful prayer “I cannot do everything: I cannot take care of everybody. Please bring to me the people of Your choice for me to help, and send others to someone else for help. Please send me to the places of your choice and take others to other places to help. Please give me wisdom in choice and the strength for what You want me to do. And then let me accept what You give me with thanksgiving and the grace to really receive Your gifts, as well as to be compassionate and ready to help others.” Wise words that we should pray daily. We submit our will to yours God as you are faithful to guide us.

…when we gather for support: We all need a few close trusted friends with whom we can be completely vulnerable – people who will speak truth into our lives and see us as we are, will challenge us when needed, will offer safe spaces to help us thrive. It takes time and much effort to build that network of trust and wisdom. We pray that each may find a “tribe” for good times and bad times, deeply committed to one another. When we do, your word in Hebrews 10:24 (NLT) challenges us to “Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works.” Colossians 2:2 (MSG) describes it like this “I want you woven into a tapestry of love, in touch with everything there is to know of God. Then you will have minds confident and at rest, focused on Christ, God’s great mystery.” May we each find a few of those precious “iron sharpens iron” friendships and seek to be that kind of friend as well.

…when we gather not just for our own good but to strengthen others: May your Holy Spirit within us reveal greater awareness and understanding of changing needs of people around us. Over the last three years, we’ve all grown older, and not necessarily wiser! All of us have aged, some experienced hardship, sadness or illness. Some may now need an offer of a ride or a helping hand. If there’s been loss in the family or a broken relationship, it’s awkward to go to church or event alone, not knowing who to sit with – that fear can be gut-wrenching. Lord God, give us, as kids would say “spidey senses” (too many Spiderman movies!) with sensitive hearts, minds alert to the concerns or hesitancy of others and graciously coming alongside when needed.

…when we gather together as hosts and/or as guests: In scripture, it talks about “exercising hospitality” and these days that may indeed actually mean a real workout – back to those atrophied muscles! We may have lost some of our “social habits” or willingness to plan. Both we and our kids may be unaccustomed to strangers around the tables. We need you to stretch these muscles in us again and use all that we have and are to welcome people not only into our lives but with much grace also into deeper relationship with you.

…finally, if and when we may someday gather in new spaces: A few years ago, we could not have imagined even considering “doing church on-line” – what a crazy idea! Now, we are so grateful for the technology that allowed us to stay connected in difficult times. In recent months, interesting conversations are beginning among church leaders globally exploring new ways of connecting in spaces that sound a little “Star Trek-ish”…the ‘metaverse’ where churches could operate in alternate realities. We pray for such wisdom for Christian leadership thinkers asking how could we share the reality of Jesus in these new spaces…we never ever thought we would ask you the God of all creation that question? Yikes – may we pause quietly with your Spirit to consider these words in a recent blog “Virtual reality. Crypto church. Blockchain. Are these opportunities for the Church? Sound Confusing? Sound too radical? Challenging to your idea of Church?... With everything that culture is throwing at us with mandates, technology, and more, it is easy for us all to want to hunker down in our churches, in our safe communities, put two hands over our ears and just do our best job to ignore it… We're certainly not advocating for throwing caution to the wind and blindly jumping into new things. That lacks wisdom and prayerful consideration, but what we are giving you the opportunity to do is listen and pray as the future unfolds.” In fact, we may need cyber missionaries someday!

Yes God, you are indeed bigger than we think you are. We pray these words from a worship song as we move into unknown futures.

“I throw all my cares before You. My doubts and fears don't scare You
You're bigger than I thought You were, You're bigger than I thought were
I stop all negotiations, with the God of all creation
You're bigger than I thought You were, You're bigger than I thought You were, oh
I will rest in the Father's hands, Leave the rest in the Father's hands....”
....from worship songwriters Natalie Sims / Sean Curran / Allen Swoope

May these words become an “earworm” in our heads as we anticipate wonderful gatherings of all kinds in future days. Holy God, as we connect with people for whatever reasons, teach us to look both for your presence and purposes in our gathering, and then leave the outcomes safely in your loving hands. Surprise us God…. Amen.