Does Prayer Change Outcomes?

One of the great gifts of Refuge is that our church is a safe space to ask questions. We live into our name in this way especially. One Sunday in August, we watched a video put out by in which Richard Rohr, a Franciscan friar, defines prayer as a state of communion or connection with God or another person.1 For Rohr, then, prayer has a much broader definition than simply “talking with God.”

This discussion prompted a follow-up question: Does prayer change outcomes? When we pray, specifically, when we make petitions to God, does God in fact respond directly to those prayers? Not a small question. In fact, it’s quite loaded. How you answer this question relates to what you think about who God is, how God in God’s triune nature is active in the world, and how you interpret Scripture’s numerous accounts of prayer, among other factors.

One way that I was taught to think about prayer and prayer changing outcomes comes from the Sermon on the Mount. Matthew 7:7-8 states, “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. 8 For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.” Hence, the lesson gleaned from these two verses seemed obvious. Ask God for whatever you want and God will give it to you.

I was baffled, then, when one of my teachers pointed to these verses in a conversation about prayer. She pointed out that these verses are in the same paragraph as the Golden Rule! “Do unto others what you would have them to do you” (Matt. 7:12). What? Huh? I thought the famous “ask, seek, knock” triad was all about what God was supposed to do for me, not what I was supposed to do for another!

Here’s the paragraph in its entirety from the Common English Bible:
7 “Ask, and you will receive. Search, and you will find. Knock, and the door will be opened to you. 8 For everyone who asks, receives. Whoever seeks, finds. And to everyone who knocks, the door is opened. 9 Who among you will give your children a stone when they ask for bread? 10 Or give them a snake when they ask for fish? 11 If you who are evil know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give good things to those who ask him. 12 Therefore, you should treat people in the same way that you want people to treat you; this is the Law and the Prophets” (Matt. 7:7-12).

It seems, then, that Jesus expects that others will ask things of me and that I am supposed to respond by giving what is asked. When someone is searching, lost, or discouraged, I am supposed to offer to walk alongside him or her. When someone knocks on my door, I am supposed to answer it. Treat others the way you want to be treated. Understanding ask, seek, and knock this way might mean that we become the answer to someone’s prayer.

We did not reach a conclusion, come up with a final answer, or even all agree—and that’s all right. We will, however, continue to pray together each week, making some bold requests of God:
From the Refuge Common Prayer:
“Do not allow us to become comfortable.
Give us the ears to hear the cries of the oppressed,
The eyes to see the needs of the poor,
And the voices to speak on behalf of the marginalized.”

Perhaps God is asking us to become the answers to these prayers and to those who ask, search, and knock.

What do you think? Does prayer change outcomes? Is God calling you to become the answer to your/our prayers?


The Practices that Form Us

This summer, we’ve spent a great deal of time thinking and talking about the sacraments of baptism and communion. Taking communion every Sunday is a regular part of worship at Refuge. Hence, it seemed apt to spend time considering why we pour water on people’s heads and eat this small snack as our time together comes to a close. Other practices, like eating a meal together, praying our common prayer, and passing the peace, are also central our worship.

We participate in these practices every Sunday. Whether we realize it or not, these practices are forming us. It’s easy to recognize how communion, for example, forms our children. At Refuge, even our youngest children are welcome at the table. From the moment they can chew, they eat the bread with us. They eagerly await the piece each week, with excitement and anticipation painted on their faces. And yet, most of our children are young enough that they don’t know why communion matters or what the significance is in taking the body of our Lord. Still, by eating this bread together, they are acting out their faith. Their practice precedes their faith or belief.

When Jesus calls the disciples in Matthew 4:18-22, he strangely gets them on board with only one phrase, “Follow me.” Peter, James, and John didn’t have to sign on the dotted line, recite a creed, or profess their belief that Jesus was the Messiah. He made no requirement that they believe “x, y, and z” before they could be his disciples. Instead, his only requirement of them was that they follow him. Do what I do. Practice what I practice. Eat with these people. Go where I go.

Our practices do form us. God is forming us as we pass the peace, share dinner, pray our common prayer, baptize people, and take communion. We live out our faith through these bodily actions. Faith or belief is not separate from our bodies. When we struggle, experience doubt, or don’t have faith, we continue to practice our faith by taking the bread and wine, leaning on the faith of the community.

It’s normal, mundane, and ordinary thing to take bread from a shared loaf every Sunday. But in doing so, we make radical claims about who God is. At this table, there is abundance, not scarcity. At this table, all are welcome, no one is excluded. At this table, we remember that we are never alone, but part of the body of Christ. At this table, all social barriers are broken down. At this table, Christ is living, dwelling, among us.

“The church is gone!”

I was the last person to leave Kristen and Keith’s house when they hosted Refuge a couple of weeks back. Kristen and I were talking by the door when sleepy Owen made an appearance and walked his little body over to the living room window that looks out onto the front yard and street. I observed as Ryan walked over and joined Owen, both of them starring out at the rain and empty road. “Look, Owen!” Ryan remarked. “The church is gone!”

When I was a nine-year-old like Ryan, “church” was a big round building on the corner of Hall Boulevard and 22nd. It felt monstrous in size, topped with a white cross and lined with bushes of pink flowers in front of all the windows. The parking lot was generous, giving me numerous scrapped knees, level ground for rollerblading, and ample space for water-balloon tosses that inevitably morphed into water-balloon fights. Church was a place, a building, a destination. We got in the car to go there and left confident that the church would still be in that exact spot the following Sunday. The church was that place you imitated when you wove your fingers together and recited the rhyme learned in Sunday school, “Here is the church, here is the steeple. Open the doors and see all the people.”

Ryan demonstrated profound insight when he said to his brother, “Look Owen! The church is gone!” Ryan made that observation based on the fact that all the people were gone. It’s a hard concept to grasp as a kid—the church isn’t the building or the place that we meet, but the people in it? The many members of Christ’s living body?

Ryan’s statement gives one glimpse of how our children are being formed at Refuge. Our simple practice of meeting in different homes each week has caused Ryan to understand that “church” means “people,” not a building or structure, without ever having to explain this to him. His insight is yet another gift I had not anticipated when I became a part of this unique community—this body of Christ.

Moral Monday and Baptism

Five weeks ago, I attended the monthly Roundtable Lunch with the Religious Coalition for Nonviolent Durham. At the luncheon, a retiree stood up and said to all those present, “Well…I spent Monday night in jail.” Immediately, the room erupted with applause. He said a bit more about spending the night in jail, being handcuffed, and referenced, “Moral Monday,” something I hadn’t heard about previously. I thought it was safe to assume that this man went to jail on purpose…otherwise, why would everyone be clapping for him?

A few days later, I saw the same retiree at the Nuns on a Bus rally. I cornered him in the bright sun and asked him about his arrest. He invited me to join him and others at Moral Monday, particularly the 6th Wave of Moral Mondays, which called upon North Carolina clergy to protest.

Here’s the short on Moral Mondays if you haven’t heard about them already. For the last eight Mondays, protestors have gathered at Halifax Mall in front of the capitol to protest. The NAACP has organized the protests. What are they protesting? The North Carolina legislature is currently in session and there are numerous bills on the table that directly effect poor, disenfranchised, and unemployed North Carolinians. That is what’s brought thousands out into the heat, rain and humidity for the last eight Mondays.

Some of the articles I’ve read describe both the legislature and the protests in terms of political parties. For example, since there is a republican majority in both the senate and the house, those protesting the legislation are obviously liberals and democrats. I have attended two Moral Mondays and I can assure you that my party affiliation is not why I’ve attended.

I attended the protests because of my baptism.

Baptism has been at the forefront of my mind because we talked about it at Refuge in the month of June. Here are some of the insights we discussed:
• Baptism doesn’t mean only one thing, but has a multitude of meanings.
• In baptism, we remember God’s saving history, become a member of that history, and enter into a communal way of life.
• In baptism, God makes us new creations and our primary identity marker becomes Christian, a kind of identity trump card (Galatians 3:28).
o Our previous identity markers neither promote high status NOR do they retain power to hold me down or keep me on the margins of the community
• Baptism invites us into a larger story, so that your story and my story is no longer only about you and me.
• As baptized people, we are called into kingdom ministry as members of Christ’s body wherein we all have a role and we all are called to embody Jesus’ life and practices
• When we are baptized, we jump into the baptismal waters. We might not know how to swim right away, but we learn to swim in the baptismal waters through practice.

What does all this have to do with Moral Mondays?

Our baptisms inform so much of what we do as Christians. As people baptized into the life of Jesus, we are called to embody his practices and be concerned for the people with whom Jesus was most interested. What would Jesus think about the 71,000 North Carolinians that are about to lose their unemployment benefits on July 1? What about the Racial Justice Act that our state government just repealed? Would Jesus be pleased with our legislature, who doesn’t find it problematic if African-Americans on trial for capital punishment face with an entirely white jury?

One pastor proclaimed at the protest, “The major moral issue is how I treat my neighbor.” We might not always know what to do in particular situations, how to respond when we’re hurt or angry, or what to do about legislation and policies with which we seem to have no control. We do, however, know at least one stroke to keep swimming in the baptismal pool: love thy neighbor.

Why Now?

by Megan Pardue

Refuge has a…what? A web site? Not possible.

This is a long standing joke for those that have worshipped at Refuge. We’ve never had a website until now! How can a church that began in September of 2007 survive until 2013 without one? How have new people come to Refuge? How did people find this mobile church that rarely met in the same place two weeks in a row?

Practically speaking, we’ve communicated about where we are meeting via email. In order to find out where church is, you’ve got to get on the email list. New folks have come and gone entirely by word of mouth. When I think about it, it’s kind of a cool thing. In an age when people search for churches on the web or visit churches because they drove past the big sign in front of the building, Refuge has made it work, without a website, big sign, or even a building. People have talked about Refuge with their friends or acquaintances, forwarded the weekly email along, and sure enough, people come.

I remember our first Sunday at Refuge so clearly. We pulled up to a house on Iredell we’d never been to before, occupied by people we’d never met. Keith and I got out of the car and awkwardly knocked on the door, hoping we had the right place. We’d been invited by Chris and Rachel and Todd had forwarded the weekly email to me so that we would know where to find Refuge. After our first Sunday, as strange as it was to visit a church at someone’s home, we knew Refuge would be our church.

Why now? Why is now the time for Refuge to go online? First of all, it’s practical. You accidentally deleted the weekly email? Check the web. That’s right. Refuge is at Dana’s place. Second, having a website allows people to find Refuge. What if someone attended a wonderful home church in Chicago, but now they’re in Durham? Are there home churches in Durham? Is there another church committed to meeting in people’s homes, using resources intentionally, and being invested in relationships with one another and the community? The answer is, “yes.” Third, the website, specifically the blog page, creates an opportunity to read about what’s going on at Refuge. Whether you were helping out with children, missed this past Sunday, or live on the other side of the country, you can stay engaged with what’s going on at Refuge and the conversations we’re having. Finally, we now have Kristen. Kristen has graciously and generously given her time and expertise to building this site and we couldn’t have done it without her.

So, why now? Why not now?