You and the Archbishop of York have taken the unprecedented step of writing to every parish priest asking them to join in with Thy Kingdom Come - the week of prayer happening now. The focus is the evangelisation of the nation. Do you have as much time to pray as you’d like?
It’s a really good question. I was actually looking at something my spiritual director sent to me a couple of weeks back. It’s a long piece by Pope Gregory the Great written back in the 6th century. He said when he was a monk he had time for prayer. When he became Pope he said ‘I’ve got all this administration to do and I’m always sitting in committees!’ And he said ‘the trouble is I sometimes enjoy it!’ It was quite a witty piece. Obviously there is more pressure but if you don’t carve out time for prayer, you dry up in every part of your life.
Do you think we have a tendency to underestimate the power of prayer?
Yes I think we all do to some degree. I remember John Wimber about 25 years ago saying the only thing more surprising than a prayer not answered was a prayer answered. We forget when we pray, we engage with God and God changes us. And in some extraordinary way he says, ‘come alongside me and change the world.’
This week of prayer seems to have touched a chord that none of us really expected to the degree it’s happened. Port Stanley Cathedral in the Falkland Islands has joined in Thy Kingdom Come. There’s people in Israel and all across the UK. People find they’re motivated and excited about praying with others for those who they long to find the love of Jesus Christ.
The problem with prayer is it’s not a push button system. You can’t guarantee this will happen if you pray.
Or if you pray in the right way. I think we’ve all thought, ‘if only I knew how to pray I could get all my prayers answered.’ But it just doesn’t work that way. I entirely agree it’s not a push button system. It’s engaging with God and saying to God ‘this really matters’.
It needs to be incredibly honest. I was reading Psalm 44 yesterday and the psalmist says ‘you’ve sold your people, you haven’t even got a decent price for us! Are you asleep God? Wake up!’ There’s a real integrity and forcefulness. I think that’s a really good example of what prayer is. It’s genuine engagement in relationship with God.
You came to faith in part because of an invitation to an evangelistic event. Most people seem to know so little about the gospel. How can we equip people to evangelise?
If you go back to 1944/5 there was a report for the Church of England called ‘Towards the Conversion of England’ prepared for William Temple. It said there will never be a conversion of England until every Christian disciple is equipped to share the good news of Jesus Christ.
That has always been one of the greatest weaknesses in many churches – not just Church of England churches. We do not spend enough time equipping people to share their faith.
We’re undeniably living in an increasingly secular society. Is the face of Christianity changing in the UK?
Yes. It’s the Church’s responsibility to live out and proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ in a way that challenges that secularism.
But we have to be very very cautious about historical oversimplification and golden age syndrome – ‘there was a moment in the past when this was a Christian country and everything was right’ err…apart from sending children down mines and up chimneys! We have to be very cautious.
The Lord’s Prayer was banned from cinemas earlier this year. Then yesterday we heard buses in London will run advertising praising Allah this Ramadan. Do you think there’s a bias against Christians?
If I’m really honest, no I don’t. I think there’s ignorance. I think there’s ‘oh this is religion we don’t quite know how to deal with it’. The Bible tells us there always will be hostility to Christians. But there isn’t a systemic indigenous hostility in the advertising industry or anywhere else. I think there’s a profound ignorance.
The traditional churches have been losing numbers for some time and a lot of new churches are flourishing.
Yes I think that’s right.
It’s not competition. We need to see what the Holy Spirit is doing across the Church of God and share in that, serve that and follow that.
We’ve particularly seen over the last 8 years things like food banks and social action. It’s the most dramatic, extraordinary, exciting, practical social action by churches that has happened since the reformation. It’s the most phenomenal work of God. And we often forget that.
Congregations are increasingly getting older. Is it the responsibility of youth workers – or everyone to make sure young people are hearing the gospel?
Any church that leaves things to ‘the professionals’ is committing missionary suicide. Demonstrating in word and works the love of Jesus Christ in a way that’s deeply attractive is the responsibility of every single Christian everywhere.
How can we be praying for Thy Kingdom Come and for you personally?
For Thy Kingdom Come – join in and pray for people to be excited about their relationship with Jesus Christ. We win people to know the love of Christ when that love is apparent in our lives.
For me – there’s three things I always come back to. Wisdom - what I should do. Courage - that I do it properly. And patience - that I know when to do it.