I’m so glad YouTube wasn’t around when I started out in leadership a quarter of a century ago. I look back on some of the insensitive things I said before my wife, Sammy, developed a chronic illness, and I cringe.
It’s easy to be triumphalistic when you're in your 20s. You feel immortal, as if the world is there to be changed. And, of course, by the simple law of averages, very few of your friends have died, so it’s easy to have a simplistic view of things like miraculous healing. I’m ashamed to admit that I was often inconsiderate and uncompassionate towards those who were finding life really tough. Clearly that was not the way of Jesus.
But when tragedy inevitably came, and all my most desperate prayers appeared to make very little difference, my faith and demeanour had to change. It was a shock to discover how small I am and how big God is: how much wilder, stranger and more confusing he is than I ever imagined.
I wrote a poem on the wall of the first 24-7 prayer room that captures the embarrassing swagger of my early faith pretty well. The poem, entitled ‘The Vision’, went viral. Within weeks it had been published in a Chinese newspaper, choreographed at a Spanish conference, recorded and remixed by a Swedish DJ, and broadcast at a massive gathering in Washington DC’s National Mall. It was heady stuff; a rallying cry to “an army of young people” to “pray as if it all depends on God and live as if it all depends on them”. It even concluded with an actual war-cry: “C’mon!”
Throughout the first year or so of the 24-7 Prayer movement we were probably pretty unbearable. In our defence, we were mostly drinking Red Bull at the time, and genuinely thought we’d found the big red switch called ‘Revival’. If everyone would just pray the way we were praying, Jesus would be back by breakfast time on Thursday
And then Sammy got sick. I watched her slip into seizure after seizure, and no matter how much I cried out to God to make them stop – even claiming scriptures – it simply didn’t work. Again and again she woke up in hospital. Several times we nearly lost her. In a matter of weeks, I went from believing that my prayers could save the world to questioning whether they could save my wife. It was the beginning of a profound theological and pastoral paradigm shift. Much to the disappointment of some people, I followed my book Red Moon Rising (about miracles and answered prayer) with God on Mute (about the unanswered variety).
I still believe most of the things I articulated in Red Moon Rising (David C Cook) and ‘The Vision’. The latter’s opening lines mean more to me now than ever: “The vision is Jesus; dangerously, obsessively, undeniably Jesus.” I still believe in miracles. I continue to pray for revival. But, as CS Lewis said, miracles must, almost by definition, be rare. The creator is not a cosmic slot machine, waiting to oblige our prayers with a can of coke or peace in the Middle East. Neither is he a mad inventor continually tinkering with his creations. And he certainly isn’t one of those ghastly helicopter parents, pouncing from the sky every time we might possibly make a mistake or get ourselves hurt.
I hope I’m a bit kinder and more compassionate these days. I’m certainly more comfortable with the sovereignty of God and the many paradoxes of life. My theology honours suffering as well as the supernatural, the cross as well as the resurrection. I have come to terms with the fact that there are certain aspects of Christ’s kingdom that await his return – no matter how much we pray and fast and quote Bible verses.
I’m sure there are passionate 20-somethings out there who will read this and conclude that I’ve lost my edge. Perhaps they’re right. I need their clarity and conviction, but maybe I can help them, too. Can we just give it 20 years?
Pete Greig’s book God on Mute: Engaging the Silence of Unanswered Prayer (David C Cook) was re-released in August with a new foreword from Justin Welby, a 40-day study guide called ‘God UnMute’ and an audio version
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