Prayer, Mission and Family Life: CMS News-Letter June 1998
by Graham Kings
Date added: 26/07/2020
An Occasional Paper, June-July-August 1998
Prayer, Mission and Family Life
Canon Graham Kings, a CMS vice-president, was a mission partner in Kenya (1985-91) before becoming the Henry Martyn Lecturer in Mission Studies in the Cambridge Theological Federation, and Director of the Henry Martyn Library, a research centre for mission studies and world Christianity, based at Westminster College.
Introduction: The First Prayer of a Muslim Convert
O God, I am Mustafah the tailor and I work at the shop of Muhammad Ali. The whole day long I sit and pull the needle and the thread through the cloth. O God, you are the needle and I am the thread. I am attached to you and I follow you. When the thread tries to slip away from the needle it becomes tangled and must be cut so that it can be put back in the right place. O God, help me to follow you wherever you may lead me. For I am really only Mustafah the tailor, and I work at the shop of Muhammad Ali on the great square.
This profoundly simple first prayer of a Muslim convert I found in the Oxford Book of Prayer, edited by George Appleton (p. 88). It would be fascinating to know details of the context and date of Mustafah the tailor, but they are not given. I love his humble, personal introduction, and conclusion, with even his precise location, the lessons drawn from his trade, and the open commitment to go wherever God leads him.
Josiah Pratt, the real architect of CMS and Secretary from 1803-24, always stressed 'Put prayer first'. Mustafah's first prayer can inspire us, as we approach the CMS bicentenary in 1999, to part in the prayer initiative that has been launched to provide the context for a re-visioning process for the next century (see the latest Yes magazine). Another early principle of CMS was 'Begin on a small scale': as we begin our third century, again on a small scale (compared to the number of mission partners who have served previously), perhaps we should renew our prayer for God's mission also in small steps. This occasional paper aims to provide some resources and ideas for that calling: we may discover that we are only at the beginning of the missionary era.
The Family Life of God in Prayer and Mission
I bought copies of the Oxford Book of Prayer when it was first published in 1985, just before Alison and I (with our daughters) went as mission partners to Kenya, to serve at St Andrew's Theological College, Kabare. We gave copies as parting gifts to our parents and I know that this helped to nourish and sustain us together over the miles.
During our training, I remember kneeling and sitting back on a low prayer stool in the Quiet Room at Crowther Hall, and wishing I had one to take with us to Kenya. Soon after that a friend, also in training and now a mission partner in Uganda, gave me a stool with the phrase written underneath, 'already for praying on'. We took it to Kenya and it lived in my study on a rush mat. After a heavy conference, and during a retreat in a monastery, I wrote the following poem:
The Prayer Stool
I leave aside my shoes, my ambitions,
undo my watch, my timetable,
take off my glasses, my views,
unclip my pen, my work,
put down my keys, my security,
to be alone with you,
the only true God.
After being with you,
I take up my shoes to walk in your ways,
strap on my watch to live in your time,
put on my glasses to look at your world,
clip on my pen to write up your thoughts,
pick up my keys to open your doors.
Going deep into God in worship leads us out in mission into his world. We get caught up in the family life of God both as we pray and as we go. That vibrant life is multiply personal and interconnected. Father, Son and Holy Spirit interweave and we are included in their weaving together: the Spirit inspires our prayers, which we as children then offer to the Father, through Jesus Christ his Son. True prayer is not our initiative, but includes our involvement. True prayer is always going on in the very heart of the Trinity, for Jesus prays to the Father for us (Hebrews 7:25) and the Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words (Romans 8: 26).
The experience of mission is also at the heart of the Trinity, for the Father eternally sends the Son and the Spirit. When the right time had fully come (Galatians 4:4), the Father sent his Son into his world and both knew the pain of separation, even to the agonising, wrenching of the cross. The return of his missionary Son brought glorified humanity into the depths of God and provided direct access for us. God is involved in the world, interweaving his purposes, but perhaps, in a strange way, our prayers also take the world into his heart?
In praying for people engaged in God's mission, we are involving ourselves vicariously, on their behalf and take part in the risks of the Gospel. This came home to me as I read of the life of Fr Maximillian Kolbe, the Polish priest who gave his life in Auschwitz concentration camp in July 1941. Ten Poles had been chosen to starve to death. One of them, Francis Gajowniczek, broke down on hearing his name, knowing he would never see his family again. Immediately Fr Maximillian stepped forward and took his place. Donald Nicholl, in his perceptive book Holiness, tells of how he had 'taken the place' of others for many years before that final sacrifice: in particular he would give up his own place in the food queue, whenever there was a scarcity of food.
With Fr Maximillian that capacity [for standing in the place of people] had become habitual, spontaneous; it was second nature to him through his practice of prayer. Whenever we pray on behalf of others we in some measure put ourselves in their place, and for many years, for many hours each day he had been in the habit of praying on behalf of others. (p. 152).
Offerings from Africa to Anglicanism
How can we then put ourselves in the place of others in God's mission through prayer? One way is to use the very prayers that come from other parts of God's world. This July, the Bishops of the Anglican Communion gather at Canterbury for the 1998 Lambeth Conference. Many of them are conscious that they represent churches which are the extraordinary fruit of the modern missionary movement. That movement included countless indigenous women and men from Africa, Asia and Latin America as well as mission partners from the 'North'. The opening eucharist will be the Kenyan Service of Holy Communion (1989), and perhaps in our prayers we can also join with them, using the following extracts. The Prayer of Thanksgiving resonates with echoes both of the Old Testament and of modern life in Kenya, where Independence was gained in 1963, but where there are still many issues of injustice:
From a wandering nomad you created your family;
for a burdened people you raised up a leader;
for a confused nation you chose a king;
for a rebellious crowd you sent your prophets.
In these last days you have sent us your Son,
your perfect image, bringing your kingdom,
revealing your will, dying, rising, reigning,
remaking your people for yourself.
The service finishes with a powerful dismissal and blessing based on an ancient Turkana litany. This was originally a curse, as all their problems were swept towards their neighbouring tribe, the Karamojong. It has now been transformed, but is accompanied with vigorous sweeps of the arm towards the cross, the only place in heaven and earth capable of absorbing evil and where Christ took away the curse of the law, by becoming a curse for us (Galatians 3:13):
All our problems
We send to the cross of Christ
All our difficulties
We send to the cross of Christ
All the devil's works
We send to the cross of Christ
Christ the Sun of Righteousness shine upon you
and scatter the darkness from before your path:
and the blessing of God almighty, the Father,
the Son and the Holy Spirit, be among you,
and remain with you always.
Amongst the bustle of the Lambeth Conference, perhaps those who gather there will remember a wonderful line from one of the early church fathers - I forget which one. It originally referred to contemplation, but may also have further relevance: 'A Bishop is most God-like when he is silent.'
Wisdom in Prayer from the Family Life of CMS
For further prayers, and contextual information, from around the world, we can begin to use the excellent ecumencial prayer cycle With All God's People, compiled by John Carden. He served originally as a CMS mission partner in Pakistan and later as a Regional Secretary. What other wisdom in prayer may we gather from the CMS family tradition?
On 18 March 1972 Max Warren, General Secretary from 1942-63, wrote to Pat and Roger Hooker, his daughter and son-in-law, who were mission partners in Varanasi, north India:
For intercession drives you out into God's world in God's company, takes you deep into the lives of others, makes petition intelligent, thanksgiving inevitable, adoration the inescapable sequel....
Three years later, on April 13, 1975, he wrote to them about an amazing experience of intercession, not recorded in his autobiography Crowded Canvas, when he was visiting Iran (this was probably in 1962). During a service at Yezd conducted in the Farsi language, he wrote that there suddenly flashed into his mind the name of a missionary in Bengal whom he did not know well at all, although he knew of her work:
It was almost as if a voice had told me to pray for her. So for much of the rest of the service I did just that, holding her in the love of God for I did not know what to pray for.
When I got back to England I wrote to her and said that on such and such a day I had had a compulsion to pray specially for her. Was there anything special that she needed prayer about on that day. In her letter back she told me that on that very day she had faced a real crisis in her work, and a crisis of decision in which she hardly knew which way to turn.
This was unusual, but if we also take the promptings of the interweaving Spirit seriously, such connections for the kingdom of God can be made. The phrase 'holding her in the love of God' may be significant for us when we do not know specific contexts.
John V. Taylor, who took over from Max Warren, has written intriguingly on our subject, in his classic book The Go-between God: The Holy Spirit and Christian Mission:
The simple truth that our manner of communication with God moulds the manner of our communication with people throws an entirely new light upon the connection between prayer and mission. Yet it flows quite logically from the fact we noted in the first chapter, that awareness is multi-directional, and we cannot be opened towards God without being opened also towards the ticking of the clock and towards all the joy and pain of the world. (p. 230)
Conversely, it seems to me that if we barge into the presence of God, giving him instructions as to what he should do, then we will tend to do the same with people, blundering to share the good news of Jesus, without listening attentiveness.
How can we avoid that trap in our evangelism and how can we pray for people when we do not know what to pray? Simon Barrington-Ward, who succeeded John V. Taylor in 1974, has recently written (and illustrated) a gem of a book that may provide some hints for us. The Jesus Prayer came out of his experience of praying in the way of the Orthodox Church. After giving the historical background, he outlines the contemporary relevance of this continual prayer of the Name: 'Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.' Our quiet rhythmical breathing, can fit in with the four phrases and we are drawn into the heart of God. After a while the prayer begins to start praying itself deep within us and turns us outwards in mission:
The stream of loving purpose encapsulated in the prayer seems gradually to be uniting the prayer with all the tragic struggles of our world and of wounded nature itself. It seems to make the person praying a part of that movement of new creation. (p. 72)
Some Orthodox christians suggest interceeding by putting the name of the person or people you are praying for in the place of 'me, a sinner.' I am only just a beginner of a few months, and am not able to keep it up much at all, but I have found that, as I pray the four phrases, after a while people do come into my mind in pictures and I try to 'hold them in the love of God.' Why not try it?
Practical Conclusions and the Last Prayer a Muslim Convert
So, we conclude with some practical suggestions for prayer and mission:
The CMS prayer paper is a foundational resource for linking people. I was moved when I met Jenny Otwell, a mission partner in Uganda, for the first time last year and she remembered my name from the prayer paper years ago. The paper now makes links with articles in Yes magazine.
I have a friend who finds keeping a photo album for prayer helpful. He has thirty one photos, one for each day of the month.
Someone else writes a short note (put prayer first, begin on a small scale) to someone when he has prayed for them.
The advent of e-mail has transformed modern communication and the sharing of urgent requests for prayer, and particular prayers, among friends has become easier.
Pray with a newspaper concerning peace and justice, especially for the leaders of nations.
Prayer walks: solvitur ambulando is usually translated 'the problem is solved by action'(literally by walking). Prayer walks are sometimes helpful in some contexts. A mother I know, who was deeply involved in the launching of a 'church plant' on an urban priority housing estate, walked around the estate praying for it, as a crucial decision about its future was coming up: many of the leaders were being overwhelmed with problems. She prayed for the people in the houses and on the streets. It opened her eyes to new possibilities, the most important of which was to suggest the closing of the prematurely launched 'church plant' and to begin again on a smaller scale.
We began with the first prayer of Mustafah the tailor, and will finish with the last hymn of Abdul Masih. He was a Muslim convert of Henry Martyn's and a medical missionary among his own people, supported by CMS. In 1825 he became the first Indian ordained Anglican clergyman. In the archives of Ridley Hall, Cambridge, there is a piece of paper with the hymn: it has a note added to it that it is 'a translation of a hymn in Hindoostanee (Urdu) composed by Abdul Masih and sung by him just before he expired' in March 1827:
Beloved Saviour, let not me
In thy kind heart forgotten be.
Of all the plants that deck the bower,
Thou art the fairest, sweetest flower.
Youth's morn has fled - old age come on,
But sin distracts my soul alone.
Beloved Saviour, let not me
In thy kind heart forgotten be.
George Appleton (ed.), The Oxford Book of Prayer (Oxford: OUP, 1985).
Simon Barrington-Ward, The Jesus Prayer (Oxford: Bible Reading Fellowship, 1996).
John Carden (ed.), With All God's People: The New Ecumenical Prayer Cycle (Geneva: WCC, 1990).
Church of the Province of Kenya, A Modern Service of Holy Communion (Nairobi: Uzima Press, 1989).
Donald Nichol, Holiness, (London: Darton, Longman & Todd, 1981).
John V. Taylor, The Go-between God: The Holy Spirit and Christian Mission (London: SCM, 1972).