Praying for Our Children
This past week I joined my regular Tuesday prayer group. Our thoughts turned to this psalm. It is the lectionary text for today. I pointed out verse 16 and asked: “How many of your children have embraced the faith and practice of a Christian congregation?” There were 11 of us online; we counted 23 children between us, all over 25; we identified 10 of them as engaged and committed to a church somewhere.
This episode illustrates what scholars have been telling us: church attendance is declining rapidly because the old are dying and the young are defecting. It is the de-churching of an entire generation, of young adults raised in the church, baptized as a follower of Jesus, and at one point intending to live and serve as a practicing Christian but now saying, ‘No thanks!”
A friend in Atlanta posted this on Facebook: The great discussion of the next ten years will be ‘What shall we do with empty church buildings?’
And Sam asked me yesterday, What’s going to happen to church when all the old people die?
My response to all of it is, in part, this verse, this prayer: Let us, your servants, see you work again; let our children see your glory. Psalm 90: 16. Mark it in your Bible and hide it in your heart: Let us, your servants, see you work again; let our children see your glory.
We pray for many things, as Jesus taught us to pray. The prayer we prayed this morning ends with, Yours in the kingdom, the power, and the glory. Amen.
We want to see God work again. We want to see the power of God and the glory of God. We call this a revival, a renaissance, a reformation, a renewal, an awakening, a movement of God. That is not the same as churches full of people and religion full of power.
Religion is not the same as the work of God. In fact, Jesus taught us clearly that in his day, religion was at odds with the kingdom of God, that the religion of temple and priest and rabbi and pharisee stood in the way of doing justice, loving mercy, and walking humbly with God.
In every generation including ours the religion of sanctuary and sacrament, of priest and preacher, of doctrine and doctors of divinity is not the same as loving God and loving our neighbor.
Religion can distract us from God, can camouflage Jesus as lord and savior, can sabotage the holy work of the Spirit in us and through us. We pray: God let us see your work again!
But what would we see if God answered our prayers? Just more people in the pews and more money in the bank? Is that all there is to it? Our equation of packed pews and fat accounts may be one reason our children opted out. Maybe they are saying, is that all there is?
I myself have muttered that to myself! And I have looked around at all those goes on in the name of Jesus and with the blessing of the church and said to anybody standing around me, “If that is what it means to be a Christian, count me out!!”
Haven’t you felt like that more often than you wish?
This is not the only reason the pews are empty. This generation of young adults has taken a long time to settle down. Many remained unmarried; too many are under employed and unemployed; there is more divorce, more addiction, more health issues than ever before. And there is a lot more going on than there was when you and I were younger: more leisure, more traveling, more conferences on Sunday, and more going on in sports, politics, and in the cyber world. There is much to distract people from what is essential in life, much to entice them in directions away from faith and discipleship and commitment to the kingdom of God.
Nevertheless: In every generation, on every continent, in every culture, the call is the same: Jesus said, Come, follow me. Deny yourself. Take up a cross. Enter the kingdom. Live a life of faith. Leave the works of darkness. Abandon the focus on yourself. It is not about you and your career and your enjoyment of life.
It is about God and all creation; it is about life and truth and peace in the human community; it is about prayer and self-discipline and righteousness in the Christian community. Paul the great apostle wrote this: when the spirit is at work, what we see is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.
When we see these things in ourselves, in our friends, in our children, we say—it is the work of God. When we see these things in our community, in our nation, in the world we can say, it is the work of God.
We pray for this sort of revival. And we pray that our children will see your glory. We already see your glory in them and over them. Last week, our psalm was number 8. Remember that great question: when I look up at the night sky and see the work of your fingers, the moon the stars suspended in space, I ask: who are we? When we see a picture taken from the space station or from the Hubble space craft revealing the incredible expanse of space, we ask, What is the earth and who are we?
But the answer is this: I have made you a little lower than God and the angels. I have crowned you with glory. I have given you command over all the earth. I have filled you with glory: you old people and you young; you believers and you doubters; you successful people and you struggling people
You are filled with the glory of God. It is in you and over you and around you. It is flowing through you.
Let me tell you a story seeing the glory of God. Thomas Merton was one of the great believing, seeing souls of the 20th century. His conversion as a university student is told in his book The Seven Storey Mountain. After his conversion and after his baptism into the Catholic church, he describes an experience in downtown Louisville, Kentucky. Here is his account:
In Louisville, at the corner of Fourth and Walnut, in the center of the shopping district, I was suddenly overwhelmed with the realization that I loved all these people, that they were mine and I theirs, that we could not be alien to one another even though we were total strangers.
This sense of liberation from an illusory difference was such a relief and such a joy to me that I almost laughed out loud. . . . I have the immense joy of being man, a member of a race in which God Himself became incarnate. As if the sorrows and stupidities of the human condition could overwhelm me, now that I realize what we all are. And if only everybody could realize this! But it cannot be explained. There is no way of telling people that they are all walking around shining like the sun.
Then it was as if I suddenly saw the secret beauty of their hearts, the depths of their hearts where neither sin nor desire nor self-knowledge can reach, the core of their reality, the person that each one is in God’s eyes. If only they could all see themselves as they really are. If only we could see each other that way all the time. There would be no more war, no more hatred, no more cruelty, no more greed. . . . But this cannot be seen, only believed and ‘understood’ by a peculiar gift-
Merton was describing the glory of God in you, and in your children wherever they are. This is a revelation of God to Thomas Merton. It is a revelation of God to all of us: every person we meet, “walking around shining like the sun.”
This is very much like Jesus who taught us that in the face of every person we see the face of Jesus. There is blessedness, and wonder, and glory in every person, in our children who may or may not believe, who may or may not obey, who may or may not walk in the way of the Lord.
Nevertheless, nevertheless, they are covered with the glory of God.
Here is what I pray. That we will see the glory of God through them. Yes, they need to be converted and transformed from one degree of glory to another; and yes, they need to follow Jesus and walk in his ways, to love God like Jesus and love our neighbors like Jesus. But here is what I know: it is the church that also needs to be converted!
We need to be transformed. We need to follow Jesus. We need to deny our selves, our preferences, our traditions, our favorites, our ideas, our ways of being church. We need what our children say we need: a love for the poor, a passion for justice, a care for creation, a hospitality to everyone, a generosity of spirit and a generosity of wealth. We need a revival.
We need to quit complaining and start commending. We need to quit bitching about people and start behaving like Jesus. We need to stop insisting that we want our colors, our times, our beliefs, our music, our idea of church. We need to listen to our children.
When they tell us, you Christians are just too judgmental, we need to repent.
When they tell us, you Christians are too old fashion, we need to change our ways. When they tell us, God is at work in the world, out there, lifting, saving, changing, bringing hope to the despairing and help to the weak, we need to believe them, and say, “Take me with you.” Maybe, instead of us begging them to come into our space and sing our songs and tell our stories and listen to our doctrines, we need to go with them and sing their songs and listen to their stories and believe them when they witness to the urgent and important things in their lives.
We need the glory of God through these de-churched people. We need the glory of God through these searching souls. We need the glory of God through even the least of these. God can revive the church through our children.
Let us pray this prayer: O God let our children see your glory and let us see your glory through them.