meet inRL on the bench

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BmK7APgCUAEpgGwI just got back from a Christian women’s meetup in Edina, sponsored by (in)courage.  It’s called #inRL and it’s meant to help women connect in community, both on- and off-line.  To create a network of support and mutual growth. Most of all, to remind us we’re not alone in this mess called life, dealing with all our “stuff” in a vacuum.

So we met, with snacks and a craft, music and videos and stories of how people just like us are walking through life with their hands in each other’s, and in God’s hands.

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We shared tears and stories of our own, finding out that we’re not so very different after all, and that each of us has a story to tell.  They’re not all finished, neatly tied up and pretty, but just the fact of sharing our stories ties us together and helps something beautiful grow.

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One of the women said, in talking about her group of friends from many different churches, “If all we have in common is Jesus, it’s enough.” It’s what I’ve found the last two years in going to Set Apart Conference, and what I hope to find here at (in)RLMN in the next months.

1384162_10152425247658674_6256847136998615295_nI don’t underestimate the power of any group to reach out in Jesus’ name, but something about a cross-denominational fellowship makes it that much more powerful, because we’ve already decided to put aside any differences in the cause of advancing the gospel in our sisters’ lives and in our own.  Only then can we have the extra necessary to reach out to others who don’t have that gospel and draw them into fellowship with us.

This is what I’ve been hoping to do with Prayer and Cookies, though I’ve gotten off to a (very) slow start.  I hope to improve that in the next few months, maybe with the help of some of the new friends I made today.

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Here’s to (in)couraging each other and reaching out hands of fellowship, both online and #inRL.

secret prayer?

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But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. Matthew 6:6

So — why a prayer group then, if it says right in the Bible to have secret prayer?  This section of Matthew is all about not being hypocritical, about seeking recognition for one’s piety.  Jesus condemns the Pharisees and others for sounding trumpets when doing good deeds, for standing and praying loudly on street corners, and wearing ashes and sad expressions when they are fasting.  The whole chapter talks about how our relationship with God should be personal and private, even to telling us to pray to God as “Our Father” — the familiar Lord’s Prayer.  Thus the whole “secret prayer” idea.  We are to avoid show when pursuing our God-life.

Are prayer groups bad, then? Should we be spending all prayer time in private and stay away from any public prayer?  Well, no.  Here’s the thing. Your relationship with God is — your business.  No one else’s.  Many things about one’s walk with God are meant to be private, because it’s difficult to pour one’s heart out to God, and be convicted of personal shortcomings, if there is an audience.  Not impossible, but difficult.

But this is not to say we should never pray with others around.  Yes, Jesus went away from His disciples in Gethsemane, but He also prayed in front of people, out loud, on more than one occasion (one notable one being the resurrection of Lazarus; see John 11).  So there are times when public prayer is good, even necessary.  And Jesus also tells us to gather in small groups — Matthew 18:20 tells us that He is in the midst of a group as small as two or three.  The apostles, later in the New Testament, counsel the believers to meet together in prayer and fellowship (as indeed they were doing at Pentecost), and encouraged them to engage in intercessory prayer — praying for others.

A small, focused prayer group, then, is not only permissible, but is most likely vital to a Christian’s walk with God.  Small groups can be supportive, loving resources for people who really desire to grow closer to God.  No one should feel alone in their spiritual journey, but many do.  A small prayer or Bible study group will not only bolster a person’s growth as a believer, but often encourages them in their private prayer and devotional life as well.

The truth, then, is that engaging in only secret or only public prayer will probably not be as efficacious as a mixture of both.  Eat privately, eat publicly, but in the end, be sure to eat at all!  Whatever the resources at your own disposal, make time to pray — alone, with a small group, in a large church setting — but pray!  Never underestimate the power of direct communication with God.  Never spend a day without speaking to Him at least once, if not many times throughout the day.

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