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March 2017, Bishop Robert: Making space for God's grace and mercy

I was recently with someone who had been in conversation with Pope Francis. Not a stand-in-line-and-wait-to-be-politely-introduced conversation, but a proper face-to-face talk about all sorts of things. In the conversation the person asked Pope Francis “What is prayer”? It’s the sort of question I dread being asked because it is such a simple and obvious question, and usually those simple questions are the most difficult to answer.

The answer Pope Francis gave struck me as being incredibly insightful. He said, “Prayer is making space for the grace and mercy of God.” I can’t pretend to understand his answer, and that’s probably why it is so helpful. It makes clear that when we pray it isn’t us that are somehow trying to persuade or direct God. God in his grace and mercy is at work in this world all the time and everywhere, whether or not we are praying, and whether or not our prayers are amazing or feeble.

But Pope Francis suggests that our prayers matter and make a difference. Not because we manage to persuade God to do something that otherwise wouldn’t have happened, but because our love, concern and faithfulness towards others and situations somehow helps create a gap for God’s mercy and love to be at work. Through our prayer, in a way that can’t be explained by science or philosophy, God’s generous love is at work.

God for All
Across Cumbria churches and Christians have committed themselves to a purpose and a process called God for All. Our desire is that everyone in Cumbria, whether that is ourselves as people involved with church or the many who feel distant from church and even from God, may ‘discover more of God and God’s purpose for our lives’. All sorts of initiatives and plans are being put in place to help make that possible and all that is good. But none of what is being planned or done will be fruitful unless it connects with the will and purpose of God, and is inspired and empowered by God.

Which is why, within all the 101 things that are being organised through God for All, the most important is prayer ¬– making space for the mercy and grace of God in our lives, in our communities and in our plans and ideas.

Each year there is a Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. That Week of Prayer sometimes tends to look internally – the barriers between Christians and our common life in Christ. But Jesus prayed that we ‘might be one, so that the world might believe’. Unity is not an end in itself. Unity strengthens mission.

Thy Kingdom Come
We are now, rightly, being encouraged to develop a ‘Week of Prayer for Christian Mission’. Called ‘Thy Kingdom Come’ it will run from 4 to 11 June in 2017. ‘Mission’ is a big word and covers many aspects of what God is doing in the world. Thy Kingdom Come has a special emphasis on evangelism – a focussed time to pray for family, friends and communities so they may discover the reality of God in new ways, and respond to the good news of Jesus Christ. A time to make space for the grace and mercy of God to be at work in them.

My personal hope is that all churches and Christians across Cumbria will use this opportunity to specially and intentionally prayer for people across our world, our county and closer to home to discover the reality of God and the good news of Jesus Christ.

And my hope is that increasingly the God for All prayer will be used by Christians when they meet to give a focus to prayer, and to keep us engaged with and open to what God is doing – used Sunday by Sunday, or at church meetings, or home groups or in private prayer. May our prayers make space for the mercy and grace of God within us and through us.

God for all, you reached out to the world in your Son Jesus Christ.
Help us to reach out in faith and love and witness to all.
God for all, you send your Holy Spirit to empower and gift your Church.
By your Spirit help us grow in unity,
grow as followers of Jesus Christ,
and grow your kingdom in Cumbria and in this world. Amen.

Robert Freeman
Bishop of Penrith

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