When Queers Pray
“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you abide in me, and I in you, you will produce much fruit. Apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5)
What if…queers were to start praying and interceding en-masse?
What if…God has a really cool, white-hot purpose for the LGBT community?
What if…Martin Luther was right when he said that “God does nothing except in response to believing prayer”?
What if…we are supposed to partner with God through prayer in order to release His power?
What if…God knows our needs and knows all about the injustices queer people suffer, but won’t do anything until we start praying earnestly about it?
What if…if we fail to pray, we miss the boat on moving the Holy Spirit to work on behalf of the queer community?
What if…if we try to gain equality on our own steam we miss God’s plan for us and go off on a tangent?
What if…Jesus meant it when He said “apart from me you can do nothing”?
I have become totally, utterly enchanted with prayer recently, and more than a little curious about its potential effects on queer issues within the church. This is a little bizarre, given that less than a year ago I didn’t really believe in prayer – or, at least, not that it worked. Partly because of the constant barrage of intellectual attacks from my Dawkins-obsessed flatmate, I kept my faith life strictly to the more rational elements of Christianity that could be backed up by evidence – the resurrection, the Gospels being eyewitness accounts, etc. But prayer? That was an entirely subjective element of Christianity that was based almost entirely on conjecture and wishful thinking. What’s that? Jesus talks about prayer all the time? Erm, well, let’s sweep that under the carpet for a bit, shall we? All that mysterious stuff like prayer, the Holy Spirit etc. risked compromising the credibility of my worldview.
Then a few things happened to completely demolish my suspicion of prayer. I moved away from that particular living situation (I love my old zealously-atheist flatmate to bits, but the freedom of my expression of faith was severely limited there) and started attending a relatively progressive yet charismatic-ish church where prayer was given a huge emphasis. And I mean huge – compared to what I was used to in any case. They would gather 45 minutes before the start to pray about the service, they would have a great big prayer-ministry session at the end, they would encourage us to pray for our neighbours.’ Yeah right, as if that actually does anything,’ I thought.
But slowly, my skepticism loosened and I began to get really curious. I started going to a small group full of more mature Christians where I was able to ask loads of questions, and their enthusiasm was contagious. Then our church held its first late-night prayer gathering and it was there that I heard about 24-7 prayer.
24-7 prayer, for the uninitiated, is a prayer movement that started by accident when some scruffy graduates in South-West England decided to copy the Moravians in Germany who kept a prayer room going constantly for 100 years causing a massive revival. They set up a rota and prayed for a month, then found that they couldn’t stop and moreover that they’d sparked off an avalanche of “boiler rooms” all over the world as well as numerous outpourings of the Holy Spirit!
That was all I needed to hear – I was hooked. This was the coolest thing I’d ever heard.
So I started reading about prayer – I read “Red Moon Rising: The Story of 24-7 Prayer” by Pete Greig. I read “Intercessory Prayer: How God Can Use Your Prayers to Move Heaven and Earth” by Dutch Sheets. I asked questions galore of seasoned prayer warriors in my church. I got excited at the potential…but most importantly, I got to thinking of what the possibilities could be if we unleashed the power of prayer for the queer community.
What follows is a collection of musings on prayer and strategic intercession for the LGBT community.
The Necessity of Prayer
If God is all-powerful and knows anyway, why does He need us to pray?
Prayer is how God works. Not that the Spirit is incapable of working without human interaction, but God has specifically chosen to work through humans, for better or for worse. When we pray, according to God’s will, our words become Spirit and release a power that can change EVERYTHING. Our prayers can implement God’s plans for humanity and the earth. The other side of the coin is that if we fail to pray, or fail to see our prayers through to completion, God’s will may be frustrated…
Understanding Kingdom Authority and the Holy Spirit
As Jesus-followers, we have the Holy Spirit literally living inside us. To paraphrase Bill Johnson, it’s not inside us like a lake, it’s like a river – it doesn’t want to just sit there, it wants to get out! As well as having this awesome heavenly resource inside us, we also have kingdom authority. Go read Romans 8. As Jesus-followers, we become “co-heirs with Christ” to the Kingdom of God. We therefore have legitimacy to help cultivate, tend and grow that Kingdom – indeed, we are compelled to do it – and one of the main ways we do this is by prayer.
It’s all about the cross – through Jesus’ death, he reconciled us to God so that we can approach him in prayer “boldly” (Heb 4:16). Therefore we have the right to ask Him for things according to His will as well as the unimaginably cool privilege of partnering with Him in bringing about the Kingdom of God. Powerful prayer is always an extension of Jesus’ work at Calvary – the extension of Jesus’ victory into any given situation.
The Western Problem
In some ways, God’s ability to work on LGBT issues is crippled by the fact that concern for the queer community is largely a developed-world phenomenon. I sense that the Western mindset works against us in some ways:
– Our culture is very good at blinding us to our dependency on God and making us feel entirely self-sufficient – by contrast, we need to be poor in spirit.
– Unconfessed sin can be a blockage to our relationship with God and the Holy Spirit, but it isn’t exactly the sexiest topic around (partly due to the religious baggage words like ‘sin’ and ‘repentance’ carry) so there is a tendency to de-emphasize it.
– I am convinced that busy-ness is one of the biggest blockages to spiritual growth in the West. This stunts our growth in God and leads to…
– “Fast-food” prayer. We’re accustomed to microwaveable meals, instant coffee, high-speed broadband access etc etc and our approach to prayer has taken a similar tack. By contrast, God prefers to marinade things! The Bible teaches us to be persistent in prayer. More on that later…
– I also find that the sorts of churches that are welcoming and affirming of LGBT people are more often than not very liberal in their doctrines. There’s nothing necessarily wrong with that, but liberal churches typically de-emphasize things such as spiritual warfare, yet spiritual warfare (to my mind) is exactly what is needed!
I read an interesting blog post by Lyn Hallewell [http://lyn.lifeshapedfaith.com/] recently about how your “emerging” journey can affect – positively or negatively – your prayer life:
Once people start deconstructing from church they are not always sure how to pray anymore. Through church we have been taught to use Christianise words, and almost “formulas” about how to pray. So how do you do it when you don’t believe in some of the things you were taught in church anymore? [http://lyn.lifeshapedfaith.com/2007/08/emerging-prayer/]
This raises some interesting issues, such as praying genuinely as opposed to using “Christianese”. I feel like the emerging church conversation is going to help put some of the authenticity back into prayer and I’m looking forward to seeing how our prayer methods evolve. (Feel free to post your own thoughts on this in comments…)
That said, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with looking to the scriptures to provide us with principles for different types of prayer situations eg. when asking the Holy Spirit to act or move in a situation, I almost always use the word “hover” because it appears at certain points in the Bible (Hebrew=rachaph) and because it has some pretty cool connotations (eg. reproduction, birthing new life). When these principles devolve into formulas and we start taking them for granted is the point at which they become problematic.
If you’re interested in exploring these thoughts more, Lyn and others recently hosted a synchroblog on emerging prayer [http://lyn.lifeshapedfaith.com/2007/08/synchroblog-how-do-you-pray/] .
Workers for the harvest…
One of my most regular prayers for the queer community is that God will send workers into the harvest.
“Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into his harvest.” – Matt. 9:37-38
Notice that here Jesus isn’t concerned about whether there’s going to be fruit or not; he’s just worried about if there’s going to be enough people to pick it.
I think this is pretty relevant for the LGBT community. I recounted the following anecdote on my blog [http://queerandchristian.blogspot.com/] a couple of months ago:
Gwenda, the minister at the house church I was attending [in Montreal], made a very interesting comment that has stuck with me till this day. It is no secret that people my age (the “MTV generation”) are a little lost in space, with few people taking an interest in the concept of God or Christianity (there’s a generalisation for ya!). However, Gwenda remarked to me one day that in recent years she’d seen something of a revival among young people, and it has been mainly coming from queer youth. She said she thought it might be something to do with the fact that LGBT people, being a social minority, are more likely to look beyond the surface and question things. This made a lot of sense to me. “Right, a bit like how queer people are more likely to get involved in political activism?” I replied*. “Exactly,” said Gwenda, “or, indeed, the arts, if you think about it…”
… I think there’s a lot of truth to this. It seems to me that queer people are more likely to question the status quo. Whereas many people drift through life just going through the motions without looking deeper, when you’re LGBT, ‘the motions’ are somewhat interrupted for you so you have less opportunity to just go along with the dominant culture and more space to look beyond the surface. You see the world in a different light. And, it seems, these different angles are leading some of us to dig deep and question if there’s more to life than meets the eye. Sometimes, this questioning leads us right back to God. [http://queerandchristian.blogspot.com/2009/02/so-what-exactly-is-god-doing-in-our.html]
I reckon the reason Gwenda noticed a revival in Christianity amongst queer youth is because in gay-friendly Montreal there are plenty of LGBT-affirming churches to welcome and nurture them: there are workers for the harvest! I pray frequently for this to happen in more and more places.
Be warned though; prayer is important but it’s never a substitute for obedience. Sometimes we pray and pray about stuff instead of doing something about it. Then we can blame the outcome on God instead of ourselves. Sometimes we are the answer to our own prayers, and we wonder why God hasn’t answered when really it’s because we are the answer and we’re standing still. So if you’re going to pray for God to send workers into the harvest, be careful because he might send you!
Not by might…
“‘Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit’ says the Lord Almighty” – Zech 4:6
One thing that really concerns me about certain factions of the LGBT Christian movement is its tendency to rely on “fleshly” (if you will) methods of achieving its aims, such as political activism, rhetorical persuasion etc. There’s nothing wrong with any of that in certain situations, but it won’t work with the church, and we can’t allow ourselves to concentrate on politics at the expense of Jesus. I used to think that the Harvey Milk thing (ie. coming out to everyone so they’d be forced to revise their opinions of queer folk) would work with other Christians, that once they knew I was bisexual they’d all of a sudden become LGBT affirming. As you can imagine, I was disappointed. Justin Lee at Gay Christian Network has a very interesting article about how following Jesus may mean having to sacrifice some of our freedoms (such as “be yourself at all times”) based on 1 Cor. 9:19-23 that ties in with this [http://www.gaychristian.net/bible/bible_week03.php].
Queer-affirming Christians need to put the focus on staying close to Jesus and not on debating or challenging the mainstream church. Elaine Sundby, in her excellent book ‘Calling the Rainbow Nation Home’ points out that in the early church it took twelve years for the Gentiles to be fully embraced; however, they simply kept to themselves and focused on developing their own relationship with Jesus rather than demanding full inclusion right away. Had they picketed the Jewish converts to be included in their churches without giving the Holy Spirit time to work, it would have been like a shotgun wedding and Paul would have been constantly putting out fires rather than getting on with his ministry. We need to do everything not by our own strength but by God’s methods (Eph. 6:12).
The opening chapters of Acts recount how Jesus told the disciples to wait in Jerusalem until they receive the Holy Spirit. They had to wait for seven days before Pentecost. If I had been among them, I would have probably got impatient after twenty-four hours and head off out to “do God’s work” on my own strength. Likewise, with queer issues in the Church, I’m impatient for justice. Just hurry up and accept us already! I want everything to be resolved as quickly as possible – not to mention in exactly the way I want it to be resolved. Yet, we need to learn to trust in God’s perfect timing, and to only pray that His will be done, whatever it is. If you’re interested in prophetic stuff, you might find this article [http://www.gaychurch.org/TheWord/Prophetic?red_vs_blue_states_and_prophecy.htm] by Elaine Sundby interesting – she warns that the upcoming ‘civil war’ over LGBT issues is going to be a lot longer and harder than we can imagine, but that God is using us for His purposes. If that’s true, I’m thrilled about God’s purpose for His queer children! She also warns us to stick close to God and not become overly reliant on our own political power, resources, religious institutions, influence etc. or we too will get ground up in the refining process.
If God has a plan, I want to listen to it and follow it as opposed to my own ideas. I want to win battles by riding on the wind of the Holy Spirit. Rather than trying to gain political power, I want our victories to be won by prayer.
O, that today you would listen to His voice…
The one thing I am certain of is that God’s strategies are 100000% better than those we could ever come up with by ourselves. This means it is important to wait and listen to Him. That, for me, is the hard part. I write this as someone who has not yet learned to listen to and recognize God’s voice. I’m trusting (and pestering) Him to help me with that. I don’t want to step out for the Kingdom for the queer community without being fairly certain of God’s game-plan. I want anointing. I want to do things on God’s terms and on God’s strength according to God’s will. I haven’t got a clue, however, how to quiet myself to listen to Him. I’m just trying to seek His face and ask Him to help me cultivate greater intimacy. It’s getting there, but I have a long way to go. I think, however, that in order for our prayers for the LGBT community to be effective and strategic, we first need to seek intimacy with God.
Hang in there…
Like I mentioned earlier, we live in an instant-everything culture and our lives as Christians are affected by this sociological phenomenon. We are simply not willing to put in the time needed for prayer to work. I know I’m not – I go through phases all the time where my prayer life is casual at best. This is in stark contrast to how Jesus worked; he spent many entire nights in prayer in order for his ministry to be effective, and it took him three strenuous hours of prayer in Gethsemane before he could face the Cross. One-liners just won’t cut it. If I want my prayers to be effective, particularly in an area of great need such as LGBT issues in the Church and society, I need to discipline myself to pray for longer. Maybe we need a slow prayer movement?
But why is persistence necessary? I don’t have any all-encompassing answers, but I’m pretty sure that it’s nothing to do with twisting God’s arm and pestering him until he gives in. Instead, I’m convinced that our prayers don’t just motivate God to action, but that they release what some call the “substance” of prayer: the power of the Holy Spirit.
As children of God, God dwells within us. Therefore, when we pray, there is literal power released from us. When God’s power is released on earth, it doesn’t just shoot out of the sky, there is literal power released from God’s people.
“Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture said, ‘From his innermost being shall flow rivers of living water’” – John 7:38
The Greek word “koila” which is translated as “innermost being” in this passage, literally means “womb”; there are connotations here of reproduction, of birthing, of the bringing forth of life. We essentially give birth to God’s lifeforce through our prayers and release God to minister to the earth.
There are measurable, cumulative amounts of any spiritual substance – love, faith, prayer etc. For example, Mark 6:5 talks of the unbelief of the people hindering Jesus’ power so that “He could not do any miracles there”. Not “he decided not to” – it says he “could not”. The people’s lack of faith hindered the flow of the power of God. The same is true of prayer. What if our lack of prayer is hampering God’s ability to minister to the queer community, or to the churches regarding us? That concept could make us panic, or it could make us hungry and excited to get stuck in.
This doesn’t limit God’s power – God, being God, can do just about anything, could instantly set the world right with a finger-click. But God has obviously decided from the outset to work on the earth through humans. Revelation 5:8 and 8:3-5 imply that our prayers are stored up in different “bowls”, then when God either knows the timing is right or when enough prayers have accumulated, mixes the prayers with his power and cool stuff happens.
The implications of this are both scary – because it means we could eff things up by not praying enough – and exciting beyond words.
A little list
Below is a list of every single need I can think of regarding the church and the queer community (feel free to add more in the comments) as well as some good prayer resources. Use it as a resource for your own prayer, or write your own. Let your imagination run wild and remember that “wishing is never a substitute for prayer”.
Prayer for the LGBT community
– Prayer for the LGBT community in general; that the Spirit will move us to revival.
– That queer people who have been caught up in the often shallow, materialistic and hedonistic mainstream gay scene might find a way out into a more meaningful life.
– Prayer for LGBT Christians to reconcile their faith and sexuality. Pray for a miraculous outpouring of His spirit to give greater clarity.
– That those who have been hurt by the church will not confuse the poison they have encountered within institutional Christianity with the real Jesus, and that their hurts will heal and open to receive Him.
– That we would not harbor bitterness or resentment; that we would forgive those who trespass against us.
– That people in long-term same-sex relationships might find lasting stability despite our community’s lack of role models; particularly that those couples with an interest in God might put Christ at the centre of their relationships and see them flourish.
– Prayer for all living with HIV/AIDS, that God might comfort them.
– That LGBT adolescents who are experiencing bullying will know deep down that God loves them no matter what and that they can always turn to him.
– That God would send workers into the harvest.
– That God would reveal His purpose for the queer community.
– That God would keep us close and not let us get caught up in worldly matters – that we would keep our eyes fixed firmly on Him, and that He’ll show us how to do that.
– Courage, wholeness, integrity, righteousness, purity, understanding, abundance, peace, humility, love, unity, freedom, revival, vision, holiness, transformation.
Prayer for families
– That God will work in the families torn apart by homophobia.
– Pray for forgiveness.
Prayer for the church
– That religious leaders will recognise the problem of homophobia in the church and be moved against it.
– Prayer for all denominations working through issues of homosexuality; that God might heal any rifts and guide them towards justice and light.
– Prayer for an end to ex-gay ministries.
– That LGBT folk who have been hurt by the church would not confuse institutional Christianity with God.
– That LGBT people would find affirming faith communities.
– For forgiveness.
– For bridge-building and unity despite differences of opinion.
Prayer for the world/society
– Prayer for all the countries with cruel and unfair sodomy laws, that the Holy Spirit will move them towards justice.
– Prayer for marriage equality.
– Pray against homophobic violence.
– Prayer for the emergent church; that queer issues will not fall by the wayside, that it would continue to focus on the Holy Spirit, that LGBT people would feel welcome at the table, that God would use it to bring us home.
– Pray that the emerging conversation will restore our prayer activity to authenticity, creativity and power.
“Prayer is an art which only the Holy Spirit can teach us…Pray for prayer – pray till you can pray, pray to be helped to pray and give not up praying because you cannot pray, for it is when you think you cannot pray that you are most praying.” – C.H. Spurgeon
Spurgeon’s words ring particularly true for me. I used to try to guilt-trip myself into praying more, or better, because I felt like I should. Needless to say, that didn’t work. I only started praying more when I got honest with God and just said “I haven’t got a clue what I’m doing, I know I should want to pray about this but I really can’t be bothered nor do I know how. Can you show me?” Gradually something inside me changed and I started praying more and more, I even got the gift of tongues which has been an enormous help. So, long story short, don’t “must” your way into prayer, ask God to do it for you!
If you have a group of Christian, queer-positive friends, why not start gathering regularly (or even occasionally – any prayer is better than no prayer!) to pray and intercede for the queer community? Just meet, let the Holy Spirit guide you, and pray however you can. No gay-friendly friends? Pray by yourself! Make a habit of it. Read up and learn all you can about effective intercession. This is going to be a long battle – a marathon, not a sprint. We need all the prayer we can get.
Aideen is a 22 year old bisexual film student from Belfast, a lapsed Catholic and current Charismatic, and is passionate about the Kingdom of God. She blogs at Queer and Christian [http://queerandchristian.blogspot.com/], tweets as queerprayer [https://twitter.com/queerprayer] and would love to see an avalanche of prayer for the LGBT community in her lifetime