Work at living in peace with everyone, and work at living a holy life, for those who are not holy will not see the Lord. Look after each other so that none of you fails to receive the grace of God. Watch out that no poisonous root of bitterness grows up to trouble you, corrupting many. [Hebrews 12:14-15 (NLT)]
In speaking about prayer recently, our pastor referred to the 2009 church-wide assembly of our denomination. Knowing that the agenda included some divisive topics, the Presiding Bishop asked the delegates to spend the 50 days leading up to the convention devoted to both prayer and the study of Scripture. Once the Assembly convened, there was heated discussion among the delegates about the writing of a statement on human sexuality. The debate about this controversial subject was unique because the Presiding Bishop, Mark Hanson, halted the proceedings every twenty minutes to lead the assembly in prayer. Delegates on opposing sides, who had been vehemently arguing minutes earlier, often would lay hands on one another and pray for each other during these breaks. Praying for unity in spite of their disagreements, the delegates showed respect and love for one another. Although the final statement passed by only one vote and there is still disagreement within the church about it, without those pauses for prayer, that debate could have caused far more damage to the church than did the tornado that accompanied the assembly.
As I thought about the power of prayer, I couldn’t help but think of a friend who recently left the church choir over a disagreement with the choir director. I have no idea what caused their rift but I’m sure it was less consequential and certainly less controversial than a church-wide statement regarding sexuality. I couldn’t help but wonder what would have happened if these two women of faith had paused, gently laid hands on one another, and prayed together. As it is now, neither woman won the argument; the choir lost a good soprano and the singer lost the opportunity to use her God-given talent to raise her voice in worship.
The Bishop’s consistent call for prayer demonstrates a Christian way of settling arguments. Following his example, perhaps we could rethink our approach to conflict resolution. When we have a concern or complaint, we could prepare with Scripture and prayer before voicing our point of view and then pause for prayer during our dispute. Praying with and for someone helps us connect with one another; it’s difficult to stay angry with someone when praying for him. Praying together takes our focus off us and puts it where it should be—on God and what He wants. Instead of asking God to change the other person, we find ourselves asking God to show us where we need to change. While prayer can help resolve conflict, even when it doesn’t, prayer brings us guidance, peace and the possibility of remaining friends with our adversaries. When we pray together, we just might find our confrontations sounding more like conversations and our squabbles, if not settled, becoming agreements to disagree.
Have no fear, we will pray! [Bishop Mark Hanson]