Last week’s column (No. 474) brought in more mail than anything I have written for the Bulletin in nine years. After the column is published it is e-mailed to readers far and wide.
A couple of former classmates wrote: “I just have to have faith that you are heard.” “Thank you for taking time to write and share your thinking … I look forward to them.”
The freedom of expression was not lost on one reader: “The beauty of this country is that we can say what we think and not worry about loss of liberty. Keep it up.” And: “Thanks for your voice of sanity. Keep up the good work. I fear some day they will come and get you.”
What brought these and many more such words was my column on how churches should be salt to society and not just a society unto themselves. That resonated with readers hungry for their church to be church!
One skeptical reader wanted to know where the Bible says anything about Christians being salt. Jesus in his Sermon on the Mount tells his disciples “You are the salt of the earth…” (Matthew 5:13). The Gospel of Mark reminds us of the sacrifices of old, saying “Salt is good … have salt in yourselves, and have peace one with another.” (Mark 9:50).
The church is a salt mine, constantly carrying and sharing salt with the community and world. It is salt that flavors like nothing else. So being a salty church is a necessity for nothing is saltier than prayer.
Being concerned with our own needs and situation is natural, but in lots of ways, prayer is not natural. It is far from the normal thing to spend time doing. At least that has been my experience as I pastored six churches over a period of 56 years. We went through the ritual (and in Baptist churches there is not much ritual) of a Wednesday night service, where we ate more than we prayed. Sunday morning had an opening prayer and always one for the offering. Sometimes a beautiful benediction from the Bible.
Heart-wrenching prayer is rare, but encouraged for salty churches. It is not the fancy phrases, length or eloquence, but words the Holy Spirit can translate from us to God the Father (who already knows the situation, but for our growth wants us involved.)
For prayer to be effective it must include everybody, enemies as well as friends. It is for those we may never see as well as our own home folk. If we only pray for ourselves, we are much like the Pharisee, whose prayers so displeased the Lord Jesus. (Luke 18:10-14).
At one of those church Wednesday night prayer suppers I requested prayer for Saddam Hussein (this was before he was captured) and those around me had never thought to pray for that monster. One or two looked at me as though I was either crazy or a Communist.
I guess I read too much about the lives Iraqis are living (or trying to live). Millions forced to move, many having to leave their homeland for safety. Refugee camps in Jordan and Syria are not something anyone wants for anybody. And that is just one tragic spot on the earth God created and blessed so long ago.
David Gooch, a colleague of the Vietnam era in Hong Kong, wrote me what his church does in praying for Iraq: “Each Sunday in our church the names of the U.S. soldiers who lost their lives are read during our pastoral prayer and we are reminded of the Iraqi civilians and their families by the number of those killed and in which incident. It is sobering. I fear we may become numbed as this continues to drag on.”
I like that church’s approach and fully agree with the man who wrote me: “I cherish the hope that the churches will recapture the salt.”
Britt Towery is a former missionary, freelance writer and published author. He welcomes reader feedback at firstname.lastname@example.org.