Praying Across Enemy Lines

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“A Christian fellowship lives and exists by the intercession of its members for one another, or it collapses. I can no longer condemn or hate a brother for whom I pray, no matter how much trouble he causes me. His face, that hitherto may have been strange and intolerable to me, is transformed in intercession into the countenance of a brother for whom Christ died, the face of a forgiven sinner.”

—Dietrich Bonhoeffer,
Life Together: The Classic Exploration of Christian Community

The times, they are divisive. It is hard to know where to stand as it seems that our society is on shifting sand. With politics finding its way into every corner of our lives and kicking up dust, it is time-consuming to keep the conversation clear, the issues distinct from the arguments for and against them. An endless cycle, it seems we are always cleaning up after one verbal battle or another.

He said, she said, did you hear what they said? Even prayer is a fighting word, politicized by mass shootings and the gun debate. “Thoughts and prayers” are now dirty words, devoid of meaning and divorced from action. These well-meaning folks don’t want their government leaders to pray, they want policy reform. For them, this is where the change begins.

Perhaps, they are not familiar with the adage, “Prayer changes things” and maybe they are but changing things is not enough. Bonhoeffer leads us deeper into the transformative power of prayer. He argues that we do not have a fellowship apart from it, that we cannot come together if our hands are not put together. A kind of signal, prayer is a holy smoke that rises from our heart to God’s own. We are connected and now empowered to serve by God’s Spirit.

Because prayer isn’t just foundational to our fellowship. We don’t say a prayer and consider the job done. No, prayer is the fuel, the lifeblood of our community. We cannot go on in our Christian lives without it.

Prayer makes the difference in us and each other. It is the difference between us and them. Prayer changes our perspective, giving us a new lens from which to view our brother and sister and a new lease on relationships we thought were beyond repair. This is why we must pray. Because prayer goes to places we wouldn’t be caught dead in and to people we’ve crossed off our list.

Prayer has the access denied by years of conflict, contentious conversations, and clashes. Prayer is there to speak even when we would rather not. When we pray, we are not giving God lip service, but our mouths are being transformed to speak the language of reconciliation. When we pray, we are not just on our knees in our homes and places of worship.

Our folded hands don’t hold our prayers in place. Our prayers don’t stay put. They don’t sit still until the service is over. While prayer is crossing our hearts, it is also crossing enemy lines. This is how prayer changes things… and people.

Reverend Starlette Thomas* is an associate pastor at Village Baptist Church in Bowie, Maryland and the Minister to Empower Congregations at the D.C. Baptist Convention. She writes on the social construct of race and the practice of faith at www.racelessgospel.com. Her hobbies include reading, writing, and Starbucks.

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