I know, it doesn’t seem like much of an Ash Wednesday topic, but as we’ve covered quite thoroughly here I’m wired a little strangely. With that out of the way…
On the way to my house I pass a very proper non-denominational church with a very prominently displayed sign right near the road. They clearly take pride in making sure there are witty statements on broad display – they even left a very fond farewell notice for the previous sign-poster-person (what do you call that position anyway, a Minister of the Signage?). For the past week or so they have had this statement on display, “One person praying is more effective than ten preaching.”
As Lent has approached I’ve been mulling over that statement quite a bit. We often see the tension between the “do-ers” and the “pray-ers” in the Church, from the earliest Martha vs. Mary comparisons to present day pro-life discussions about whether it is better to pray for conversion or witness to women on abortuary sidewalks. Now, this being Lent with our focus on prayer, fasting and abstinence, you’re probably expecting me to go for agreeing with the above sign-statement. I do. And I don’t.
First, yes, Catholicism is a religion of “both-and” rather than “either-or” so I recognize the positive value of the “both” approach. But this statement is clearly positing one over the other, straining towards but not quite completely suggesting that it is better. With my Dominican leanings I’ve had to wonder, “then what does that say for preaching?”
Rather than continuing to circle around the question, let me put it shortly here. Prayer is, without a doubt, the most powerful weapon we have in our arsenal against the forces of this world. Without it we walk naked into the most dangerous battle in history, nearly begging the Enemy to strike us. But then I’m reminded of Luther’s most hated Epistle, where James tells us “faith without works is dead” (James 2:17).
There are a plethora of quaint sayings I could quote here and I’m sure at least one or two have flitted through your mind if you’ve made it this far. Let me turn one slightly on its ear: “We are given two ears and one mouth, that we might listen more than we speak.” Indeed, I say, let us listen with the ears of our heart, with the ears of faith. But let us then speak what we have heard and offer words of encouragement. Let us take this time of Lent to draw nearer to God, but at the same time let us draw others closer to Him as the chances allow. God does not cease to present to us people with needs merely because it is Lent.