By Shannon Youell
A few weeks ago I wrote about the non-negotiable of prayer and listening, specifically in regards to opening up avenues to share Jesus with others who live, work and play where we do.
One of my favorite accounts in Acts is the story of Peter and Cornelius. There are many important teachings in this account, but the emphasis I’d like to share today is in regards to prayer and listening.
The sequence of events in this story has always amazed me:
- Peter is praying.
- God SPEAKS/shows him things
- God sends him out.
- Peter goes because he was praying.
- He prays and he hears where it is he is to go.
- Cornelius was praying.
- God SPEAKS/shows him things.
- He sends for one who can open up the gospel because Cornelius was praying and God showed him where to go.
- And God, whose presence was already at work ahead of them, falls on them, and all commit themselves to be disciples of Jesus in His kingdom.
GOD SPEAKING happened because there was praying and there was listening.
GOD’S KINGDOM happened among humanity because the one who listened, who was called to be sent, went….even when it was not where he expected (house of Gentiles).
After years of prayer-walking and listening in my neighbourhood, one of the first challenges I had when God began to show me His strategy for engaging my neighbourhood, was who to invite to the “meet-the-neighbours” party. Across from us there is a house that hosted drive-by guests all night long. A police presence there was not unexpected. The people who lived there were rude, crude and vocally abusive to neighbours who tried to ask them to curtail their noise levels. I dubbed it the “crack house” and had no intention of inviting them to my party…errr God’s party.
But because I kept praying and God kept working on me, I did. I invited them. They didn’t come, much to both my relief and my disappointment. But the invitation was an act of obedience and God was continuing my journey of discipleship through it.
Peter experienced something similar here. He was praying and listening when God showed him a large sheet filled with unclean things to eat and tells him to go, kill and eat. Peter was appalled and exclaimed, “never!” Peter had a White Sheet Barrier and God was breaking it down.
That house across the street was a White Sheet Barrier for me. Would I, could I–claiming that I loved God and neighbour, the world God so loves–decide whom I would invite to my home? After all, it is my home, my sanctuary, my refuge from the world. Or is it?
When Jesus sent out the disciples in Luke 10, He informed them He was sending them out like lambs among the wolves. For me, and for Peter, our White Sheet Barriers would have been acts of disobedience to join God at what he is up to. We tend to decide how we will share God’s invitation to restoration of relationships with Himself and with others. We tend to limit God’s ability to work in even the least and the worse of these. We tend to want to play it safe and comfortable, arguing that surely God would never ask certain things of us.
I still invite the folk across the street. Every time. And I wait in expectation that one day, because I persisted and because God is God, they just might show up and I will see that God was at work all along. It hasn’t happened yet, but what has happened is that they have become a little more respectful. It could be the multiple police visits from complaints, or it could be, might be, God at work in my neighbourhood as I pray, listen and attempt to live as sent.