This article was originally published in Edition (4) of Prayer Magazine, Autumn 2005.

Colin Baxter’s evocative photographs of the land and the light constantly sell well to our visitors. Scotland: an awesome, rugged land of hill and mountain, loch and wave, darkness and light. In recent years we’ve struggled with declining population; more of us are over 60 than under 16. Together we battle with the ever-changing elements: they say if you don’t like the weather, wait ten minutes! We’re passionate about football and rugby, but not doing so well just now; we tend to get our celebrating in before the game itself. The big surprise is, more people play cricket here than Rugby.

Scotland is also land of the Book. So Parliamentary Presiding Officer George Reid reminded us when he welcomed OM’s ship MV Doulos to Leith last summer. We have a rich and solid Christian history, moulding and shaping our instincts and our lives. 

But that’s the past. What of now? Do a Google search for “prayer in Scotland” and over 1.7 million entries are found. There’s much to be encouraged about. A quick and very selective tour will give you a flavour.

Reasons to be cheerful

As I travel around, I’m impressed by the sheer range of praying. Hardly a week goes by without a new initiative, outreach venture, church planted, prayer network urging us to pray. Prayer Breakfasts local and national, Prayer Shields, Prayer Walls, Prayer Walks, Prayer Rooms all complement the regular praying of the churches.

 

The week I write this sees the Highland Prayer Breakfast in Inverness. The leaders reflect on bible verses still visible opposite the City Hall - evidence that their city, the capital of the Highlands and one of the fastest-growing in Europe, once had high regard for God. The breakfast brings people together “from all walks of life to seek God’s strength and guidance for the up-building of the towns and communities throughout the region, and to pray for our country and those who lead us.”

Across to Aberdeen. Here solid foundations have been laid by church members working through the Grampian Evangelical Fellowship and the School of Christian Studies. Here significant leaders of the civic community are clear Christians. Ministers and church leaders meet monthly to pray, and outreach events build on the skills and energy of local congregations. All this in the city with (so far) the lowest Church attendance in the country.

On to Dundee. Churches worked together to pray about the impact of Mel Gibson’s film “The Passion.” They hired the City Arts Centre, introduced and showed the film, and offered viewers the chance to discover more about the character and claims of Christ. A weekend of prayer for the city and its area again brought the Lord’s people together earlier this year.

The same story could be told in many islands, towns and rural areas. Here’s a group of ministers across the denominational spectrum meeting for lunch and prayer in Lewis and Shetland. In the south west corner, the Stewartry, “Share and Prayer” encourages the churches. Here are two churches in Ullapool uniting to pray whenever a guest speaker comes to visit. It’s a moving demonstration of our essential unity and our relaxedness about being slightly different in church life. Not only does it make for united prayer, it’s a powerful witness. It gives the lie to the media myth that Christians are only ever always at one another’s throats.

And what of Perth and Stirling and Glasgow and Edinburgh? A recent survey concluded Edinburgh is the fifth most talked about city in the world: church leaders pray for this wealthy and needy city. We pray too for all it represents as our capital. We’re about ready to consider moving from quarterly to bi-monthly. City centre leaders pray together, as do a number of networks – some denominational, some united by local geography or common theological concern. Oasis in Edinburgh is the business network, praying the Lord’s protection and blessing on the business community. Raven does the same for the nightclub community. Two or three times a year, singers and musicians from Origin and their friends take over our biggest public places to declare God’s praises and pray for our city: when MV Doulos came, we took the Playhouse; next week, they’ll be in the Usher Hall.

The new Parliament, where my colleague Jeremy Balfour works alongside other Christian lobby groups such as CARE, has its own dedicated prayer groups. They focus on the agendas, the politicians and those who serve them, asking godly wisdom for their decisions and spending.

Glasgow is our biggest city. Here, Prayer for the City is well established, meeting monthly, some gathering weekly now. Last year they called for forty days of fasting and prayer. On that foundation came co-ordinated outreach, using five churches across the city. Healing Rooms is their latest initiative: shop front centres, open to all, making care and prayer available without fear or favour to Glasgow people. Conversations are continuing about a city-wide mission.

Across the country you hear the National Prayer Breakfast, Pray for Scotland, Lydia and more, all seeking to encourage the nation to pray. That’s in addition to Church of Scotland prayer secretaries and prayer co-ordinators for the other denominations. Every Christian organization has a prayer emphasis. And new initiatives – like the open air plays in Arran, Dundas Castle and Edinburgh depicting the life of Christ – help us focus our prayers on telling the Gospel story in the public domain.

The challenge of G8

This year’s G8 Summit gave us another focus. Churches up and down the country took up issues of trade and aid, poverty and debt, praying for our leaders to take responsibility and act. Central Scotland towns Aucherarder and Crieff became the focus for 24/3 prayer during the Summit itself, alongside a Global Village fair trade café for visitors. One bedraggled demonstrator commented: “I’ve been made to feel like a terrorist since I came – but you welcomed me.” Across the hills, a prayer summit at Gartmore near Aberfoyle brought intercessors from all over the UK and beyond to shadow the G8.

One more thing I’ve noticed: prayer and evangelism are coming back together. We’re recovering door to door work, this time to offer prayer. One Evangelical Episcopal church near where I live is known in its neighbourhood as “the church that prays for you”: what a great name! Street by street, month by month, they offer to pray, and they find real receptiveness as they go.

Just a few snapshots. So much to be encouraged by, so much to celebrate. Yet there are some traps to beware of.

Reasons to be careful

My own reflections suggest three areas where we need your prayers as you remember us.

First, despite all I’ve just celebrated, Jesus is quite clear that visibility and volume alone don’t count with God. Matthew 6:7 warns: “You will not be heard because of your many words” – that’s what pagans do. The “quantity model” is a particular trap in the area of prayer, especially in a country once blessed by revival: surely more must mean better? Not so, says Jesus. Instead, in the words of the Lord’s pattern prayer which follows, you will be heard for your radical trust. 

Then you’ll pray that what matters to God will matter to us, especially in a country that seems to be turning its back on God’s ways. You’ll declare your dependence on him for everything you need, in contrast to our national determination to do things our way: “Wha’s like us?” we say. And you’ll look to him for the future instead of to your own instincts. To pray like this is to express resolute reliance on the God who is your Father, who knows all you need long before you ask, and who delights to hear you in his company.

Second, we have to face it that many churches are struggling with prayer. Church numbers are still relentlessly declining and those who come to prayer meetings are fewer and greyer. New generations living busy lives are not seeing this way of meeting as helpful. The Lord is undoubtedly shaking us to sort out who really believes. Those who remain are helped by imaginative initiatives: concerts, focussed services, seasons of prayer. Amongst others, Evangelical Alliance’s Advent Prayer Guide has been well-received, as has our 40 days of prayer initiative based on Rick Warren’s book “The Purpose Driven Life.” There are real signs that we’re recovering a “whole-life” perspective, once deeply rooted in Scottish spirituality. David Wilkie’s painting “The Cotter’s Saturday Night” is a poignant reminder of lives lived in the light of the Gospel, with the extended family working, living, entertaining and praying together.

Third, it seems somehow we’ve slipped into looking inward. Scots Christians have long held a robust view that there are two kings and two kingdoms – but that has led to a certain disconnect from public life. Our prayers give us away here. I spoke only this week to a Christian worker with a national perspective, dismayed that his own church was turning in on itself. Another minister on sabbatical was sobered by how few churches prayed beyond themselves, even on big news days.

One striking shift in recent years has been from midweek and Saturday prayer meetings to group-based praying. At one level, it’s a step forward: many of us pray in groups, triplets, homegroups, Alpha and Christianity Explored, healing teams and the like. At another level, we’re losing something. To intercede is to pray for people who don’t or won’t pray for themselves, be they individuals, leaders, people or nations. We regard the person who faces both ways rather dimly – but it’s a recurring model in Scripture. The Priests who represent God to people and people to God become Peter’s model for Church as a holy nation, a royal priesthood, declaring the praises of God. The disciples in John 17 receive revelation from the Lord to pass on to those who’ll listen. The apostolic church prays for its leaders and lives out its faith amongst its neighbours, ready to answer the questions that follow.

In short, we’re in danger of keeping prayer to ourselves. The most shocking sermon series I remember preaching was one looking at Paul’s prayers: we saw the difference between Paul’s prayers and ours. Travels, illnesses and circumstances don’t feature very often; instead, his prayer agenda is about building faith, growing love, knowledge and discernment.

Scotland has been the land of the Book; it is still a land of God’s light. We remember revivals; the last was over fifty years ago. In the privileged place I now occupy, my own view is that there’s something deep going on as God works amongst us, as he teaches us once again to pray. As we listen and learn, there are reasons to be cheerful; and good reasons to be careful.

By Mike Parker

 

Mike Parker is General Secretary of Evangelical Alliance Scotland, and an Episcopal minister. EA helps individuals, Churches and Christian groups to work together to be an effective witness to Christ in Scotland.

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