A stranger walking into our slightly damp and mouldering hall would be unlikely to think that this extremely ordinary small-town corps played host to extraordinary prayer. Yet that’s exactly what God was calling us to, nearly seven years ago, when Banbury Corps became The Salvation Army’s inaugural Prayer Beacon. Prayer Beacons are simply ordinary corps pursuing extraordinary prayer, aspiring to six core values - Prayer, Mission, Hospitality, Mercy, Creativity and Learning – and to a rhythm of life which draws us forward in committed prayer.
This rhythm has for a long time, however, felt more aspirational than 3D reality, and prayer soon becomes uninspiring hard graft. Recently though, God has been showing us the weekly, yearly and 7-yearly spiritual rhythms he provided for his people in Exodus 23. The concept of the Sabbath Year in particular stood out to us: For six years the Israelites sowed, cultivated and harvested, but in the seventh year the land was to rest, holy to the Lord. Our excitement grew as we realised our seventh year as a Prayer Beacon was approaching, and we were convicted that God was calling us to celebrate the Sabbath Year.
But what does that look like for a Salvation Army Prayer Beacon in the UK in 2014, in contrast to an agrarian society in the ancient Near East? Probably not stopping praying for a year, but just maybe it means stopping everything but prayer.
Sabbaths interrupt our normal lives, forcing us to entrust to God all the work left undone. That’s hard enough for a day, but for a whole year? Yet what if the call to a Sabbath Year means we pause our normal corps programmes – Luncheon Club, Coffee Mornings, Parents and Toddlers, Over-60s Club, Home League – to spend time together sitting at Jesus’ feet?
Already this impending Sabbath Year is pushing us deeper into prayer. We look to God for the finer details of our new life together. Where do we draw the line between what constitutes ‘prayerful’ activity and what doesn’t? What does Sabbath mean for our War Cry ministry and Christmas Carolling? What about the food bank? We’ve asked ourselves – and the Lord – will the corps survive if we do this? God’s answer resounds with another question: ‘Will the corps survive if you DON’T?’ We are continually being challenged to define our vision as a praying people and to commit to living out together this culture of prayer.
It tests our faith as we trust God to lead us into something beautiful and full of new life. It tests our faithfulness as we keep committed to the cause even when its outworking looks different to anything we’ve known before. It tests our creativity as we dream about what the vision looks like with legs on.
How the Prayer Beacon vision is embodied will inevitably evolve as God leads us into deeper and fresher understanding of what he wants to do in and through us. This new phase feels increasingly like the embodiment of what God has been calling us to as a Prayer Beacon all along; we’re in it for the long haul. Who knows where he might lead us in the years to come.
Lieutentants Xander and Vanessa Coleman
United Kingdom with the Republic of Ireland Territory