I've been thinking quite a lot recently about answers to prayer. I wrote earlier this week about the ways in which we are sometimes the answers to our own prayers (see An Answer to Our Own Prayers), but I was reflecting during and after a meeting last night, about recognising answers to prayers when they come.
I shared the story from Acts 12 where Peter is arrested, the church gathers to pray for his release, he is released and hurries to the house where the church are gathered for prayer. He is greeted with amazement at the door by one of the servants, but she is ridiculed by the faithful for saying that Peter is outside (and their prayers have been answered). Eventually they can't put up with the incessant banging on the door, and finally let him in. And, it says, "They were astonished."
For many months now, if not years, we have been praying for guidance for our future direction at Wesley Hall, one of the churches I have responsibility for in Sheffield. We are blessed with a 103 year-old building that was built to seat 1,000, was re-modelled in the 1990s to house around 200, and now caters for about 60. We are widely used by the local community, and by the Sheffield Korean Church, yet struggle to maintain the premises with the material resources we have. A significant proportion of the congregation are retired, and those who are still in work - the younger families - are feeling the burden of taking on increasing responsibility in the church on top of work and family commitments. The building is feeling her age, and we need to do significant work on the roof to make it water-tight.
Prayers have revolved around what our role is in the 21st century; whether we have a role in the life of the community we are part of (there is a huge Anglican/ Baptist Church - St Thomas Crookes - just next door), and if so, how we can serve them and serve God effectively and uniquely. Or, in a nut-shell: "What is our mission at Wesley Hall?"
The answers have started to come - slowly, but increasingly evident. An estimate for repairing the roof has come in at about half the cost we'd feared it would be; the Circuit have given us the services of a Mission Enabler for the year to provide impetus for mission ventures; we are exploring innovative ways in which we might administer the building, and market its potential as a venue for conferences, exhibitions & meetings; our lettings income has almost doubled in the last 3 years, as more people make use of our facilities; we are launching "Messy Church" later this Spring, to reach out to families and younger children; we are hosting a major art exhibition over Lent...
All these, I believe, have come about because God's people at Wesley Hall have consciously and purposefully come together to seek God's will for us as His people (see Which Way Now?). Our prayers are beginning to be answered: there is a knocking at the door, and many of us are beginning to believe that what we have sought from God is being provided. And I'm sure there's more to come!