Strength in Numbers

Our church recently had a 24-hour prayer time leading up to a remembrance service for 9/11. In the hour I led prayer, a particular woman prayed a couple of prayers that made me pause and think, “This lady prays a lot in private.” The prayer she prayed that really left me pondering requires a brief set-up. The 9/11 service was held at a community venue in which union workers are required to be present. Accordingly we wanted to pray that any of the union workers who perhaps were not expecting to be influenced by the service would, in fact, be influenced. And so she prayed (paraphrase): “Lord, the men and women of the union obviously recognize that there is strength in numbers and that they can accomplish more in a union than if standing alone. Would you grant them to see the even greater strength that’s available when standing with you?”

Nothing fancy. Not superfluous. To the point. But she made the connection between the strength found in unions and the strength found in God and the numbers of His church in a seamless move. One reason America united when the tragedy of 9/11 occurred was because it drove people to seek a strength greater than the individual.

I thought more about the notion of strength in numbers in relation to the start of football season and the madness that ensues. That a 45-year old man will paint his face or a mother of four will dye her hair and wear a ridiculous hat in support of her favorite team is further witness to peoples’ desire to be a part of something bigger than themselves.

I had the privilege in California to sit down with Stanley Hauerwas and a few other students at Azusa Pacific University and ask any questions that came to mind. I asked the first question: “Dr. Hauerwas, what do you think is the number one issue that people in the church are dealing with?” Answer: “Loneliness. What do you think it is?” Answer: “Your answer sounds good to me.” I thought about it, and it’s true. Many people, even in masses, are lonely. Even on facebook, people are lonely. There is a pervading sense of loneliness in the lives of those who sit in pews or cushioned seats week in and week out. How are we speaking into that loneliness?

Outside of the church are millions upon millions of people who go to work, play, spend time with friends and family, but they too are lonely. So they and we together scream alongside 80,000 fans at a stadium. We get silly over someone scoring a touchdown or sinking a putt. We’ll wear team colors–and if you’re like me, you’ll wear the colors of a school you never even attended.

As a follower of Christ, the union of which I am a member is called the “great cloud of witnesses,” those who have gone before in the pages of God’s narrative, a story still in process. Next time you find yourself yelling for your team or when you see others doing so, I hope you will bear in mind to what reality such action points; namely, that we were created to be a part of something bigger than ourselves. We’re called to be caught up into a story that doesn’t make sense if ‘I’ or ‘you’ are the primary characters.