Ralph was troubled. His Sunday sermon was prepared, but something kept gnawing at him. His argument was grounded in solid Christian theology, but it was somehow lacking. He was searching for an answer to a problem that causes deep concern among Christian clergy throughout the U.S. and Europe.
The problem is the growth of Islam. Of course, this is only a problem for folks who fear Islam’s growth, which is apparently outpacing Christianity by about one-half of one per cent annually. At least, this is the consensus of those charged with keeping that particular set of demographic data. And it can only be a consensus because the data can and is skewed by so many so-called religious demographers that one would be hard pressed to report the data with any real degree of certainty.
As one might expect, clergy tend to seek a religious reason for this phenomenon. Likewise, they seek a religious solution to the problem. So it was no surprise when Ralph told me that he thought that we Christians should “pray more.” My friend came to this conclusion after reading about Greg Mortenson, author of Three Cups of Tea, who learned to pray five times a day in the Muslim fashion.
To be sure, Christians are no strangers to frequent prayer. Roman Catholics pray the rosary; their priests pray the daily office. The Apostle Paul exhorts us to “pray without ceasing”(1 Thessalonians 5:17). Many Christians engage themselves as “prayer warriors.” And nearly every congregation posts a prayer list, asking for intercession for a variety of spiritual, temporal and medical needs.
The practice of intercessory prayer is said to be powerful and so it must be. But praying is not what brings about an increase of the flock. The growth in Islam is primarily due to demographic trends. Islam is growing the fastest in third world countries where the population is rapidly expanding, whereas Christianity is dominant in Europe and North America where population growth has slowed dramatically. Growth in Islam in these areas is due in a large measure to immigration of people from economically distressed countries who, looking for a better life are willing to do the kind of work that most so-called civilized folks would rather not. Add to that the practice of the governments in some countries of killing people who would convert to Christianity, and it is easy to see why Islam is on the increase on many fronts.
Until intercessory prayer can build schools, raise crops, supply medicine, or win the hearts of the millions of downtrodden among the Islamic faithful, it is not likely to bring about a solution. These acts, though, just might. If we of the Christian faith who are so privileged to live the land of milk and honey would do these things (and insist that our government do the same with foreign aid dollars), our prayers might indeed be answered. These acts of agape are exactly what Jesus instructed us to do. Aren’t they?