AT a recent meeting, the chief of police told me he was late because he had been up most of the night. There had been another drive-by shooting. Two teenagers were killed. I had known of the high crime rate for some time. I couldn't help asking myself, Have I done anything about it? Do I care about my community? What can I do?
There are, of course, many things I can get involved in. I can work with neighborhood groups to make the streets safer. I can cooperate with the police. But the most effective recourse I have immediately is prayer. This prayer has to be more than a mere petition that God intervene. It has to be based on a growing understanding of God, of His ever-presence. Such prayer is a systematic, disciplined affirmation of God's law, a law that's always in operation. In the first chapter of Science and Health with K ey to the Scriptures, titled "Prayer, Mary Baker Eddy, the Discoverer and Founder of Christian Science, writes, "Prayer, watching, and working, combined with self-immolation, are God's gracious means for accomplishing whatever has been successfully done for the Christianization and health of mankind. Because prayer is of divine origin, the thoughts we use in prayer are God- empowered.
A number of years ago I saw how very practical prayer can be. A large city was victimized by an unscrupulous organization trying to take over the city by organizing the police force, the fire department, the sanitation workers, and other city employees. They proposed a strike that they hoped would paralyze the city during a popular annual celebration.
For many years, a citizen in that city had been very active in its affairs. As a Christian Scientist he approached everything with prayer. And this situation was no exception. He earnestly prayed to be shown how best to help his city. What followed could conceivably be viewed as just orderly, common-sense steps. The starting point in this case was prayer based on the understanding that God was intelligently governing all.
As a first step, a group of citizens was formed to advise and counsel the Mayor and to support the city. Their objectives were twofold: to map out a strategy to minimize fear and to call for intelligent action. About 85 percent of the police force went out on strike, and other services were disrupted. Through all of this, vigorous and consistent prayer continued. The citizens' group came out with a full-page advertisement addressing the people's fear. It began: "Be not afraid!--reassuring words we associ ate with Christ Jesus.
People caught the spirit. They remained calm. They became more aware of each other's needs and looked out for each other. The projected "crime wave never materialized. Soon people realized what was behind the attempted takeover. In fifteen days all the police officers had returned to work. Doesn't this show that consecrated, systematic, disciplined prayer should be an essential part of our ongoing efforts in preventing crime?
Our prayers can help the community and, beyond that, one individual can make a difference. My friend was undoubtedly not the only one praying, but his prayers helped him take a lead in solving the city's problem. In the Bible, the book of Ecclesiastes tells of a man who helped his city in a similar way: "There was a little city, and few men within it; and there came a great king against it, and besieged it, and built great bulwarks against it: now there was found in it a poor wise man, and he by his wisd om delivered the city.
We each have a responsibility. We can all be more loving, more ready to work together, more understanding and forgiving. We can watch for and prayerfully defuse our own sparks of anger, temper, heated arguments. Christ Jesus said, John's Gospel tells us, "I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life. This light of Christ, so beautifully embodied by Jesus, is a timeless divine presence, lighting up our consciousness. It helps us see man as the image of God, as the first chapter of the Bible describes man. In the light of Christ, dishonesty, hatred, sensuality, brutality, yield to the spiritual fact that God is all-inclusive, ever-present Love, and man is the reflection of this Love.
In praying to free our community from crime, we need to start with a better understanding of God as the source of all good and only good. From this spiritual standpoint we gain a more correct view of man as the likeness of God. Man, understood as the image of God, is something quite wonderful. He truly expresses the perfection of God. This view of man is indeed revolutionary and it has tremendous implications. It helps us gain a glimpse of God's reality, and that glimpse brings healing.
Armed with the light of this understanding, we can make a meaningful contribution to society. Through prayer we can begin to peck away at the hopelessness, poverty, materialism, selfishness, and all the other factors leading to crime.
The deepest need of a community is always spiritual. When we are fighting crime, aren't we essentially dealing with states of thought? And it has to begin with each of us. Every time we root out a negative thought in our own thinking, we help the whole community. Through prayer we can do our part in keeping the community safe from crime.
We have a strong city;
salvation will God appoint
for walls and bulwarks.