Tag Archives: prayer

Nightmares and Praises


I recently had a horrible dream. It was the night before a new treatment started and over a series of very odd events in which scenes were short, intense, and highly charged. In very quick succession I experienced paralyzingly fear, violent rage, crushing grief, and generally amounts of confusion. And then the strangest thing happened.

In the final part of the dream, there were dozens of people in hospital gowns awaiting radiation treatment. With each patient there were one or two family members or friends. Then we were in some sort of assembly. I was by myself, barely aware of what was happening as I was totally depleted and hopeless. And then one man began to sing a song of worship.

As the song began I wasn’t really aware of it, and the crowd began to join in. Then I found myself quietly joining in with a harmony line. As we sang I felt my spirit return, lifting me back up, and calming my emotional wounds. The worship reached a huge climax with the same man leading.

In the silence, I began to sing a simple prayer of hope. The very act of the worship had led me back to hope.


I often have very vivid memories of my dreams, and this day was no exception. The events and images from the first part of the dream continued over the next couple days, and yet as much as they were disturbing to me, the hope remained. This can be the power of worship and prayer in our real lives as well, and for that I am profoundly grateful to God!

Grace; how do we get it?


checklistIn case you have not read the last two posts, we have been talking about grace.  The first week we defined grace as the freely given, unmerited favour and love of God which means that, “God already loves us as much as an infinite God can possibly love” (Yancey). And last week we focused on the issue of whom this grace is for.  Our answer from Colossians was that “God wanted everyone, not just Jews, to know this rich and glorious secret inside and out, regardless of their background, regardless of their religious standing…”

 For today, we change our focus again and look at the issue of what we need to do in order to receive God’s grace for ourselves. Today’s quick answer is, say yes, thank you! “In his article entitled Opening Ourselves to Grace: The Basics of Christian Discipleship, Steven W. Manskar said,

 “This life (of Christian discipleship) begins with forgiveness of our sins. When we acknowledge who we are (sinners in need of forgiveness), we can begin living into the lives God desires for us as his beloved children.  With forgiveness comes freedom – from sin and death – so that we can love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength and love those whom God loves; as God loves them, in Christ.  All this is God’s gift to the world – grace.”

 As we hear in that description, before we can receive forgiveness of our sins we need to admit that we are sinners in the first place.  This is why our service of worship always includes a confession of sins.  If we feel that we are justified in all our acts without God then we will not need grace at all. This admission of our sinful nature is also a part of the summary of Louis B. Weeks’ chapter on following Jesus in his 1941 publication To Be a Presbyterian, 

“In the sequence of trying to follow Jesus we are first enabled to repent, to recognize the sinfulness in which we exist and call upon God for forgiveness. We are then permitted to sense that God does not count our sin against us, because Christ intercedes for us.  Then we experience the falling away of sin, the restoring of our relationship as children of God.  Finally, we move in the process of following Jesus.”

Having accepted that we are in need of forgiveness, we move on to receiving the gift.  First, as a gift that is offered freely and without price, it must be received and accepted as a gift.  As our Gospel reading says today, “Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you.  For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.”

Think for a moment about the last time someone gave you a compliment. Maybe they thought you looked good, your clothes were nice, or your work was well done. How did you feel? Happy or proud right? Or maybe you felt awkward or undeserving. Does this sound familiar to anyone? “That is an awesome shirt!” “Oh, I’ve had it for ages.” or “I got it from a bag of things my friend was getting rid of.” Somehow in our society we have come to think that accepting a compliment with a simple thank you is somehow prideful, and pride must be avoided. If we have this much trouble with a simple compliment imagine the challenge in accepting that all the things of which we are most ashamed in our lives have been erased with no penalty.

 Some theologians say that if we are seeking God, it is only because God has planted in us the desire to seek him, and that it is God rather than man who seeks relationship.  God is looking for us, desires a relationship with us, and has grace waiting for us when we are ready to accept it, all we really need to do is ask, or knock and then stay on the step expecting the door to open.  When you ask for something, as I tell my kids all the time, you need to be prepared to accept the answer whether it is positive or negative. In this case you ask in faith knowing that the answer will be yes.  I think that when we ask for grace, in this context, what we are really asking for is God’s help with accepting the gift.

The reformed tradition of Luther and Calvin teaches us that justification, being made right with God through forgiving grace, is received through faith alone, that we do not need to make ourselves good enough through doing the correct number of good deeds in order to receive God’s forgiveness. In fact, none of us are capable of making ourselves good enough for God. Remember that grace is freely given and unmerited.  In our humanity and in this world of corruption and greed, it is difficult for us to accept that anything is freely offered, that there are no strings attached. 

 “Congratulations, you have won a free trip to the Caribean…”

The idea that anyone, even God, can love us despite our sins and flaws seems ludicrous and then adding that there is nothing in it for them is just more than we can fathom.  We have so much trouble forgiving ourselves and those who slight us in any way that it may be beyond our imaginations that God would forgive even the direst of sins.

Manskar points out that, “we are not always faithful, patient, or available to God.  God provided us with the means of grace, gifts given to help us make time and space for God in our lives.”  One of these means is in prayer, both private and public.  Through prayer we can ask for help with accepting grace.  Where faith is the only requirement for justification, we can follow the example of the father of an epileptic boy in need of healing who said, “”I believe; help my unbelief!”  We might pray the words of our call to worship from this morning, “May we drink deeply, and receive your grace. May we stand in trust, and receive your strength. May we open our hearts, and receive your healing love.” In public and in private we can not go wrong by praying the way Jesus taught in today’s reading from Luke.

 Father, hallowed be your name.

Your kingdom come.

Give us each day our daily bread.

And forgive us our sins,

For we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us.

And do not bring us to the time of trial.

 The bottom line today is that there is nothing we can do to receive grace for ourselves except for making ourselves open to that forgiveness, and trusting that it will come.  Our real struggle will be with our human nature and our inclination to doubt.  For help with that we have but to ask. In the words of John Wesley;

“O that we mayst all receive of Christ’s fullness, grace upon grace;

Grace to pardon our sins, and subdue our iniquities;

To justify our persons and to sanctify our souls;

And to complete that holy change, that renewal of our hearts,

Whereby we may be transformed

Into that blessed image wherein thou didst create us.”

Of Nightmares and Pardons


   Kingsclear-20110524-00031  If you asked a person what was their worst nightmare, children’s answers may include; scary animals or bugs, being abandoned, getting lost, kidnapped, or trapped. As we grow older the focus may change to include being unable to do anything to save a loved one. This isn’t something we usually talk about during worship. Who wants to think about nightmares? For many of the people from Fort McMurray they may have lived through their worst nightmares in the past month and I pray that those refugees who are crowding onto questionably seaworthy boats to flee real life nightmares have faced the worst already.

     In 1Kings 17:8-24 and Luke 7:11-17, we read two parallel stories of women living their own worst nightmares. Situated in cities miles apart and some 690 years apart in history. Both women are widows who had only one son. They both came in contact with a strange man at the gate of the city and both stories end with sons being brought back to life and being returned to their mothers. In the end, both healers are hailed as prophets of God.

     There is some significance to the setting of the stories. Zarephath was a city on the eastern shore of the Mediterranean Sea in Phoenicia between Tyre and Sidon in what is known as Lebanon today. In this area people primarily worshiped Baal. This would have been enemy territory for Elijah. Nain was further south inland in Galilee, near Nazareth, where people primarily worshiped God. In theory, Elijah faced the greater challenge, bringing a Baal worshiper to believe in God, than did Jesus who was working in the very heart of the Land of the people of God.

     The women met Jesus and Elijah at the city gates. If this were a modern story with no walled cities and dozens of roads leading into the city, they might have met downtown, or in a city square. City gates served a number of purposes in the Middle East throughout Biblical times. The most obvious of these being an entrance to a walled city and thus, as a part of the defense of the city, they would be guarded.

     The woman in Zarephath was at her worst the day she met Elijah. God had sent Elijah to continue his hiding in a place that wouldn’t be expected. When he asked the woman for a drink and then something to eat he opened the floodgates to her story. She was a widow with only one young son. Due to the drought and her poor circumstances they were down to their last bit of flour and she was fully expecting that she and her son would die of starvation after they had eaten this last bit. Elijah assured her that the Lord God of Israel will not allow the jar of meal or the jug of oil to run out until the drought was over. What a relief she must have felt, pardon from a death sentence!

     She was relieved, but she was still uncomfortable having this man of God living with them. And then her son got sick and died. She was, perhaps, more grief stricken at this time than she would have been earlier. She had already come to accept that they would die, and was prepared. But now, coming as it did after the great relief of the pardon, she was angry and she lashed out at Elijah. “What have you against me, O man of God? You have come to me to bring my sin to remembrance, and to cause the death of my son!”

      The second woman lived in a small, little-known town near Nazareth with her only son. We approach these city gates just after his death. A large group of mourners is coming out of the gate, possibly blocking the way. Her son is on a stretcher and the mother and other women follow crying and wailing. No one says anything to the large group of people waiting to enter the gate. No notice is taken of Jesus or his followers. But Jesus takes notice. He sees the woman, bereft and alone in the world now that her final provider has died. He feels compassion for her and, as we would be inclined to do, he says, “Don’t cry.” What else would he have said in that moment? Are there words that can take away the pain? 

            While Psalm 30 speaks of crying out to God, being heard, and being revived, neither woman asked for help. The woman in Zarephath, having already given up hope once, blamed Elijah for making God take her son from her. She wasn’t about to ask him for anything, let alone God! This woman was very much in the anger stage of grief. The woman at Nain was more likely in the depression stage. Her adult son, her sole provider, was dead and was about to be buried. All hope was lost, his death was the end for him, and for her as well.

            Despite the anger and depression; despite the hopelessness felt by both these women, God was not finished in their lives. In Zarephath, Elijah took the boy from his mother and took him upstairs. He cried out to the Lord! He asked that the child’s life be returned. God listened to Elijah and the boy revived. In Nain Jesus did something shocking. He reached out and touched the body on the stretcher. He told the man to get up, and he did. The man sat up and began to speak! Elijah took the boy back downstairs and, “gave him to his mother.” Jesus took the young man and, “gave him to his mother.”

            The reactions to these events were proclamation and praise. The woman said to Elijah, “Now I know that you are a man of God, and that the word of the Lord in your mouth is truth.”(v24) The crowd around the city gate with Jesus were amazed and, “glorified God, saying, ‘A great prophet has risen among us’ and ‘God has looked favorably on his people!” (v16)

       By restoring these sons to life God did far more than heal one person. He brought life back to mothers and sons. Life, hope, and a future. God, through Elijah and Jesus, was with these women through their worst nightmares and brought healing and hope and he is with us also. We may not walk out of our nightmares with the kind of healing that happened in these stories, but we do have hope, and healing will come.

            “Burton-Edwards suggests in his notes on 1Kings 17:8-24 that the Lord God’s command to Elijah to “Go now to Zarephath” and live there with the widow in Sidon is basically a call to go and live with a vulnerable person. The command is not to go and do something FOR your neighbors who are vulnerable, but to go and BE WITH those persons. In other words, be in real relationship with them, which implies mutuality: spend time with them, love them, treat them as people from whom you have as much to learn as to teach, and from whom you need to be fed as much as you need to be feeding. (service planning notes GBod.com)

     In the words of a familiar hymn;      

             My hope is built on nothing less

             than Jesus’ blood and righteousness;

             I dare not trust the sweetest frame,

             but wholly lean on Jesus’ name.

 

             When darkness hides his lovely face,

             I rest on his unchanging grace;

             in every high and stormy gale

             my anchor holds within the veil.

God is that present hope in our worst nightmares, lean on him, and cry out to him! “May the God of hope fill us with joy and peace in believing so that by the power of the Holy Spirit we abound in hope!” (Living Faith 10.7)

Forever and ever or Over and over?


beddingI’m not really sure why, but lately as I curl up with God I begin my prayers with the Lord’s Prayer.  I expect that it is the easiest way to get my mind to stop spinning with all my thoughts from the day.  Last night was no exception, so there I lay mentally saying;

Our Father who art in heaven,
hallowed be thy name.
Thy kingdom come,
thy will be done
on Earth as it is in Heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread
and forgive us our debts
as we forgive our debtors.
Lead us not into  temptation,
but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom,
the power, and the glory forever.
Amen

Last night when I reached the word forever my mind took a twist.  My dad and I had been talking about the ‘ever’ vs. ‘ever and ever’ issue that had been around in our churches for years now.  As he would say, “If ever is infinity, why do we need two?”  Long ago one of my former ministers made this basic point and at that church we dropped the extra ever.  In the congregation I am in now we similarly don’t double our infinity.

In many churches (RC and Orthodox for example) this is a non issue because they don’t use the extended ending to the prayer, stopping after deliver us from evil.  This version is from a different transcript of Matthew.

What if in the first ever we refer directly to the acknowledgement of God’s power, and glory as eternal and the other to the other parts of the prayer?  What if we ended with over and over instead of ever and ever?  The fact of the eternal nature of God is, to most of us praying, a given.  Over and over reflect rather than on God’s nature but on our imperfection.  I don’t just need God to forgive me today for the things I messed up today but will also need him tomorrow and the next day.  While his power is always there and certain it is in my slightly dense nature that I need to hear it over and over.

How many times have I wandered off in the direction of temptation and been pulled back from the brink?  How many times have I had far more than I needed and still complained and wanted more?  How often have I needed God’s help to forgive others and to recognize the ways in which I have wronged others? How often have I felt discouraged by the seemingly overwhelming power of evil in our world and needed to be reminded that God is stronger?

So, for the next little while as I repeat the Lord’s prayer I will end it this way;

For thine is the kingdom
the power, and the glory
I need to help me, over and over.
Amen

20 Days Until Easter/ A Prayer of Thanksgiving and Intercession


Father God, you sent your son into the world, not to condemn the world but so that the world may be saved.  We thank you for this good news, the center of our faith.  We thank you for the freedom to meet here to worship you.

Jesus, life of all the world, source and sum of all creation, we give you thanks and praise for your work in this broken world.  Where there is hatred and devastation, even there we see signs of the new world to come.  We see pockets of beauty amidst devastation; hear of miraculous escapes from certain death.  We see people giving of what little they have to help others.  We see people risking their lives to fight against tyranny and even natural disasters as they work to put out fires, hold back floods.  We pray that we may continue to see signs of this hope in all the coverage of despair.  We pray that you strengthen us to be, in some small way, one of those agents of hope to others.

Jesus, living word we give thanks that you who know our every need, give us life.  We give you thanks for all the seemingly ordinary ways in which you bless us every day; for waking up each morning with a whole new day to explore, for our jobs, for an unexpected smile, for chances to get together with friends and loved ones, for the signs of spring after a long winter.  We pray that you may help us to be more aware of what we have than what we lack, and give us the strength we need to hold out that focus of hope to those who may have lost sight of spring.  While despair can be contagious, so can hope be contagious.  Help us to hold on to our hope and spread to those we meet in our daily lives.

We thank you for the freedom, gladness, and truth which allow us to let go of our fears and guilt.  Help us to remember that, through Jesus, we have already been forgiven. Help us to forgive ourselves, to let go of all those feelings of not being worthy, of failure, and bask in the freedom that brings.  Help us also to extend this forgiveness to anyone who has hurt us or wronged us in any way.  Make us open to all people, even those we might normally avoid.

Jesus, life of all the world, you are Lord of every nation; by your Holy Spirit’s power make your Church your incarnation till our lives of truth and grace show our world your human face! Amen

 

this prayer uses parts of Margaret Clarkson’s hymn Jesus, life of all the world which can be found at 776 in the Book of Praise of the Presbyterian Church in Canada

35 Days Until Easter: One World, One Prayer


This past Friday evening I was at the annual World Day of Prayer service with the theme Let Justice Prevail.  Given all the differences in circumstance around the globe, it is hard to think of everyone praying the same thing at any given time, other than the Lord’s Prayer.  I thought that I would include the prayer for intercession from the service.  This was written by the World Day f Prayer Committee of Malaysia.

Almighty God, we thank you that through Jesus Christ, you have opened a new and living way whereby we can come with confidence in prayer.

Lord we pray for the leaders of our countries.  Grant them wisdom to know and do what is right and just.  Grant them the compassion and willpower to do your will.  Fill them with a love for truth and righteousness and fill them with the fear of God that they may work for the justice of all people.

God from whom all justice flows, hear our prayer.

O Lord, thank you for creating us in your image – uniquely gifted to contribute positively to home, society and church.  While many of us are comfortable in our setting, there are those who are oppressed and abused, isolated and silenced.  We pray for those who are voiceless victims of oppression and violence; victims of inequality and abuse; victims of unjust and biased cultural practices, victims of religious practices of law.

Jesus, who suffered injustice for us, hear our prayer.

Gracious Lord, we pray for migrant workers, the weak, the poor and the marginalized , that their cries for help and elevation from discrimination, deprivation of rights and dignity be heard and be acted upon by those in power over them.

Holy Spirit, empower us to work for justice and peace.

O God, we pray that you will strengthen your church with power and revelation that Christ may dwell in our hearts through faith.  Let us be rooted and established in love.  Grant us the boldness and wisdom to reach out to the community in a holistic manner.

God from whom all justice flows, hear our prayer.

O God, we ask a vision of your justice and for the strength of the persistent widow to work for it.  You have called us to be instruments of justice in a world of strife and false justice.  We pray that you will make strong our hands and make clear our voices.  Give us humility with firmness and insight with passion, that we may fight not to conquer, but to release.

Jesus, who suffered injustice for us, hear our prayer.  Holy Spirit, empower us to work for justice and peace. Through the name of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ, we pray.  Amen.

 

prepared and adapted for use in Canada by the Women’s Inter-Church Council of Canada

For Praying Out Loud! How are we meant to keep our prayers on track?


Have you ever settled to pray in the evening and had trouble keeping your focus? Most of the time I pray in my head, that is to say that I don’t actually use my voice. Somehow, even in my own bedroom at home, praying out loud makes me self-conscious. This isn’t an issue for me in worship or anytime I’m praying with others.

Worry about seeming silly if my kids or husband come along and hear me is only a part of my problem. It seems that when I voice my private prayers they hit me more deeply. I almost always end up crying at some point. Similarly potentially embarrassing, this is an emotionally exhausting experience. I suspect that the tears etc actually are some indication of the value or efficacy of the prayer.

In the end I don’t know if it matters whether we pray in silence or aloud, but if you find yourself wandering off to plans and worries about the next day try switching. Maybe the sound of your voice will keep you on track.

Getting ready to give thanks? Think back!


Getting ready to give thanks?  Think back! 

Take a moment now, before we get to Thanksgiving Day and think about your youth.  Do you remember your high school and university years?  Make a list of all the bad decisions you made, all the risks you took, all the times you barely missed disaster.  Now that’s a lot to be thankful for!

A Comforting Rumble: Is the Church The Last Real Bastion of Choral Reading?


One of my earliest memories of church was that reassuring rumble of a whole group of people reading or praying in unison.  There was such a sense of safety in it, even before I could possibly understand the meaning.  Later, as I learned to read, I had a chance to join in comfortable in the knowledge that if we came to a word I wasn’t sure about, no one would notice and I would be able to get it the next time.

I got thinking about this at church a couple of weeks ago as we were reading the prayer of confession together in church.  It is almost like magic really.  You have a whole room full of people all facing in the same direction (no visual cues) and reading out loud from a bulletin.  There is no director, no one beating time, and yet the reading will proceed in almost perfect unison, include appropriate inflection, and sound at once like each person’s voice and one voice!  How does that work?  Even better is when we repeat the Lord’s Prayer or the Apostle’s Creed which can be done by many of us without having to consult the paper at all.

Before I started writing this I looked up choral reading on the internet.,  Almost all the entries I found were in reference to teaching children to read, especially those with learning difficulties, or helping people with speech problems.  I remember watching a Danny DeVitto film called The Renaissance Man in which Danny ends up teaching “basic comprehension” to a group of people about to flunk out of military basic training.  He ended up teaching Hamlet and one of the pivotal moments was when they were trying to help one of the guys to read, “and this above all, to thine own self be true.” which was one of the lines for his character.  He just couldn’t get the rhythm of it, until they all began to repeat it as a chant.  He doesn’t get it right away but as they continue he repeat it with them.  No longer on the spot, he gets it!  What a great moment!

One of the great things about reformed worship is the fact that the people in the pews have an active role to play.  They may be repeating call and response calls to worship, unison  prayers of confession, responsive Psalms, actively engaging the word themselves along with the rest of their church family.  There are many responses shared by most of the Christian communities.  Try standing in a room full of Christians and getting their attention…now try saying, “The Lord be with you!”  I’ll bet you have their attention now as many will have automatically responded, “and also with you!”

I think the church is one of the few places in which choral reading has a real-world application.  Sure, we repeat the Brownie promise together, those in USA recite the Pledge of Allegiance every morning in school, but to actually take a text you may never have seen and read it aloud with no rehearsal, this is different.  Some people criticize the church liturgies, saying that people just repeat things without any thought and this may be true to some extent, but I applaud the church for the use of unison reading and hope that it never changes that comforting rumble I know so well!

repost of Mary’s Angels: “I Am Not Alone”


tonight the moon is a mirror-ballA while back I went out for coffee with a good friend.  During the course of the conversation we touched on many subjects.  She was sharing with me that she had been going for Reike treatments (is that the correct term?) for a while and she said she had an amazing experience at her last session.  She shared the following story with me, and asked as well that I share it with you;

My wish is to have peace and taking part in a Reiki experience has given me this sense of peace and serenity.

My last two experiences have been quite different from my earlier sessions. During these session I encountered my angel. Initially, I saw two glowing lights moving around each other as if they were playing joyfully with one another. I  felt happiness and an immense sense of joy, an almost childlike sense that only the present moment mattered. From the lights, a presence developed as an outline.  The outline gradually became more visible until I could see a hooded figure there with me.  I could not see his/her face. During this time I could see part of a wing that was a vibrant white in color. The energy that was present was very strong and real.

I can’t remember much else regarding this encounter but the feeling that I wasn’t alone. It was as if I was at another level compared to the earthly one. The message that came from this was to enjoy life, have fun and laugh. And more importantly, that I am not alone because my angel that is a very strong one at that is with me at all times. This in turn gives me strength during my spiritual journey called life. Is it possible that this other level is the spiritual parallel place of holiness?

Angels, are they real?  I’ll look into this in a future post with help/reference to Calvin’s Institutes.

Photo credit to Miemo Penttinenmiemo.net