Let Us Pray

Most of us are acquainted with prayer as conversation; embedded in this is the image of talking with God as a friend. Along with this long-standing tradition, there is another tradition of prayer in the church called common prayer. Common prayer is a form of prayer employed by God’s people to join hearts, heads, and voices in a unified and concerted way. This type of prayer has a long history.

For centuries Christians have stopped to pray at various points in the day for the purpose of saying their common prayer (also referred to as fixed-hour prayer). In the morning, at midday, as the sun sets, and before going to bed, followers of Jesus have joined their voices in praying a variety of written prayers, reading from Psalms, reflecting on a passage of Scripture, and reciting the Lord’s Prayer as a way to remember God, admit their dependency on God, and as an act of worship and devotion. Fixed-hour prayer finds its genesis in the practices of Israel, and evidence of it can be seen in the Old and New Testaments.

While fixed-hour prayer is not explicitly pointed out or taught, this practice of prayer is definitely assumed in the Bible. Daniel is thrown into the lion’s den for praying facing Jerusalem three different times each day (as is his custom). Many of the psalms specifically mention praying in the morning or the evening (see Psalms 5:3; 88:13; 92:2 for morning; or 17:1-3; 63:5-6; 141:2 for evening). New Testament passages also refer to the practice of common prayer. For example, Pentecost happens while the disciples are gathered for morning prayer (prayer at the third hour); Peter has his rooftop vision while observing midday prayer (prayer at the sixth hour); and Peter and John heal a lame man on the temple steps on their way to gather with other believers for evening prayer (prayer at the ninth hour).

Since that time, the practice has continued. From gatherings of the early church, to cloisters of monks, to the writings of reformers and down through our history, common prayer has endured as an heirloom that has been passed on to successive generations as a valuable Christian practice.

Common prayer (or fixed-hour prayer) is meant to complement our conversational prayer. When all we do is practice one form of prayer to the neglect of the other, our prayer lives suffer. Conversational prayer without common prayer can become isolated, self-centered, self-serving, and sometimes mere self-talk. Common prayer without conversational prayer can become a dead ritual, a recitation with little authenticity and art with little heart. We need both approaches to keep our prayers communal, meaningful, personal, honest, and appropriately God-centered.

Is common prayer a part of your prayer life?

At gatherings you attend, when it is said, “Let us pray,” is it more reflective of conversational prayer or common prayer?

Can you see value in the practice of common prayer? If so, what are the benefits and strengths?

Photo: Andreas-photography


Hearing the Scriptures

It is one of those commands that the mentor gives the mentee that needs honest consideration. The mentor has left his protégé to care for a community of folks, and there are a number of important commands given, but one could make a case that the one we consider today is the bottom line.

“Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching and to teaching.” 

-1 Timothy 4:13

Paul’s words of advice to Timothy are well known, but I don’t know that they are well followed. Paul says to Timothy and to all who follow after in Timothy’s footsteps, feed your flock through three things: public reading of Scripture, preaching (proclaiming and applying the message of the Scriptures), and teaching (helping others understand Scripture to obey it completely).

If we were to assess how well our churches do in balancing and practicing these three legs of Paul’s advice to Timothy, would our stools stand? Pure anecdotal evidence from my wanderings and attendance at an abundance of different churches (most of an Evangelical Protestant persuasion), I suggest that two out of three are practiced and given attention, but the first part of Paul’s admonition is often neglected. In many churches, I observe little if any attention given to the public reading of Scripture.

And my involvement in youth ministry activities and retreats finds that they follow suit. Public meetings are predominantly worship through singing, a prayer to open and close, and the preaching or teaching of the Scriptures—with no concern given to obeying Paul’s advice to allow the Scriptures to be heard through the simple act of reading God’s Word.

Let’s correct this oversight. Let’s have the faith to merely read the Scriptures and trust that, as we hear God’s Word, it will have its intended effect. What follows are some ways to begin to practice and show our devotion for the public reading of Scripture.

  1. When your family gathers for a sit-down meal, consider ending the meal by feeding on the words of God; listen to a passage of Scripture being read.
  2. Carve out a time in your youth gathering for reading of Scripture. Consider time for a passage from the Old and New Testament. You can do this creatively by having each passage read in two different translations or read in a Reader’s Theater style.
  3. A prayer for prior to the reading of Scripture:

Almighty God, may we read and mark in the holy Scriptures the tale of your loving purposes—from the beginning of our disobedience, to the promise of your restoration, to the coming of your holy child, who made it possible to become your adopted daughters and sons. Soften our hearts and minds to hear afresh these words; help us honor them in our words, actions, and attitudes. Amen (Dawn to Dark p. 111).

Photo: jannypanns


The Discipline of Celebration

 

 

It is odd to think of being disciplined to celebrate. Discipline and celebration convey ideas that are more opposite than alike. One could even make a case that the title of this post pushes toward being an oxymoron. I think that would be a mistake. It takes discipline to genuinely practice celebration in a manner that feeds our souls and builds up our lives in Christ.

Whether we are celebrating a professional milestone, an anniversary, a birthday, or good news on the health front, a celebration that becomes more than a gathering of good feelings and high calories entails the discipline to practice the following:

  • remembering God’s hand;
  • rehearsing the story of God’s presence;
  • recognizing God’s goodness, provision, and protection with gratitude.

We see these aspects mentioned above throughout the Old and New Testaments in connection with the celebration of feasts and festivals. The people of God gathered not only to enjoy one another’s company and the break in routine but also to remember, rehearse, and recognize God’s fingerprints in their midst with humility, gratitude, and faithfulness. This biblical precedent should characterize our celebrations. The discipline of celebration can help transform our everyday parties into feasts and festivals that grow us more into the likeness of Jesus.

Some ideas to consider as they relate to celebration as a discipline.

  • On your own: Find a quiet place to reflect on the past and remember how God has blessed, provided, and/or protected you. In response, put it in a poem, depict it in a picture, write a song, or make a collage to commemorate God’s faithfulness and goodness.
  • Celebrate someone’s birthday, anniversary, or special day by adding an element of sharing how God has been evidenced in that person’s life in the past year. End the time by praying for the next year of life, inviting God’s presence and power to help the person continue to grow into Christ-likeness.
  • Go all out this next Christmas, Easter, or Pentecost and make it a true feast. Invite some guests and enjoy Christian fellowship, a special meal, rehearsing stories (both the biblical narrative and your own) and celebrate God in your midst through song, testimony, and/or prayer.

Where and when are you most likely to celebrate God?

Photo: ecstaticist

 

 


Voices in Christian Formation: Henri Nouwen

 

 

Voices in Christian Formation is a series of posts to help introduce some of the contemporary authors and speakers we can learn from as it pertains to our Christian formation. The posts focus on critical components of our Christian formation and provide a short bibliography to investigate each topic further.

Henri Nouwen (1932-1996) is one of the greatest contributors to the field of spirituality and Christian formation in the 20th century. The former professor at Notre Dame, Yale, and Harvard ended his career as the community pastor at the L’Arche Community of Daybreak in Toronto, a home for the mentally disabled. He is the author of more than 40 books. I would like to highlight three that are worthy of repeated readings.

The Way of the Heart is Nouwen’s introduction to the complementary practices of silence and solitude. It is an extremely informative but also richly practical book on these practices of the desert. With encouragement and grace, Nouwen helps the reader understand the challenges, benefits, need for, and way of desert spirituality.

The Life of the Beloved may be my favorite book by Nouwen. This short treatment cuts through the noise of our culture and provides a fresh look at our Christian identity. He conveys this through the word Beloved and takes his time unpacking the meaning behind this term and the implications for us living in this world as God’s children.

In the Name of Jesus is Nouwen’s take on Christian leadership. He addresses the temptations leaders face and offers antidotes to help us keep Christ’s model of leadership as our focus.

In all his writing it is his vulnerability, grace, and authenticity that shine through Nouwen’s words. The titles that follow I recommend without hesitation.

Any personal encounters with the writings of Henri Nouwen?


Can’t See the Tree for the Forest

 

 

It was a cold winter morning when I was heading through my routine. I walked from my back door to the barn past the front pasture; I grained the horses; I broke the ice off the trough; I put out hay for the horses to graze on in the pasture; I was turning our Swedish Warmblood out into the pasture when I heard my wife’s voice and saw her frantically waving. My wife was getting my attention because, in all this time, I had failed to notice the 30-foot tree that had fallen through the fence in our front pasture.

Was I blind?

How could I have missed it?! I had already walked past the fallen tree numerous times, yet I never opened my eyes beyond my own footsteps to see what had transpired. I wasn’t blind; I was unaware and distant from the moment, not present.

I am working on living in a more alert fashion. I am trying to slow and live with a greater appreciation for the present. It is a slow process. It is ironic that I often lead retreats for folks on this very topic. I am learning that God allows me to lead these retreats not because of what I can offer but because it is how he can teach me.

I hope to hear and obey the words of Benedict in the prologue to his Rule:

However late, then, it may seem, let us rouse ourselves from lethargy. That is what scripture urges on us when it says, the time has come for us to rouse ourselves from sleep. Let us open our eyes to the light that shows us the way to God. Let our ears be alert to the stirring call of his voice crying to us every day: today if you should hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.

[St. Benedict’s Rule, A New Translation for Today, Ampleforth Abbey Press, 1997. p. 11, emphasis added.]

Do you go through the motions, not present to your surroundings?

Do you need to open your eyes and have alert ears?

Photo: sallysetsforth


On the Fourth

 

 

The fourth commandment is rooted in the creation story and hard wired into the makeup of what it means to be human. Just as God rested from the work of creating the universe, so we too are made in a way where rest is not optional but a necessity. Our bodies, minds, and souls all require us taking rest. Jesus reminds us, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27).

Beyond sleeping each night, we are called to remember, to take time to keep a holy Sabbath—a period of time when we cease our work, striving, and toiling and engage in resting, trusting, and relying on God’s care; time when we remember not only our need for rest but also that we are not indispensable, we are not autonomous, we are not God.  We keep the Sabbath holy as we exercise our trust and faith in God’s provision, care, and sovereignty.

It goes without saying that remembering the Sabbath is not a cultural priority in North America. Many things creep in and erode at the practice of stopping and resting from important activities, work, recreation, ministry endeavors, and endless communication. To stop and remember the Sabbath is a countercultural and physical way to demonstrate, exercise, and grow our faith in God’s goodness and greatness.

What follows is a simple prayer to help you ease into your practice of remembering the Sabbath.

Father, slow us down

Ease the pounding of our hearts, still our minds;

Slow our pulses and expand our faith.

May we rest in you, 

Knowing that life is not about more, better, or achieving.

 

Repair our values,

Restore our hope,

Reignite our faith

In your care, provision, and sovereignty over our lives.

 

Slow us down.

Help us remember your ways,

following after your will. Amen.

 

Photo: fatboyke (Luc)


How’s the Service?

 

 

Pursuing Christian maturity is a goal many of us pursue. We take many different tactics, but one I often neglect and fail to remember is engaging in service. While I can rate the service I receive at retailers and restaurants at a drop of the hat, I often ignore my own service rating. It isn’t that I don’t or haven’t given of my time, gifts, and energies to many worthy causes and ministry endeavors; it is my lack of serving in everyday life that I too often overlook. Serving and caring for others is at the heart of our Christian faith, and a glance at the Scriptures will confirm it (Matthew 6:1-4, Matthew 25:31-40, Luke 6:31, James 1:27, 1 Peter 4:10). I have come to realize that nothing less than disciplined practice can overcome my inertia toward service.

The following is my attempt to overcome my natural inclination of avoiding the posture of a servant.

  • Invite God to give me eyes that will quickly recognize opportunities to serve and a soft heart ready to quickly, joyfully, and completely obey.
  • As I pray for those near to me, take time to pause and reflect and consider ways I can show them love, mercy, and care by serving them at their point of need. Then do it.
  • Attempt to serve in secret on a regular basis. Send something that is needed anonymously in the mail, or drop it off at a doorstep.
  • Have a go-the-extra-mile attitude by seeing a need and filling it. (Sweep or vacuum a floor, prepare a meal, clear a table, mow a lawn, pay for someone behind me in line.) Whatever it is, serve out of love and without being asked.

How’s the service you are offering?

Photo: Keoki Seu


October: Clip Art of the Month

 

 

What’s that, you say? You don’t use the dynamic graphic design power of clip art? Maybe it’s because you haven’t seen the cutting-edge clip art available with your Barefoot Online subscription (go to Lessons/Library/Media). Each month, we’ll highlight one of these high-quality images for your viewing pleasure.

Need that killer graphic for your fall hayride and bonfire event? You’re welcome.


Voices in Christian Formation: Esther de Waal

Voices in Christian Formation is a series of posts to help introduce some of the contemporary authors and speakers we can learn from as it pertains to our Christian formation. The posts focus on critical components of our Christian formation and provide a short bibliography to investigate each topic further.

Esther de Waal is an Anglican laywoman living on the border of Wales and England.  Author of more than ten books and contributor to others, Esther has focused on Benedictine, Celtic, and monastic spirituality. Her writing is personal, historically informative, and focuses on moving readers toward living out their faith in order to deepen their spirituality.

Three of Esther’s lesser-known titles impacted me deeply. These three short works seemed to be retreats in a book format. About them, De Waal writes:

To take time to be apart…is not a luxury, it is essential. The gift of space for myself seems so simple, and in a way it is; but it is also surprisingly difficult to do without some form of external encouragement. And that is the very simple purpose of this book (Lost in Wonder, p. 1).

In Lost in Wonder, we have the privilege of Esther guiding us to rediscover the spiritual art of attentiveness. With exercises, prayers, meditations and insightful writing, we are guided into this practice of developing awareness of our surroundings, God’s activity, and our place within it.

In her little book Seeking Life, de Waal unpacks the sacrament of Baptism. This retreat-like experience plunges us into this act that shapes our identities and daily lives and makes us truly alive. The book is rich with historical prayers, exercises, and insights that help us live as people reborn of water and the Spirit.

The third book is To Pause at the Threshold. Here, de Waal focuses on the power that thresholds, transitions, and liminal space can have in our lives. This short book is a challenging meditation for any of us who are in the middle of change and struggling with living on the border of what was and what is to come.

Esther de Waal’s Must Reads:

Photo: Βethan


A Hitchhiker’s Guide to Christian Formation

Our formation as followers of Jesus is ultimately our responsibility. The results of our choices, attitudes, actions, and relationships play a major part on whether we progress or regress in growing into the likeness of Jesus for the sake of our world. While that is true, our Christian formation is not something that takes place in isolation. There are clearly aspects to our Christian formation that are communal; we need others praying, advising, and encouraging us along the way. Another way to say it may be that sometimes there is no other way down the straight and narrow path except by catching a ride with one who knows the stretch we are stuck on.

I am not sure where I first heard or tripped over the idea that reading the experience, memoirs, advice, and direction of those who have gone before us in the faith is like hitchhiking, but it has been a helpful metaphor. Catching a ride with a sage can be a much-needed prescription for many of us who feel forgotten on the side of the road or sidelined by frustration, confusion, or lack of motivation to keep going. Just like hitchhiking, though, we need to be careful not to get in any old car that stops to offer us a lift. Caution is needed, for not all offering spiritual aid and advice are dependable or helpful.

What follows are a couple devotional classics that have given reliable rides for those who stuck out their thumbs and hitched a ride.

Have you gotten a ride from one who has gone before?

What have been the devotional classics that have assisted you in making it further down the road?

[Photo credit: melynaguona]