Tag Archives: prayer

A prayer for trust

Ran across this beautiful prayer by Henri Nouwen this morning, quoted in A Guide to Prayer for Ministers and Other Servants:

O Lord, who else or what else can I desire but you? You are my Lord, Lord of my heart, mind, and soul. You know me through and through. In and through you everything that is finds its origin and goal. You embrace all that exists and care for it with divine love and compassion. Why, then, do I keep expecting happiness and satisfaction outside of you? Why do I keep relating to you as one of my many relationships, instead of my only relationship, in which all other ones are grounded? Why do I keep looking for popularity, respect from others, success, acclaim, and sensual pleasures? Why, Lord, is it so hard for me to make you the only one? Why do I keep hesitating to surrender myself totally to you?

Help me, O Lord, to let me old self die, to let die the thousand big and small ways in which I am still building up my false self and trying to cling to my false desires. Let me be reborn in you and see through you the world in the right way, so that all my actions, words, and thought can become a hymn of praise to you.

I need your loving grace to travel on this hard road that leads to the death of my old self and to a new life in and for you. I know and trust that this is the road to freedom.

Lord, dispel my mistrust and help me become a trusting friend. Amen.

In favour of simple and direct prayer (we don’t need to be heroes).

Dallas Willard on simple prayer, which I found very helpful:

“Prayer, like all of the practices into which Jesus leads by word and example, will be self-validating to all who will simply pray as he says [that is, the Lord’s Prayer] and not give up. It is much harder to learn if we succumb to the temptation to engage in “heroic” efforts in prayer. This is important. Heroism, generally, is totally out of place in the spiritual life, until we grow to the point at which it would never be thought of as heroism anyway.

“There are, of course, people who pray heroically, and they are to be respected for what God has called them to… But that is a special calling and is for very few of us. To look to this calling as the ideal for our prayer life is only to assume a burden of uncalled-for guilt, and, quite surely, it is to choose an approach that will lead to abandoning prayer as a realistic…aspect of life in the kingdom. There will be heroic periods as they may be called for, but with no intention to be heroic. Always, we are simply children walking and talking with our Father at hand.

“…Prayer is never just asking, nor is it merely a matter of asking for what I want. God is not a cosmic butler or a fix-it man, and the aim of the universe is not to fulfill my desires and needs. On the other hand, I am to pray for what concerns me, and many people have found prayer impossible because they thought they should only pray for wonderful but remote needs they actually had little or no interest in or even knowledge of. 

“Prayer simply dies from efforts to pray about “good things” that honestly do not matter to us. The way to get to meaningful prayer for those good things is to start by praying for what we are truly interested in. The circle of our interests will inevitably grow in the largeness of God’s love.

“What prayer as asking presupposes is simply a personal…relationship between us and God, just as with a request of child to parent or friend to friend. It assumes that our natural concerns will be naturally expressed, and that God will hear our prayers for ourselves as well as for others. Once again, this is clear from the biblical practice of prayer. It is seen at its best in that greatest of all prayer books, Psalms.

Accordingly, I believe the most adequate description of prayer is simply, “Talking to God about what we are doing together.”

~ Dallas Willard, The Divine Conspiracy: Rediscovering Our Hidden Life in God, pp. 241, 242, 243.

Prayer rope

Just over a week ago I discovered that on the ground floor of the school buildings they have set up a couple of prayer rooms, one larger and two smaller.  They have chairs and pillows and some Christian symbols–the large room has a window with a stained-glass cross hanging in it and has a cross painted on one wall.  One of the smaller rooms has a little table and lamp, a picture (or–dare I say–an icon) of Jesus, as well as (in true interdenominational–or, dare I say, ecumenical–style) an Orthodox prayer rope, a Catholic rosary and Anglican prayer beads, along with some explanation for their use.

One of my professors has said on a number of occasions that theology begins with prayer, which I thought quite profound and helpful.  I can’t just dive into my schoolwork without redirecting myself in prayer first.  So I thought I’d give a daily visit to the prayer room a go.  For the time being I’m using Celebrating Common Prayer (a daily office based on the Anglican Book of Common Prayer) to give a bit of a framework for the prayer time, but may switch to something else–maybe Phyllis Tickle’s Divine Hours or Celtic Daily Prayer.

I’ve also used the Orthodox prayer rope, which is similar to prayer beads,  in that it has knots through out and a cross woven in, but it is made of rope.  There is nothing magical or divine about the prayer rope (or beads) in my mind, but I find that they help me focus.  I have a wandering mind and it is almost inevitable that while praying I will suddenly find myself thinking about something else entirely: something I need to do that day, an item I want to purchase, etc.  I find that using the prayer rope anchors my mind a bit more.  I’ll say the Jesus prayer as I go ’round the rope, interspersing it with prayers for particular people who come to mind, the Lord’s Prayer, the Shema, or St. Ignatius’ prayer (the last two I have printed out and glued to the inside of the cover of Celebrating Common Prayer).  I don’t do much “free prayer” because I find it tends to be quite inane, shallow and circular.  This is a shame, of course, and I should do more “free prayer”, because it will only feel more natural as I do more of it–but it will also improve as the prayers of the church catholic (universal) become part of my vocabulary.

I say none of this to boast about my deep spirituality.  Quite the contrary: my “spirituality” is quite shallow, as a matter of fact, and my “prayer life” (or whatever it’s called) is nearly non-existent.  This is precisely why I’ve started using the prayer room.  I need the practice, the discipline, the depth.  Without prayer my schooling will be largely an empty venture and any future ministry I have will be shallow.  Without prayer I am disconnected from the One whom I wish to serve.

Anyway…all of that is really preamble to this little rant, which will surely rattle you out of any sort of reverie you may have entered while reading the above:

I stopped in at a Winnipeg Christian bookstore yesterday.  They had some books.  They had a lot of trinkets. And they had these tacky pictures of a handsome, cut, Caucasian Jesus in a boxing ring, wearing the satin shorts and holding a pair of boxing gloves (here it is on Google images–you can click on it to embiggen it).  They had plenty of similar images for purchase.

I went to the front counter to ask if they carry any prayer beads.  I hadn’t seen any in the shelves and racks of inscribed crosses, necklaces, figurines, etc. and thought it was unlikely that they would have them.  But I asked anyway.  The girl behind the counter shook her head in a manner that said (to me, at any rate) not only that they did not have any in stock, but that they would not carry such a product.

Bizarre.

What is it with Christian retailers and bad–possibly unholy–art (forgive me if I misunderstand the meaning or the message of this material)?  Why is it that I can go into a Christian bookstore and buy all the tasteless kitsch my heart could ever desire, but it’s nearly impossible to find something useful like prayer beads?

Thank goodness for online shopping, where there are plenty of beads to be found.

Praying with the Psalms

The Psalms of David and Solomon and others have been the prayers of the Church for 2,000 years.  In the last couple of years, I’ve been trying to read the Psalms as prayers as well, to varying degrees of success.  Most of my Bibles have the morning and evening prayers from the Book of Common Prayer Psalter indicated in the Psalms.

As I pray, I sometimes substitute my own problems and stresses for those of the Psalmists.  This isn’t entirely crazy–as I say, the Church has made those Psalms its own prayers since the beginning.  On the other hand, I often find myself feeling a bit whiny, crying out to God through a Psalm about the stresses of life–this paper that’s due, that job that’s getting busy, etc.–as if they are the same thing as David’s enemies surrounding him on all sides and the other oppressions and persecutions against the Psalmists.

It feels particularly lame when I consider that there are plenty of people in this world who face real persecution and oppression and attacks from all sides on a daily basis.  People who would see peaceful deadlines and a steady paycheque as an answer to these prayers.

I wonder if when the Psalmists spoke of oppression and troubles he sometimes meant something more mundane or innocuous or every-day, like a nagging concubine, or an poorly chosen palace cook, or maybe a deadline of some kind.

Maybe over the years our image of the Psalmists has become more heroic than they really were.  I know David did face a lot of hardship and some of his Psalms correspond to those events.  But surely they were still human with daily human problems–did those make their way into the Psalms?  We all know those dramatic types who, by their descriptions of their everyday, really do sound like they are oppressed.  Maybe some of the Psalmists were dramatic in this way, too?

Somehow I doubt it.  I imagine I entertain those thoughts in order to justify my own minor problems.

But how else can we make these sometimes agonizing, desperate, pleading Psalms our own?

On answered prayer…

My favourite moment in Evan Almighty, in which God (Morgan Freeman) tells Evan Baxter (Steve Carrell in a reprise of his Bruce Almighty role) to build an ark.  Early on in the film, Evan is obsessed with his career, so his wife prays for the family to become closer.  Soon after God’s call to Evan, however, she feels Evan’s bizarre behaviour is pulling them apart.

So she takes the kids to stay with a relative so that Evan can seek help.  On the way, they stop for a meal and God appears to her as a waiter.  This is part of their conversation:

Joan: But my husband says God told him to do it [build the ark]. What do you do with that?

God: Sounds like an opportunity. Let me ask you something. If someone prays for patience, do you think God gives them patience? Or does he give them the opportunity to be patient? If they pray for courage, does God give them courage, or does he give them opportunities to be courageous? If someone prayed for their family to be closer, you think God zaps them with warm, fuzzy feelings? Or does he give them opportunities to love each other?…Well, I got to run. A lot of people to serve…