Tag Archives | prayer

“Hey, I’m sending you my thoughts and prayers!”

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If you’re anything like me, your outrage has pretty much exhausted itself. Most days, what with the presidential election and all, I feel spent, outrage now in dangerously short supply. I know I’m not alone.

But I can still get worked up about a few things if I try hard enough.

Take prayer.

Surprised? You wouldn’t think that prayer would be high on my list of concerns, but it is. I’m more than a little concerned about the way people pray. And in my line of work, as you can imagine, I hear a lot of prayer – some of it touching and heartfelt, but much of it, frankly, shallow and empty.

My concern isn’t posture or whether or not people should close their eyes or fold their hands when they pray, though to be honest I wish someone would take Donald Trump aside and tell him what to do when he’s surrounded by evangelical pastors who want to lay their hands on him and anoint him with their prayers. I don’t expect him to get on his knees, but a facial expression that says he’s in the presence of a power greater than himself would be a nice start.

No, my concern is actually with the content of the prayers I hear – what people pray for and what those prayers sound like to me.

Whenever there’s a tragedy in the world – a mass shooting or bombing, let’s say – I will invariably hear that my friends are sending their “thoughts and prayers.” Politicians like to send a lot of “thoughts and prayers” these days, have you noticed? But here’s my question: Does anyone know what in the world that means? I haven’t figured it out. Can I actually send my thoughts to you? I assume they would be happy thoughts.  Or maybe supportive, comforting thoughts. Look out, here they come.

To be blunt about it, that’s not how I learned to pray. And I don’t recall that Jesus sent “thoughts and prayers” either, though I might have missed a situation in the gospels where he did just that. I’ll keep looking.

And then, since I’m venting my spleen about this subject, I can’t believe all the complaints I get about printed prayers in our order of worship. A few weeks ago someone told me that she had a problem with our church’s use of printed prayers – like the prayer of confession which we pray in unison every week in morning worship. She told me that prayers should be “spoken and spontaneous.” I tried to appear understanding, with my best pastoral expression, but I was thinking, “Lady, have you heard of the psalms? They sure look like printed prayers to me, all 150 of them.”

But I’ve saved the big one for last.

As a pastor I find myself on a lot of prayer chains. People are always asking me to pray – for that upcoming surgery, for the biopsy report, for the job interview, even for a parking space. And most of the time, I pray. I don’t send anyone “thought and prayers,” but I do let God know what I’m thinking and feeling. A family member was taken to the hospital a couple of Saturday mornings ago, and you’d better believe I was praying for her, for the ambulance driver, for little or no traffic on the way to the hospital, for the doctors who would be waiting for her, even for the person who would take down the insurance information in the ER. I think God probably noticed the  note of desperation in my voice. That was my hope.

I don’t have a problem with those prayers, and I offer my share of them. I ask God for stuff all the time. But I think there’s a different, higher purpose for our prayers. I think that when we pray we are conforming ourselves to the person of Christ.

When Jesus taught the disciples what we like to call the “Lord’s Prayer,” he wasn’t giving them tips on prayer. He was saying, “Pray these things until they become the desire of your hearts.”

Frankly, I’m not much interested in “daily bread.” I would prefer to have a comfortable retirement and the finer things in life.  “Daily bread” has never been high on my list of prayer points. But I think Jesus was hoping that I would pray that particular prayer until it became what I truly wanted.

Same with temptations. I kind of like temptations, don’t you? I would like to enjoy my temptations, without actually falling into them. But I think Jesus was hoping that I would change my attitude about temptation, by learning to pray differently.

Read the rest of the Lord’s Prayer. It works pretty much the same way. Prayer is asking God for stuff – I get that – but prayer has a way of changing us too, if we let it, if we start to think about what we’re praying for, if we can only learn to let God’s will be done here on earth as it is in heaven. And don’t be afraid to use a printed prayer. I know a 150 of them that might help.

So, there. I got it off my chest. Thanks for reading.

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(Photo: Above, my grand daughter strolling along Lake Michigan near Holland. Below, the cozy cottage at the lake.)

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A prayer for Sunday morning

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Lord, it gets harder to pray these prayers.

You must have noticed how I struggle. How could you miss it?

I stand on Sunday morning, I face my congregation, I do my best to look strong and confident, and I say, “Let us pray.”

And then I wonder what I should say. What is there to say?

Sometimes I think of the week just ended. Do I begin with Istanbul? But then I think people must be tired of hearing about that. And besides, it’s so depressing. Forty-one more deaths? We come to worship to have our spirits lifted, not to be reminded of the latest bombing, shooting, attack, massacre, disaster, or whatever. Frankly, I lose track of them. Weren’t we just talking about Orlando, or Brussels, or Paris, or Baghdad, or Kabul, or was it Mogadishu?

There are so many, Lord. We are no longer shocked. We have become numb. We hear the news and think, “Not again.” It’s hard to feel anything anymore.

Forgive us.

Other times – and I know this should happen more often than it does – I suddenly remember where I am. I remember that I am standing in your presence, your holy and majestic presence. I am speaking to you, the one who created everything out of nothing. And I am leading your people in prayer. I am praying on their behalf, and I know they are counting on me to get it right, to say what needs to be said, to express what is on their minds and in their hearts.

When I remember where I am, and who is listening, it’s then that I can’t go on. It’s then that I realize how inadequate I am to the task, how pathetic my words must sound. They certainly sound pathetic to me.

Forgive me.

Almost as an afterthought I remember to thank you for what you have given to me – to all of us – and I even name a few things, but the truth is, everything we have is a gift from you, all of it, every last thing. We are blessed people.

When I have said everything I can think to say, I say, “Thank you.”

Because I am thankful.

Most of the time.

Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayers.

And hear my prayer.

(Photo: Church of the Nativity, Bethlehem)

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A prayer for Sunday morning (and the annual meeting that follows)

 

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Merciful God, you know how we anticipate this day, clinging to hope that this year will be different, but mostly feeling fear and dread that this year will be like all the others. We will do our best to pray and sing the hymns and listen to the sermon, your Word to us, but really, if we are honest, our hearts are focused on what comes later – the annual meeting.

We are human, after all – pathetically, inescapably human.

Even though we pray that this year will be different from other years, and that we will be fully present to you in worship, we know that our thoughts, in spite of ourselves, will be on budgets and reports and elections. If there is something in scripture about budgets, it would be helpful if you would point us to it, but then we seem to know, deep down, that none of this matters, not really, that when your Son announced the kingdom of God he wasn’t really thinking about church buildings and leadership boards and budget deficits. He seemed to have so much more in mind for us. He seemed to want so much more for us.

In so far as it is possible, lift our own minds from that which has no eternal meaning … to that which you would have us know and believe and trust. Keep us from mean-spirited thoughts. Help us to think the best of others, whose opinions – forgive us – we cannot abide. When we would stand and offer an opinion not worthy of you, push us firmly back to our seat. And when we would sit quietly and listen to – forgive us again – nonsense, prompt us to speak.

Above all, give us wise and discerning hearts, mostly to remember that your church will never quite measure up until that day that you make all things new. And for that day we pray that you will make it come … quickly.

Amen.

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A prayer for the fourth Sunday of Advent

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(Re-posted from last year.)

Lord, it’s the fourth Sunday of Advent, as I think you know, you who created the universe and everything in it, including me and all the stuff I like to think of as belonging to me.

Anyway, today is the fourth Sunday of Advent, as I mentioned, and I’m sitting here in the early morning darkness, with the house still, my cup of coffee nearby, made from freshly-ground beans, just the way I like it, and the dog is waiting patiently for our daily walk around the block. (I like this time of day – once again, as you know.)

And I’m thinking about what this day means – for me, for you, and for the world you made.  Such big thoughts for so early in the morning, I know.

So much of what I hear from friends at this point in the season is whether or not they’re in the mood, whether or not they’ve captured the spirit, or whatever they think they’re supposed to be feeling right about now. And I confess that I’ve done quite a bit to get myself into the mood.  I put up the tree, for example, and decorated it, while listening to lovely Christmas music.  That was nice.  And last week I went to the big Christmas concert in town, featuring candlelight and over 200 singers and musicians, you know the one.  I hope you liked it, too.

And I came away that night thinking, “Hey, I’m really in the mood now!  And look!  There’s even snow on the ground!”

But this morning, before anyone else is up, before I’m fully awake, I realize that this season doesn’t depend on me.  Whether I’m in the mood or not.  Whether I’ve got the spirit or not.  And I’m thinking that might actually be good news.

Because whatever I’m feeling – or not feeling – you looked with love on the world you made, and you became one of us.  And not just a better version of us, but the version of us we could never be.  You came to us as a baby, born to a mom and dad.  You lived our lives as we must try to live them, with laughter and friends, as well as betrayal and loss.  You did all that.  And much more besides.

So, to wrap this up, because I know others (not as industrious as I am) are beginning to wake up and offer their morning prayers too, I’m trying my best to remember that none of this depends on me.  None of it whatsoever. My joy this season is what you did for me.  And for the whole world.  And for that I’m more grateful than I can possibly say.  Amen.

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A pastor’s prayer for Monday morning

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Lord, I probably shouldn’t take Mondays off. Too much of today is filled with yesterday. What good is a day away if it’s filled with thoughts about what’s already happened and can’t be changed?

I loved being at church yesterday. So that’s good. I can’t always say that on Mondays, but I can today. Small blessings.

I can’t say much about yesterday’s sermon. It probably could have used more work, but you hear me say that most weeks and are probably tired of it. Am I right? I’ll try to be less critical of myself. But getting rid of those perfectionist tendencies has become a lifelong project. I could use some help. This is going to take some divine intervention.

I loved the music yesterday. Organ, flute, piano, all in various combinations.

Also, we sing all of my favorites on Christ the King. We missed “Crown Him with Many Crowns” this year, but happily no one complained (although that email may still arrive later today).

Following the church calendar is important to me, but I have a nagging suspicion that it doesn’t mean much to you. Anything I should know about that? Advent? Lent? Will there be much of that in the life after this? Christ the King helps me to remember that this victory I am looking forward to has already been won, and I need the reminder, even though you don’t.

Sometimes I get confused about what’s supposed to happen in worship. I love singing certain songs, not others, but I don’t usually think about what pleases you. If it pleases me, does it please you? A lot of things please me that surely don’t please you, so there must be more to think about than my feelings.

Or maybe I should think less on Mondays and enjoy the day more. I suppose that’s what would please you most, enjoying this gift you have given me. I’ll try to do that.

And thank you for listening. I need that.

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(Photos: That photo at the top of this post got my attention last Saturday. I didn’t need my German-English dictionary to understand it. I was on what was for me a new mountain path, along with eight other men from my church. Happily, I can report that no rocks fell on us. The next photo gives our location, and the photo at the bottom shows some of Switzerland’s tallest mountains in the distance. A beautiful day.)

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A prayer for the end of summer

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Lord, where to begin?

If I forget everything else that’s been happening in the world, then – yes – it’s been a pretty good summer. Thank you.

But how do I forget everything that’s been happening in the world?

I looked back at the sermons I preached in July, before heading off on vacation, and they were – how do I put this? – gloomy. Well, you heard them, didn’t you? I’m never quite sure. But that’s what they were, weren’t they? There were gloomy about the world, they were gloomy about the future, they were gloomy about nearly everything.

I ask your forgiveness – and the forgiveness of all those who had to sit politely and listen to them. You have asked me to live with hope. You have asked me to trust in you. And I wish I could do that. But after all these years I’m still working on the very first step of faith, still trying to remember that you are God – and that I am not.

As you know – from previous prayers – I am not happy with our leadership. I have used strong language about them. I think they are all crooks and liars. I would ask that you bring down your devastating judgment on them – in the stern Old Testament sense – but then I think about my own life and how it isn’t really all it could be either. And I’m thinking that if I can ask for your mercy, so can they.

I pray that they do.

I’m heading back to work in a week, as I think you know, and surprisingly I feel ready to go back. I suppose that’s a prayer of thanksgiving right there. I thank you for the work you’ve given me to do. I thank you for the time away from that work. I thank you for the people I get to do that work with. I thank you that there are people who would actually like to be the church with me, who would like to walk this way together.

And if I forget to be thankful, I hope you will nudge me simply to open my eyes and look around. Amen.

(Photo: Thank you, Brooke Collier, for catching my lop-sided smile.)

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A prayer at the Table on Memorial Day weekend

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In my new, international context, the Lord’s Supper has taken on a new depth and significance. The people who come forward once each month look to me like the kingdom of God, or how I imagine the kingdom will look. There is no Memorial Day weekend here in Switzerland, of course, but as I prepare for worship this morning I am aware of the holiday, am thinking about it, am trying to make sense of it.

Here’s my payer for later this morning…

God of all nations and peoples, tribes and tongues, God who calls us all to be one around this Table, we prepare to receive the bread and cup today knowing – or at least having been told – that you love us and that your great love for us is made visible in this meal.

We come here today from good weeks and bad weeks, and often from weeks that were a mix of both. But we come, hoping for a glimpse of you, hoping to hear a word from you, hoping to see meaning and purpose in lives that too often feel random and messy.

We come just as we are.

Here in your presence we think of ourselves, of course, because our own needs are always before us, but we also think of those close to us – family members and friends who have particular and urgent needs today – and we lift them to you in prayer, trusting that you will heal and comfort them.

We think of this congregation, its work and witness in this city, and we pray for its people, its leadership, and its direction. Teach us to mobilize the many gifts and resources you have given us to do your work in this place.

And of course, because the images in the news are inescapable, we think of the world around us. We pray for places where there is war, where governments teeter, where leaders fail, where your church struggles to remain faithful.

On this Memorial Day weekend, some of us are remembering those who have fallen in war, who have given their lives for a cause higher than themselves, who teach us with their sacrifice how precious our freedom is.

As we come to the Table today, we pray that we may learn to live our own lives as you lived yours among us – with love and forgiveness and sacrifice.

And now, hear us as we say together, either in English or in the language we first learned this prayer: “Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name….”

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A prayer for Saturday morning

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Lord, it’s Saturday morning, and I’m working on my sermon. You know the one – about the man born blind, one of my favorites, but then I have so many.

What am I thinking? You were there!

I’m not sure why I feel the need to tell you what you already know – what day it is, what I’m working on, or even what I’m thinking.

Are Saturdays much different for you than Mondays? I’m thinking, as I sit here, that there’s a great deal I don’t know about you.

I don’t even know if you listen to prayers like this, but I keep offering them, trusting that you do, trusting that what I do and how I spend my time and what brings me joy are of interest to you.

So here I am, as I mentioned, working on my sermon for tomorrow, something that brings me a great deal of joy. I used to tell my family, when they asked me what I was doing on Saturday morning, that I was “tweaking” my sermon.

But the truth is, I’m doing more than that. I’m polishing it, learning it, weighing the value of each word I plan to say, and praying that my congregation will enjoy the hearing of it as much as I enjoy the preparation of it.

More than anything this is a prayer of thanks – for the opportunity to do this thing that I love to do.

In Jesus’ name.

(Photo: where I now live.)

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A prayer for Sunday morning

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Lord, it’s hard for me, as you know, to sleep on Sunday mornings. Almost as soon as I open my eyes, my mind goes to work – the adult ed class I will teach, the sermon I’ve prepared, the people I am hoping to see.

So, I sit at my desk – half-awake, in the early light – and I contemplate the day, this day, the day you have made. (I’m not quite ready to rejoice and be glad in it, though that will come.)

I like the sermon I’ve prepared. It’s got a couple of good laugh lines and also what my father-in-law used to call “meat-and-potatoes.”

It’s not unusual for me to feel good about the sermon at this point in the morning. What happens is that I probably won’t like it so much in a few hours, but then we’ve been all through that, haven’t we, Lord?

I promise to give it my best, and then I’ll try not to spend the rest of the day criticizing it and thinking of all the ways it could have been better.

As for the people, I’m grateful for them.

I’m amazed, frankly, that any of them will show up. It’s such a gloomy, rainy, chilly day that I wonder if I would take a shower, get dressed, and go to church, if I didn’t have to be there. I’d be tempted to tell the preacher later in the week how I can contemplate you just by looking out of my window with a cup of coffee in my hand, which is pretty much what I’m doing right now.

But that’s just the thing: not many of them do that – stay home, I mean. The church, I know from experience, will be mostly full. And there will be lots of children too, a couple hundred of them, thinking that it’s the most natural thing in the world to go to church on Sunday morning. Little do they know.

I am grateful for this day, Lord, for this gift you have given me to do what I love to do. May it be a good day – for you and for us.

In Jesus’ name, I pray.

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Prayer for the First Sunday in Lent

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Lord, at the beginning of Lent, I confess to you that I’ve never really liked this season. I’ve never really liked the fasting, the giving up of stuff I like, the somber feeling I get when I come to worship, or actually anything about it, except maybe for the color purple. I’ve got some great Lenten stoles.

Rather than just admitting that I like to eat and that I hate to give up stuff I like, I’ve pretended over the years to be a little put off by the season. In my preaching I’ve reminded people that Jesus wanted people to do their praying and so forth in private, not showing off about their piety and Lenten observance, but then you heard that, didn’t you?

I never know if you listen to my sermons or not. You do, don’t you?

And I’ve been very enthusiastic – as you know, Lord – about encouraging people to “take something on” instead of “giving something up.” I’m pretty sure you saw through that little ploy, but my people loved it and asked for more. What was I to do?

So, here I am, Lord, before heading off to church on the First Sunday in Lent, feeling just the tiniest bit unsettled. I haven’t given anything up, and I don’t think I can really take on anything more.

I’ve mentioned how busy I am, haven’t I? It’s really tough right about now, with so many meetings to go to. I don’t have time for some silly spiritual discipline. (Sorry, but a few of them do seem silly to me. Giving up chocolate? Really?) My plan is to do what I do every year. I’ll go through the motions, trusting that you’ll overlook my half-hearted attempts to observe this season.

I will do one other thing, though, Lord. I promise to think long and hard about this season and what it means and why we bother to observe it at all, because on Easter morning I so look forward to the big, happy crowds, and the joyful singing, and the brass instruments, and the smell of lilies. I just want to get through all of this unpleasantness as quickly as possible. You can understand that, can’t you?

Lord? Are you still there?

Your humble (and very busy) servant,

Doug

(Art credit: so far as I know, no one is complaining about the commercialization of the Lenten season, but here’s an ad that might be irritating, if it weren’t so funny. It’s Lent, so go out to eat? At Butch’s? And try the perch? I don’t know what to say.)

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