Posts Tagged ‘prayer’

Prayers I Like: Funeral Prayer

Yesterday I attended a funeral at at United Methodist congregation.

This prayer was printed in the bulletin.  A number of people have already written about Americans’ discomfort with the reality of death.  This prayer squarely addresses death while proclaiming full hope in God’s creative and redemptive power.

O God, who gave us birth,
you are ever more ready to hear
than we are to pray.
You know our needs before we ask,
and our ignorance in asking.
Give to us now your grace,
that as we shrink before the mystery of death,
we may see the light of eternity.
Speak to us once more
your solemn message of life and of death.
Help us to live as those who are prepared to die.
And when our days here are accomplished,
enable us to die as those who go forth to live,
so that living or dying, our life may be in you,
and that nothing in life or in death will be able to separate us
from your great love in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

(see more at

Prayer for Christmas Eve

This evening I had the great honor of preaching for a wonderful church that supports our campus ministry program.  But the greater honor was being able to lead worship alongside two incredible women, one of whom is a Commissioned Lay Pastor, and one of whom is applying to seminary.  I couldn’t help but smile as we all three stood in the chancel!

As a devotion for tonight, I’ll share the Lord’s Supper prayer I wrote (minus the actual prayer over the elements, which was a standard prayer out of our Presbyterian worship book.)

This is the night for which we have waited.

Here in the long nights of early winter, we watch, dear God.  We listen, and long for your presence among us.

And here you are, living, breathing, radiant with newborn warmth.

This night was foretold by prophets, anticipated by your appointed rulers, and hoped for by your people.

This night brings a chorus of angels and a mesmerized band of lowly shepherds.

And this night brings peace.

Even as we celebrate, we know that your peace is not cheap, O God.

Your precious Son grew up among us, lived among us, healed our bodies and restored our souls … yet we still sent him to the cross.

Through his death and resurrection we are born into new life. 

 So this night, as we gaze upon the Lamb of God, nestled among the humble animals, make us new. 

Re-create us, so that we might live in the abundance of faith, hope, and love.

 Re-awaken us, so that we might sing of your Good News and live out a vision of your peace.

Refresh us, so that we might help you share the Bread of Heaven and the Water of Life with a hungry and thirsty world.

Merry Christmas!

Advent 1 — Psalm 80: 1-7, 17-19

David Leite, in his 2010 book The New Portuguese Table, writes of the endless ways the thrifty Portuguese use up leftovers and scraps of food.  With what’s around in the kitchen, they make comfort food:  soup, thick-cut potato chips, rice pilaf.  (My mom bought this book for us because my husband’s heritage is Portuguese.  Anything with chourico is amazing.)

You can do with the Psalms what the Portuguese do with food:   repackage, rephrase, and reinterpret ad infinitum. The images and combinations of words have endless possibilities.  For this reason, I have yet to find a better poet than the Psalmist.

Add some spices and make a remix!

You may not have heard the Psalm read in your worship service on Sunday, which is too bad.  Most of the time in today’s Presbyterian churches, we read one selection from the Old Testament, one from the New Testament, and perhaps give a nod to the Psalms in our hymns.

That’s a shame because the Psalms rock.

Think of all the ways Psalm 80 could be used this week by different Christians in their everyday lives.  These words could refresh and inspire whatever you’re doing, like a handful of fresh cilantro in some leftover rice.

∞ An artist could get so much material out of these images.  Let your face shine … you have fed them the bread of tears … stir up your might.

∞ A counselor could use this Psalm in working with troubled people.  The concept of God being “angry” with people’s prayers could really speak to someone who feels that nothing is working right.

∞ A healthcare professional could find some sustenance in the cry, “Restore us!”  I have friend in medical school who appreciates the divine moments that remind him why he’s there:  to serve those who are in great need.

∞ A family could quote verse 18:  “give us life, and we will call on your name.”

Why not use Psalm 80 sometime during your day, particularly as the fall turns to winter?  Here’s a prayer to get you started:

Shine on us, O Lord, as the days grow shorter and the night gathers around us.

Shine on us, O Lord, as we sit at our desks and work at our stations under artificial light.

Shine on us, O Lord, as we sit in dark rooms, rocking our babies back to sleep and holding the hands of our ancient ones.

Shine on us, O Lord, as we do the best we can with a pinch of this and a dash of that.

Shine on us, O Lord, as we wade through murky dilemmas, where no path seems clear.

Shine on us, O Lord, when we smile and share your radiant love.


“give it to God” remix

This weekend, on a retreat with our campus ministry group, I thought some more about the spiritual practice of “giving everything to God.”

Revs. Paul Lang and Jane Rose presented all kinds of great stuff for the students to take home and use in their own walk with Christ, in particular the practice of giving the day to God in your evening prayer.

In my last post on this idea, I wrestled with the question of what exactly we give when we “give it to God,” and whether we still have any role to play in the worries and situations that we give.

When we give our day (with all its successes, failures, surprises and worries) to God in the evening, I wonder if we are just handing it over for safe-keeping and re-processing.

Perhaps God will work within our dreams during the night to give us a fresh perspective in the morning.

Perhaps God will just give us rest, so that we have renewed energy to work on our projects and challenges.

Perhaps God even holds some things for a long time until the moment is right for bringing them back.  I think about Mary “treasuring all these things in her heart” (Luke 2:51) and whether those things were present in her heart as she stood by her dying son.

I think our spiritual goal is to embody what Paul writes about in Philippians 4:13 (“I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”)  Yet the goal is unreachable unless we allow all those “things” to spend some time in the workshop of the Creator.

“give it to God”

Something weird happens when people talk to me about prayer.

Most of the time, whoever is talking to me will mention the phrase “give it to God” or “let God handle it.”  Sometimes I also hear “God won’t give you anything you can’t handle,” but that will be a subject for another post.

And when I hear the phrase “give it to God,” I nod my head.  I recall Philippians 4:6 (Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.)  Yes, as God’s children we are not left to handle everything alone.

But what do we mean when we use that phrase?  Give what to God:  the issue itself, or the anxiety over it?  And do we relinquish all responsibility for events in our lives when we give things to God?

I think there’s a great treatment of the concept “give it to God” in the movie The Dilemma, released earlier this year.  In the movie, the lead character Ronny discovers his friend’s wife in an adulterous relationship, and prays to God about the situation.  Alone in the city at night, he prays, “I know I’m supposed to give things up to you… .”

I’m not sure if the movie character realizes it, but sometimes we actually have very little to “give” to God.

In some situations, there is not much that we can control.  The character Ronny is worried about an upcoming business deal, but there is little he can do once he’s made the initial sales pitch and signed the loan papers.  The project is now in the hands of his partner the engineer, who will have to muster up enough creativity and stamina to see the project through.

What can we “give” to God when a situation is out of our hands?  It may serve us well to clarify things:  to ask God for help in letting go of anxiety, to ask God to help those whom we care about but can’t control.  Perhaps what we need to give away is the desire to control other people.

The character’s other “give it to God” struggle involves dealing with the adultery he discovered.  He begins to act like a jilted lover who is out of control.  He wants to be the judge, the lawman, the punisher (and maybe the redeemer, if people meet his qualifications) but he’s not doing a great job at any of those things.  He freely admits to God that he doesn’t quite want to let go of this situation yet.  He wants to be The One who sorts everything out in a way that makes him happy.
What he’s really asking for is a blessing — a divine OK, giving legitimacy to his vigilante justice.  Truthfully, he doesn’t want to “give” anything to God in this situation.  He wants God to well, make him God instead.   And the thing is, in the areas where he could exercise power, he doesn’t want to.  There may be a million creative ways to deal with this sticky situation, but this character doesn’t want creativity.  He wants things to be fixed, his way, now.
So I’m still stuck with the question, what does it mean to “give it to God?”  Are we giving away selfish and senseless desires?  Misguided intentions?  Misunderstandings?  I just hope we don’t give away our creativity and desire to do the right thing.

Advent Day 16: Being Present

Advent Day 16

…on your wondrous works, I will meditate.  (Psalm 145)

Do you know anyone who will drop everything to be “in the moment” with a friend in need?  Or anyone who is easygoing, willing to change if the needs of the moment change?  Those are great attributes to have in a friend, and many times, in a supervisor.  Yet I know many young adults struggling to change their easygoing, in-the-moment nature, because that way of being gets them in trouble at work. 

What kind of friend would we like God to be?  The friend who goes with the flow, or the friend who keeps us on schedule?  I think the answer to that question depends on the individual.  However, I do have a thought about our side of the relationship with our Creator.  Regardless of our personalities, we could benefit from being in the moment with the One who loves us.

Our lack of attention to the present is both a symptom and a cause of our disconnected relationship with God.  How do we start paying attention?  It would be great to have hours for quiet prayer each day, but for your average young adult, taking that much time would only result in feeling further behind.   Try one of these two options as a different way of using the moments you are given.

  1. Take a break from the clock.  Some people are always worried about their next appointment, or traffic, or being late.   If you are one of those people, scheduling time for prayer or meditation will be tough, because you will be worried about ending on time.  Try this instead:   go to a church service or holiday choir concert, and show up really early.  Sit and listen to the choir practice before worship, or sit quietly in the sanctuary.  You’ll get a good parking space (hey – I know your type!), and you’ll feel secure, knowing that even if you lose yourself in prayer you won’t be late for the main event.
  2.  Take a break from tasks.  Some people are not so worried about time, but are concerned about getting everything done.  If this applies to you, prayer may feel like another chore on your long to-do list.  Here’s an idea for you:  say you wake up on a Saturday and have a big pile of dirty clothes.  Do laundry for exactly 30 minutes or 1 hour, and then stop.  Take a 30-minute break to do something completely different, such as reading or going for a run.  (Exercise and reading are probably on your to-do list anyway!)  Then go back to your laundry for a set period of time.  This is how some monasteries are run:  each monk does a task for a certain period of time, and leaves when the time is up.  The next monk picks up where the last one left off, and somehow it all gets done.

Finally, regardless of what you do for your prayer time, try to share the wealth and be fully present in the moment with a friend.

Today’s daily Scripture reading from the PC(USA):

Advent Day 15: Reviewing the Day

Advent Day 15

They heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden at the time of the evening breeze … (Genesis 3:8)

As a joke, the senior pastor at the church where our campus ministry is located made a Festivus pole.  Last week he made a joke about the “airing of the grievances” that is supposedly part of the celebration of Festivus, and another staff member said, “Oh, the airing of grievances?  I thought that was called our annual review!”  I laughed so hard I almost couldn’t breathe.

Well, you can air your grievances to God.  Seriously, there is a long tradition within Christian spiritual practice of reviewing the day.  It’s called examen.  This old word refers to a practice of reviewing what happened during the day, when we felt God’s presence and guidance, when we felt alone and lost, and a little reflection on what that means.

Sounds simple enough, but done well, examen can cut to the core.  (So be careful!)    Examen could reveal that you are a person who loves to air grievances and then take them back into your heart, as if they were precious treasures.  Examen could reveal that you don’t pay attention.  Examen could reveal that your view of the world is overly dark, or overly sweet and naive.  Finally, examen could reveal some beautiful gifts you have inside that you aren’t using.

The question is, if you try examen for a while and discover some things about yourself, what will you do about those things?  You might even try keeping a journal of your daily examen time and look back every once in a while, to see how you have grown and where you still need to stretch. 

Today’s daily Scripture reading from the PC(USA):

Advent Day 13: Ordinary

Advent Day 13

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love.
Where there is injury, pardon.
Where there is doubt, faith.
Where there is despair, hope.
Where there is darkness, light.
Where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master,
grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled, as to console;
to be understood, as to understand;
to be loved, as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive.
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.
Amen.   (Prayer atttributed to St. Francis)

Today, pray in the car.  Or in the shower.  Or while walking the dog.  Pray anytime, and all the time.

When I was in seminary, I helped facilitate an interfaith discussion group for undergraduates.  One person who was Jewish talked about the many prayers in his tradition for ordinary things:  getting up, eating, going to work, whatever.  St. Francis, to whom the prayer above is attributed, supposedly prayed about whatever he saw around him, and other Christians have written beautiful prayers about everyday stuff.

Somehow we think that prayer needs to sound grand, and needs to address a grand subject matter, like world peace.  That way of thinking about prayer just leads to one thing:  not praying.  And why would you want to deprive yourself of time spent with God, unless you’re trying to run away?   (That’s a discussion for another time!)

So today, talk to God about the weather.  Lift up your concerns, frustrations, and celebrations, however small or large.  Lift up prayer for the world around you, and pay attention to what God is doing in your world.

today’s daily Scripture reading from the PC(USA):

Advent Day 10: Alert

Advent Day 10

Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day catch you unexpectedly, like a trap… Be alert at all times … (from Luke 21)

O taste and see that the Lord is good … (Psalm 34:8)

What does it mean to be alert? 

If you watch a TV show around 9 or 10 pm, after many children have gone to bed, you’ll see ads for energy drinks that promise alertness.  To be alert, according to these ads, is to be pumped full of vitamins and caffeine.  The point of being alert, according to the ads, is to be a functioning parent and employee despite the fact that you’ve had no sleep.

Is that it?  Does God call us to be hyperfunctioning, hypervigilant, constantly in need of another shot?

Today’s spiritual practice is alertness or awareness, but no chemicals are required.  Instead, this type of awareness is more like paying attention, or living in the moment.

Take a walk today, preferably in a place with some grass or trees and away from car exhaust.  As you walk, make note of what you experience with your five senses.  In some places, you may even be able to taste the fresh air!

Later, in your journal, write about how you experienced Creation.  How did it feel to walk on ground instead of concrete?  Was it quiet, or did you hear some birds singing to each other about good sources of winter food?  Reflect on all five senses, and if possible, reflect on how you have experienced God’s care in the past.  Maybe you have a specific memory connected to something you heard or saw.

I think this type of alertness is very different from the over-caffeinated version.  When we’re high on artificial energy, we’re actually “drunk,” in a sense, and we are paying even more attention to our worries (that’s why we drank the drink — to get more things checked off the to-do list.)

Spiritual awareness, or awareness of what God is doing, only requires paying attention.  Simply by noticing, we can better understand how God is trying to reach us.  Simply by noticing, we can notice Christ in the face of someone right in front of us, and better understand our mission and calling.

Today’s Scripture reading from the PC(USA):

See the Prayer and Temperament book (info on the Resources page) for more about praying with the five senses.

Advent Day 3

Advent Day 3:  Prayer

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host,  praising God and saying,
   “Glory to God in the highest heaven,
   and on earth peace among those whom he favors!”   (Luke 1:14)  

Ah, the dreaded outline.  Did you ever have to make an outline for a class:  an outline of a paper, or of a chapter you read in your textbook?  Boring, huh? 

Yet I think the opposite can be true for prayer.  Sometimes we just have no idea what to say to God.  If you’ve ever experienced a lack of words (or if you think your words are getting in the way), try “outlining” your prayer.   It may feel fake at first, but after a while it may help you guide your thoughts.  Here are some suggested outlines, and you can make up your own.

“ACTS” outline:  this contains all the elements of the Lord’s Prayer, by the way.  I’ll write more about the Lord’s Prayer in a later post.

Adoration:   praising God.  Begin your prayer by reflecting on what’s great about God.  My experience using this outline is that this is the most difficult step.  What can I say that doesn’t sound cheesy, or hasn’t been said better by someone else?  Sometimes for this step I just sit and enjoy God’s presence, to help me stop worrying about what to say and to put me in the right frame of mind for prayer.  Or, I repeat the words to a hymn or praise song.

Confession:  letting go of whatever you did wrong and asking for forgiveness and restoration.

Thanksgiving:  just like what it says.  Give thanks to God.

Supplication:  this means asking for things.  It’s OK to ask for healing for sick people, and guidance for confused people, for world peace, and so on.  I don’t think supplication is about asking God for magic tricks.  Instead, sometimes as we pray over and over for something, we begin to see the world through God’s eyes, and we see how God is already answering our prayers.  Also, sometimes through supplication God helps us accomplish what we pray for.  Those who pray for peace may learn over time how to become peacemakers, for example.

“Breath Prayer” outline.  You can do this in one of two ways. 

First, you can say a word such as “ask” when you breathe out, and “receive” when you breathe in.  Other useful words:  peace, love, hope, Spirit, shalom, I, Thou, one, many.

Second, you can stretch the prayer out, spending some time looking inward and then considering the world around you.  I used to do this in a particular place I would walk every morning:  on the first half of the walk I would lift up whatever was going on in my life to God, and on the second half I would ask God for direction on how I would be a servant in God’s world that day.

May your prayers be like the breath of life.  (see Genesis 2.)

Today’s daily Scripture reading from the PC(USA):