O Lord, by all your dealings with us, whether of joy or pain, of light or darkness, let us be brought ever closer to you. Let us not value your grace simply because it makes us happy, or because it makes us sad, because it gives us or denies us what we want, but because all that you send us bring us to you. Let us realize that in knowing your perfection, we may be sure in every disappointment that you are still loving us, that in every darkness you are still enlightening us, and that in every bump in our journey’s road you are giving us life, just as in death you gave life to your Son, our savior Jesus Christ.
O Lord, our whole world is in the midst of struggle about our future, and there is great fear and uncertainty among us. We worry about war and peace, about terror and trouble, about the environment and the economy. Calm us down and let us speak to each other as those who have a common stake in our life together, as neighbors rather than as adversaries
Keep us from rancor and strife, from rumors and accusations. Let us seek the truth as best we can know it, and the common good above our own particular interests. Deliver us from the need to build ourselves up by cutting others down. Let us listen more than we talk, and think before we speak, and realize that we are all in this together,
O Lord, you alone can control the days that are gone and the deeds that are done; remove from our burdened memory the weight of past years, that being set free both from the comfort of complacency and the paralysis of remorse, we may reach forth to those things which lie before us, and press towards the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Jesus Christ. Amen.
(Photo: R. L. Floyd)
P.T. Forsyth (1848-1921) is so quotable that you can practically open any of his books at random and find nuggets of truth and grace, which is pretty much what I have done today.
This one is on prayer. For Forsyth prayer was not at all passive, but powerfully active. Here is one of his thoughts about what today we might call “walking the walk as well as talking the talk.” It is a perfect thought for Lent:
A prayer is also a promise. Every true prayer carries with it a vow. If it do not, it is not in earnest. It is not of a piece with life. Can we pray in earnest if we do not in the act commit ourselves to do our best to bring about the answer? Can we escape some kind of hypocrisy? This is especially so with intercession. What is the value of praying for the poor if all the rest of our time and interest is given only to becoming rich . . .
If we pray for our child that he may have God’s blessing, we are really promising that nothing shall be lacking on our part to be a divine blessing to him. And if we have no kind of religious relation to him (as plenty of Christian parents have none), our prayer is quite unreal, and its failure should not be a surprise.
To pray for God’s kingdom is also to engage ourselves to service and sacrifice for it. To begin our prayer with a petition for the hallowing of God’s name and to have no real and prime place for holiness in our life or faith is not sincere.
The prayer of the vindictive for forgiveness is mockery, like the prayer for daily bread from a wheat-cornerer. No such man could say the Lord’s Prayer but to his judgement.
What would happen to the Church if the Lord’s Prayer became a test for membership as thoroughly as the Creeds have been? The Lord’s Prayer is also a vow to the Lord. . .
Great worship of God is also a great engagement of ourselves, a great committal of our action. To begin the day with prayer is but a formality unless it go on in prayer, unless for the rest of it we pray in deed what we began in word. (“The Soul of Prayer,” p 27-28)
(Photo: R. L. Floyd, Living Water 2, Pittsfield State Forest, March 2010)
Prayer often does not comes easily for me. Like many theologs I frequently would rather talk about God than to God. There have been times when I was too full of guilt, or shame, or whatever, to have the kind of self-scrutiny that honest prayer requires. I confess that some of these long periods of prayerlessness have been during times when I was writing lofty theological ideas. Sometimes I know I am just avoiding God because He just seems too much for me, which is, of course, a lie. I am reminded of Abraham Heschel’s insight that “if it seems that God is silent in our time, it is because we are avoiding him.”
But prayer is essential to faith. P.T. Forsyth once said that “prayer is to religion what research is to science.” Recently Kevin Davis, whose blog, “After Existentialism, Light,” is well worth a visit, posted one of my favorite quotes about prayer from Forsyth.
This Forsyth quote always judges me, but also somehow lifts me up. It also has about it the ring of truth from a man who knew what prayer was about. In this Lenten Season of self-examination and repentance it is just what I need. Perhaps you, too?
The worst sin is prayerlessness. Overt sin, or crime, or the glaring inconsistencies which often surprise us in Christian people are the effect of this, or its punishment. We are left by God for lack of seeking Him. The history of the saints shows often that their lapses were the fruit and nemesis of slackness or neglect in prayer. Their life, at seasons, also tended to become inhuman by their spiritual solitude. They left men, and were left by men, because they did not in their contemplation find God; they found but the thought or the atmosphere of God. Only living prayer keeps loneliness humane. It is the great producer of sympathy. Trusting the God of Christ, and transacting with Him, we come into tune with men. Our egoism retires before the coming of God, and into the clearance there comes with our Father our brother. . . .
Not to want to pray, then, is the sin behind sin. And it ends in not being able to pray. That is its punishment — spiritual dumbness, or at least aphasia, and starvation. We do not take our spiritual food, and so we falter, dwindle, and die. “In the sweat of your brow ye shall eat your bread.”(“The Soul of Prayer,” in A Sense of the Holy, p. 137)
If you don’t know this little book on prayer, which is a reprint of three of Forsyth’s sermons, you should, for it is one of the best around. It is a favorite of Eugene Peterson, who wrote a foreword to one of the newest editions.
(Photo: R. L. Floyd. Living Water. Churchill Trail, Pittsfield State Forest, 3/2010)
The Welsh Metaphysical poet George Herbert (3 April 1593 –-1 March 1633) is one of my favorite poets who deals with religious themes, my other favorites being Isaac Watts, John Donne, and Gerard Manley Hopkins.
Herbert was a well-educated man who became an accomplished poet and noted orator. He served in parliament for two years, but in his late thirties gave up secular life to take holy orders in the Church of England. He spent the rest of his short life as the rector of a small parish, Fugglestone ST Peter with Bemerton St Andrew, in Wiltshire near Salisbury. He was known as a faithful pastor to his flock, unfailing in his care of the sick, to whom he brought the sacrament, and to the poor, to whom he provided food and clothing. He himself was in poor health and died of tuberculosis just three years after his ordination. Here is one of his poems about prayer:
PRAYER the Churches banquet, Angels age,
Gods breath in man returning to his birth,
The soul in paraphrase, heart in pilgrimage,
The Christian plummet sounding heav’n and earth ;
Engine against th’ Almightie, sinner’s towre,
Reversed thunder, Christ-side-piercing spear,
The six daies world-transposing in an houre,
A kinde of tune, which all things heare and fear ;
Softnesse, and peace, and joy, and love, and blisse,
Exalted Manna, gladnesse of the best,
Heaven in ordinarie, man well drest,
The milkie way, the bird of Paradise,
Church-bels beyond the stars heard, the souls bloud,
The land of spices, something understood.
(Herbert, George. The Poetical Works of George Herbert.
New York: D. Appleton and Co., 1857. 61-62.)