One of his disciples said to Jesus, “Teach us to pray.” It is a simple request. Perhaps you are perfectly comfortable praying, but many church people are not. As the Presbyterian theologian Robert McAfee Brown wrote: “Prayer for many is like a foreign land. When we go there, we go as tourists. Like most tourists, we feel uncomfortable and out of place. Like most tourists, we therefore move on before too long and go somewhere else.”
The premise of this sermon is that we could all benefit from thinking about what prayer is and how to go about it, that we may stop feeling like tourists in a foreign land and more like pilgrims in the house of prayer. Continue reading →
The Swiss theologian Karl Barth, who many (among them me) consider the greatest Christian theologian of the Twentieth Century, never stopped being a pastor among the people. In his years as Professor in Basel, he frequently preached to the prisoners at the local prison. Those sermons and prayers are available in a fine little collection called “Deliverance to the Captives.”
Here is a prayer from Christmas, 1958, which to me, has a sad but profound resonance with our own time:
We remember before thee all darkness and suffering of our time; the manifold errors and misunderstandings whereby we human beings afflict one another; the harsh reality which so many must face without the benefit of comfort; the great dangers that hang over the world which does not know how to counter them. We remember the sick and the mentally ill, the needy, the refugees, the oppressed and the exploited, the children who have no good parents or no parents at all. We remember all those who are called on to help as much as men can help, the officials of our country and of all other countries, the judges and civil servants, the teachers and educators, the writers of books and newspapers, the doctors and nurses in the hospitals, the preachers of thy word in the various churches and congregations nearby and afar. We remember them all when we implore thee to let the light of Christmas shine brightly . . . so that they and we ourselves may be helped. We ask all this in the name of the Savior in whom thou hast already hearkened to our supplications and wilt do so again and again. Amen. (p. 143)
“Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord!” — Psalm 130: 1
In the prayer book I grew up with each Psalm had a Latin title, which was always the first line of that Psalm. The only one that I distinctly recall was “De Profundis,” the Latin title of Psalm 130, which begins, “Out of the depths.”
I’m not sure what it was about that title that was so intriguing to me. Perhaps it reminded me of the English word “profound.” I know now that “profound” is derived from the Latin “profundus” which means literally “at the bottom.”
As I have lived out my life through the decades there have been some difficult, even desperate, times when I have cried out to God from somewhere pretty close to the bottom. We have phrases that describe such times. We say someone has “hit bottom” or is “bottoming out.”
But it is not only in these desperate times that we can pray from the depths. We can always pray from the very deepest part of our selves, from the very “bottom of our hearts.” Sometimes we are able to find the words, other times our silent prayers are, as Paul described them, “sighs too deep for words” (Romans 8:26). Either way, our God, who is Lord of the depths as well as the heights, hears our prayers.
O God, your love fills the world, help us to fathom the depth of the love you have for us in Jesus Christ.
(This is my Daily Devotional for June 11, 2015. To see the original go here. To subscribe (for free) to this daily e-mail service go here.)