Holy God, you so inspired Francis Asbury and George Whitefield with evangelical zeal that their faithful proclamation of the Gospel caused a great awakening among those who heard them: Inspire us, we pray, by your Holy Spirit, that, like them, we may be eager to share your Good News and lead many to Jesus Christ, in whom is eternal life and peace; and who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
Since 1985 I have been involved in the Walk to Emmaus movement of the United Methodist Church. When the Chrysalis weekends (for teens) began in Michigan, I quickly became part of that. More recently, I have been a part of the Keryx prison ministry movement which is a similar weekend but held for the inmates of prisons here in Michigan. (In other parts of the world, the comparable prison ministry is called Kairos.)
All of these are an outgrowth of the larger Cursillo movement that began in the Roman Catholic Church, in Spain in 1949. As Protestants became interested in the Cursillo, many Protestant versions began to arise. The Walk to Emmaus is simply the United Methodist version. Chrysalis is the United Methodist version for teenagers. But, there are many other Protestant versions of Cursillo as well, including: Pilgrimage (Presbyterian), Via de Christo (Lutheran), Episcopal Cursillo, Tres Dias, DeColores in Christo, etc.
It is characteristic of most of these Cursillo-type weekends that at the beginning of the several talks (traditionally called “rollos”) given on the weekend some version of the following prayer is recited by the participants: (more…)
and grant that,
by the quickening power of the Holy Spirit,
they may be lifted up to you
with hope and courage,
and enabled to go upon their way
rejoicing in Your love;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
— Richard Meux Benson (1824-1915)
“Moses was keeping the flock of his father-in-law Jethro, the priest of Midian; he led his flock beyond the wilderness, and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. There the angel of the LORD appeared to him in a flame of fire out of a bush; he looked, and the bush was blazing, yet it was not consumed.” — Exodus 3:1,2.
Your voice burns within the depths of our being,
O God of our ancestors,
and draws us into your presence and service.
Hear the cries of your people
and speak a word of comfort,
that we may proclaim to all the earth
the glory of your name. Amen.
who after the creation of the world rested from all you works and sanctified a day of rest for all your creatures:
Grant that we, putting away all earthly anxieties,
may be duly prepared for the service of your sanctuary,
and that our rest here upon earth may be a preparation for the eternal rest promised to your people in heaven;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
A recent article at The Atlantic entitled When Prayer Makes Anxiety Worse points to a problem that others have mentioned before: prayer may (and should) release us from our anxieties, but some types of prayer may make matters worse. It depends on what kind of God you believe in.
But for those who are anxious about everything, prayer can sometimes help and sometimes hurt. Past research on the mental-health benefits of praying have been mixed. Some studies have found that people who pray more are more satisfied and happy, others found no relationship to well-being, and still others found a negative correlation.
A new study published in Sociology of Religion suggests that prayer can help ease people’s anxiety, but whether it does so depends on the personality of the God they believe in. That is, whether someone has a relationship with what they perceive to be an angry, vengeful God or more of a friendly figure could determine whether prayer brings relief—or simply more stress….
What they found was that those who prayed more frequently felt “a secure attachment to God.” But those who thought God was distant and unresponsive were far more likely to show signs of anxiety-related disorders. This echoes an April study that found that people who believe God is malevolent are more likely to suffer from anxiety, paranoia, and compulsions.
I have found this to be true myself. When my focus is on my own anxieties and frustrations, my prayers can make my attitude worse. It is faith and trust that make prayer effective. As I trust God, I release my anxieties — I let go of them. My prayers need to focus on God and not on me. This is why praise is so important to prayer — like true worship, it puts our mind on God. As we re-affirm our faith in God’s character and God’s love, we put our anxieties in perspective. From that standpoint, we can, then, pray about them.
If prayer is making you more anxious — you are (to put it crassly) doing it wrong.
“PRAYER has been defined, ‘an offering of our desire to God for things needful, with an humble confidence to obtain them through the alone merits of Christ, to the praise of the mercy, truth, and power of God.’ And ‘its parts are said to be invocation, adoration, confession, petition, pleading, dedication, thanksgiving, and blessing.’ Though the definition be imperfect, yet, as far as it goes, it is not objectionable; but the parts of prayer, as they are called, (except the word petition,) have scarcely anything to do with the nature of prayer. They are, in general, separate acts of devotion; and attention to them in what is termed ‘praying,’ will entirely mar it, and destroy its efficacy.
“It was by following this division, that long prayers have been introduced among Christian congregations, by means of which the spirit of devotion has been lost: for, where such prevail most, listlessness and deadness are the principal characteristics of the religious services of such people; and these have often engendered formality, and frequently total indifference to religion. Long prayers prevent kneeling, for it is utterly impossible for man or woman to keep on their knees during the time such last; where these prevail, the people either stand or sit. Technical prayers, I have no doubt, are odious in the sight of God; for no man can be in the spirit of devotion who uses such: it is a drawing nigh to God with the lips, while the heart is, almost necessarily, far from him. (more…)
Again, Jesus likened prayer to a child approaching the Father. A child who crawls into her father’s lap with a fantasy Christmas list may not get everything she desires. But the very fact that she crawled into his lap, making know her deepest desires, helps cement the bond of love the father cherishes above all else. We do far better to act like a trusting child, presenting foolish requests and letting the Father make judgements, than to fret in advance over appropriate petitions.
Fittingly, some of the most articulate prayers come from the mouths of children. God, help that man we saw at the red light find a place to sleep tonight… Please don’t let my cat suffer anymore…. Help Grandmommy to stop feeling sad all the time…. Teach me how to get along with my mean brother.
My neighbor Elizabeth, age four, was staying with her grandmother while her parents went to New York City on business. Kneeling by her bed that night, she prayed: ‘Help Mommy and Daddy to come home safely. And if they don’t want to come home — ‘ Her grandmother interrupted, ‘Honey, of course they want to come home.’ Elizabeth set her straight with a sharp reply, “I’m talking to God!’ With the wisdom of a child, she knew that in prayer it is perfectly appropriate to voice fear, anger (think of the imprecatory psalms), insecurity, doubt, or anything else we need to get out.
— Philip Yancey, Prayer: Does It Make a Difference? (Chapter 22).
An old prayer:
grant us, we pray,
the spirit of Christian reconciliation and meekness,
that we may heartily forgive every injury
and be reconciled with our enemies.
Grant us to overcome the malevolence and offenses of people
with Christian meekness and true love of our neighbor.
We further beseech Thee, O Lord,
to grant to our enemies true peace and forgiveness of sins;
and do not allow them to leave this life without true faith
and sincere conversion.
And help us repay evil with goodness,
and to remain safe from the temptations of the devil
and from all the perils which threaten us,
in the form of visible and invisible enemies. Amen.
Lord Jesus Christ,
you stretched out your arms of love on the hard wood of the cross
that everyone might come within the reach of your saving embrace:
So clothe us in your Spirit
reaching forth our hands in love,
may bring those who do not know you to the knowledge and love of you;
for the honor of your Name. Amen.
O God of earth and altar,
Bow down and hear our cry;
Our earthly rulers falter,
Our people drift and die;
The walls of gold entomb us,
The swords of scorn divide;
Take not thy thunder from us,
But take away our pride.
From all that terror teaches,
From lies of tongue and pen,
From all the easy speeches
That comfort cruel men,
From sale and profanation
Of honor and the sword,
From sleep and from damnation,
Deliver us, good Lord!
— G. K. Chesterton
How would we want other people to think of you? Wouldn’t you want them to think the best?
For some people it becomes an obsession: wondering what other people think of them. It is a source of anxiety and shame. Most of the time the truth of the matter is: they don’t spend much time thinking about us at all. And, how much does it matter anyway? Should it?
That can be a disturbing line of thought. Many people I know were raised in a hellfire and brimstone religion, where the angry judgement of God was a prominent theme. Human sinfulness & depravity was held up as the basic fact of human nature. We are sinners. And, God is holy. God is offended and angry over our sin. God must condemn us. It is only right.
And, this message, resonates with something deep inside us. We know we are not the people we should be. We are often ashamed of ourselves. And, God must know of flaws and errors that we don’t. We are quick to condemn ourselves. Why wouldn’t God condemn us?
In fact, it is hard for us to imagine that God would think more highly of us than we think of ourselves. Isn’t it?
That is why the message of God’s love is always so hard to believe. If we are sometimes tempted to worry about what other people think of us — how much more worrisome the thought of what God might think of us. (more…)
Last week I posted on “What is Spirituality?”. This was my attempt to get a handle on what it might mean to call something “spiritual.” While spirituality is certainly a subjective phenomenon, I believe there is a way of talking about it and analyzing it, to some extent. I said:
Human spirituality is self-transcendence. A spiritual experience is something that lifts us beyond our selves. The true essence of spirituality is to love God with all our heart, soul, strength, and mind; and our neighbor as much as we love our own self. (See Luke 10:27, etc.) There is both a vertical (God-ward) axis and a horizontal (other-ward) axis to this. But, spirituality is always being lifted out of ourselves. Spirituality connects us with God, with the community of faith and with the needs of other people outside the community of faith. These vertical and horizontal axes correspond roughly with the idea of God’s transcendence and God’s immanence. Traditionally, Christian theology has affirmed both God’s transcendence and God’s immanence.
Here is another way of saying it: there is an ecstatic structure to human spirituality. A spiritual experience is something that lifts us beyond ourselves. It may provide us a sense of connection to a higher reality or it may provide us with a sense of connection with other people. Or, it may do both. But, in any case, it lifts us beyond ourselves — outside ourselves.
I realize that this assertion (especially the language of “ecstasy”) is very much open to misinterpretation, so I feel the need to say more about it. (more…)
If you are the work of God
await the hand of the artist
who does all things in due season.
Offer Him your heart,
soft and tractable,
and keep the form
in which the artist has fashioned you.
Let your clay be moist,
lest you grow hard
and lose the imprint of his fingers.
— Irenaeus (c. 130-200)
A great quote from John Chrysostom on prayer:
Prayer is the fortress of the faithful, prayer is our invincible weapon, prayer is the cleansing of our souls, prayer is the ransom for our sins, prayer is the foundation and source of countless blessings. For prayer is nothing more than conversation with God and association with the Master of all. What could be more blessed than a man who is deemed worthy of constant association with the Master?
— St. John Chrysostom, Baptismal Instruction, p 115.