Today is Ash Wednesday, the day when we are reminded of out human frailty facing death and sin.
This is also the day when begin our journey through Lent, a beautiful season of reflection.
Last year, TCM put together a devotional. This year, we did not do that.
So we are encouraging you to find a devotional.
Here is one that is free to download: http://www.luthersem.edu/lent/
If you are already signed up to receive Luther Seminary’s GodPause, then you will automatically receive the daily devotional in your email.
Thursday, December 25 – Christmas Day
“Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may life you up in due time. Cast your anxiety on him because he cares for you.” 1 Peter 5:6-7
This is reassurance of what I already know. Let God carry our fears of the unknown.
Last week we at TCM finished up a short study about prayer. I earnestly hope and pray that the several lively conversations have helped to deepen prayer lives and open our eyes and hearts to see God at work.
Here is another portion of that study (one more section to be typed up for this blog):
Some of the best gifts we have are the many resources our ancestors pass down through the generations.
I will have you look through a Lutheran resource (although there are many other places you can find the same exact or similar prayers).
Grab your friendly ELW (that pretty cranberry hymnal in ELCA congregations, officially called Evangelical Lutheran Worship).
Next, I want you to turn to Luther’s Small Catechism. In the ELW, this is found after all the hymns at the back of the hymnal. You may have your own copy.
Turn to Martin Luther’s reflection on The Lord’s Prayer.
Read through the Introduction, Petitions, and Conclusion with their meanings.
We are reminded, each and every time we pray the Lord’s prayer, of who God is and what God provides.
We are God’s children, and God as loving Father provides for children.
We are called to live in a way that keeps God’s name holy (aka special, blessed, distinct).
We trust that we will live in God’s kingdom now and after death.
We pray that God will watch over everything that happens in our lives and that God will seek good for us.
We ask that God will provide all that we need to survive each day.
We live as ones who forgive and are forgiven, knowing that we cannot hold onto grudges and sins if we expect God to let go of our mistakes.
We seek God’s guidance in life to keep us from times, people and objects that lead us astray.
We know that God alone is the one who can protect us from evil.
And we end our prayer with an acknowledgment that God is mighty and powerful, boldly declaring our prayer as truth.
The Lord’s Prayer can be prayed at any time and as many times as you want. This is a simple prayer that Jesus taught his disciples to pray in Matthew 6:9-13 and Luke 11:2-4.
A few words can provide so much meaning and cover so many aspects of our lives as we turn to God in prayer: guidance, provision, protection, forgiveness.
Daily prayer shapes each day in our lives but also our lives as a whole: hope and praise in the morning, reflection and mercy in the evening, peace and protection in the night.
Go to the section on Daily Prayer in the ELW. This is the last of the red tabs in the front part of the hymnal before the actual hymns start. As you read through the different prayer services (Morning, Evening, Night), pay attention to your emotions. I ask you to pay attention, because our prayers shape our moods just as much as our moods shape our prayers.
If we are people constantly praying for God to bless us, we look for blessings.
If we pray with words of gratitude, we notice what we are thankful for.
If we pray for safety and protection, we begin to sense someone watching over us.
If we pray only about hopelessness, we become somber and may struggle to find hope.
If we pray for joy even when the situation is less than joyful, we are reminded of where joy can be found.
One of the prayers (found in each of the daily prayer services) contains the following language: “O God, you have called your servants to ventures of which we cannot see the ending, by paths as yet untrodden, through perils unknown. Give us faith to go out with good courage, not knowing where we go, but only that your hand is leading us and your love supporting us.”
Such a prayer leaves us open to possibility found in future acts with a trust that God will journey with us.
Read through the Morning Prayer (aka Matins).
Notice how the prayer service is all about praising God.
We start by saying “O lord open my lips, and my mouth shall proclaim your praise.” We use psalms that energize us (peppy “Come let us sing to the Lord”). We use prayers that are full of hope, praying that God will bless the new day. The gospel canticle is the Song of Zechariah (Luke 1:68-79), which is a song that blesses God for what has been given and for holding true to promises made to ancestors that God will provide salvation, forgiveness and hope in the future.
Just like in our lives, the start of anything is bright and exciting and full of possibility. Mornings are the start of a new day where anything can happen, so we pray that good will happen.
Morning prayer is all about looking forward to the start of something new, of moving towards the future. Such prayer matches the joy of starting a new aspect of life: the birth of babies, watching children grow, heading off to school, starting a new job, etc. There is much hope at the beginning, and we take time to praise God.
Read through Evening Prayer (Vespers).
Notice how this prayer service is about thanking God for the day as the day winds down.
This is a service that celebrates the light even as the darkness arrives. The words are all about God being with us as a light in the dark. We take time to lift prayers to God in a calming manner as the day draws to a close. The psalmody is based on Psalm 141 (“Let my prayer rise as incense”). Incense floats slowly without hurry, and so we do not rush at the end of the day, unlike the energizing movements of morning prayer. The canticle is the Magnificat or the Song of Mary (Luke 1:46-55), a song of praise for what God has done to humble the mighty and to lift up the humble. The prayers are petitions for mercy.
Evening prayer is a reflection on the day while seeking peace in the coming night. We know that there are times when we were lifted up from the depths and there are times when we were humbled because of our pride.
If morning prayer matches the start of a new journey through life, evening prayer matches the times in our lives when we are starting to slow down and look back to see where we’ve been while knowing our journey is not yet ended.
Read through Night Prayer (Compline).
Notice how this service starts with a prayer for “a quiet night and peace at the last.”
After the day is over, we take time to reflect upon all that we did or didn’t do. We take time to confess faults and failings, mistakes made, actions undone. And we are given assurance of forgiveness. The Psalm is one of the prayers for God’s protection. While we sleep, we are unable to defend ourselves and therefore pray for God to watch over us. The suggested scriptures are short messages of peace, of encouraging us to give our cares over to God and to lay down our burdens. The gospel canticle is the Song of Simeon (Luke 2:29-32) which begins “Now let your servant go in peace…” We commend our spirits to God, knowing that we cannot change what we have done but only that we must rely on God’s mercy and protection to see us through the night and into a new morning. The prayers are for rest for the weary, support for the troubled and mercy for the broken.
At the end of the day with night prayer, we pray that we have seen all we were meant to see and have done all that we meant to do.
Night prayer matches the somberness found at the end of one’s journey through life. We take time to reflect on what was done, good and bad. We acknowledge any regretful choices made and seek forgiveness. We turn to God for peace and mercy, knowing that God watches over us when we cannot do anything but rest. And through all of this, we seek the peace that God alone can provide for us.
I hope that such resources will be gifts to you as you continue to converse with God through prayer. Such prayers were considered helpful blessings to generations before us, which is why the prayers were recorded and passed down as aids for those who come next.
You can find the paper copies in our churches. Starting on Sunday, you can read the daily passage that will be posted early in the morning.
Over the last few weeks, I (better known as Pastor Kara) have been preparing a study on prayer. But since I am a fan of technology, I am choosing to make some of the topics and discussion questions available to all who read this blog. Of course, one of the biggest gifts of gathering to study and reflect is that we sit around and talk about points of interest, ask questions as they arrive, and always learn more together. But this online posting (the first of a few) will strive to give you, the reader, at least a starting point for your personal reflection.
We start with the question “What is Prayer?”
The definition that can be found with a quick online search:
Prayer (noun) =
1. a solemn request for help or expression of thanks addressed to God or an object of worship.
2. an earnest hope or wish.
3. an act that seeks to activate a rapport with a deity, an object of worship, or a spiritual entity through deliberate communication
Prayer is, quite simply, talking to/with God. We talk to God. We share our cares, our concerns, our thoughts. But we ideally talk with God. This means that not only do we talk, but we also leave space for a response.
There are no right or wrong words to speak when we pray. In fact, some of the best prayers are those times when we lack words. Paul wrote in his letter to the Romans that the Spirit prays for us with sighs too deep for words to express (8:26).
Think of your reaction when you see something spectacular (like a fireworks display – whether man-made or God’s lightning). What is it that you say?
Or how about when you see someone hurting? How do you react?
What noise do you make when you are frustrated? Angry? Annoyed?
Every reaction, every sigh conveys emotions and experiences that are part of our conversation with ourselves, with our neighbors and with God. Being in communication is more than the words we speak; we also include the unspoken and nonverbal.
And since is prayer is by definition communicating with God, even our gasps of awe, groans of pain and sighs of frustration are prayers.
Next we ask, “Why do we pray? For what/whom do we pray?”
Draw a picture of your prayer(s). Stick figures are perfectly acceptable. In fact, if your work of art looks like it belongs on the fridge, you’ve done well!
Here are some common types of prayer:
– Petition = we seek out and ask for what we need
– Thanksgiving = we share our gratitude for gifts and blessings that have been provided
– Worship/praise = we glorify God by stating what good things God has done and will do in our lives
The Book of Psalms is one of the best resources for prayers in the Bible. The 150 psalms each have their own special message to be shared. These are both prayers and songs. Many hymns sung in church are based on the psalms, but you can also pray them silently or spoken aloud.
Read the Psalms 4, 88 and 145 SLOWLY. As you read the psalms, pay attention to words and phrases that stick out to you. What rings true? Also, pay attention to your emotions as you read. Do you feel mad, sad or glad? Do the words lift you up or pull you down?
Here are some reflections:
– Psalm 4 – This is a prayer asking God to provide one of the most essential needs: protection. Note how the psalm begins: “Answer me, O God.” This is not a nice “Oh, when you get the chance…” This is a bold statement and (dare I say it) demand for God to take care of his child. The psalmist cannot even go to sleep without trusting that God will provide safety through the night.
– Psalm 88 – This is the most despairing of all the psalms. Most psalms end with some form of blessing or praise to God. This one does not. This psalm remains “depressing” and very realistic about the pain the writer is feeling. One of the biggest gifts of this psalm (and others similar to it) is that we are given words to express our pain. We do not always have to be bubbling over with joy, especially when life is not joyful.
– Psalm 145 – This is one of many “praise” psalms. Notice how this psalm talks about God and what God is capable of doing. But also, this is a psalm that invites the reader (and consequently speaker) to also declare what God has done and who God is.
The next question we consider: How do we pray?
One of the parts of prayer that we often overlook is what our bodies are doing as we pray. Think about your favorite prayer position. Are you standing, sitting, kneeling, laying down, walking around? What are you doing with your hands and arms? Are your eyes open or closed?
Just remember, there is no right or wrong way to pray. But paying attention to how we pray can help us focus on our prayer.
Try sitting still with your hands folded, head bowed, and eyes closed. How do you feel?
Try standing up with your arms outstretched, hands open and eyes looking outward. How do you feel now?
Try kneeling with your palms up. Or laying face-down on the floor. How do you feel?
So many times we were taught that the “best” way to pray is to remain still and bow our heads. That is a position to focus us as we pray, and it can work for some.
But it can also close us off.
Sometimes we need to have our bodies open so that we ourselves are open for God’s message. This is why so many people feel closest to God while wandering out in nature, not closed up in a room with head bowed down.
Recently, I learned a random fact: most of our brains are capable of doing 1.5 things at once.
This means that as we talk with someone, our brain is a) listening to what is being spoken, b) helping us to think a reply, and c) doing something else (whether compiling a to-do list in your mind or showing as a physical movement).
I think of this in regards to my “fidgety” fingers. While in the midst of a conversation (listening to words and thinking my response), my fingers are often busy playing around with whatever finds its way into my hands (jewelry, cell phone, pens, etc). I have also experienced shifting weight while standing, shaking my legs, doodling on paper, or tapping out rhythms.
While many of us can find such motions distracting, for the person involved, such movement may be necessary in order to focus on the conversation.
In regards to prayer, this means that we strive to use our bodies and our movements carefully and intentionally. This is why some people pray best while swaying. Others pray best while knitting or crocheting. Others paint, walk, or bake in order to focus while praying.
Prayer is not just a formula of words to be spoken: “Dear God, I need ___. Thank you for ___. You rock!”
Prayer involves all that we are (thoughts, speech, actions).
There is no right or wrong when praying. The most important thing is that we pray.
I hope that this helps you to think about prayer a little more than you might have before. If you have any comments or questions, please don’t hesitate to start a conversation.
Here are some pictures of the busy Sept 7 at Lutheran Church of McVille (thanks for the pictures Linda!):
Each year, TCM gathers at Red Willow Bible Camp for a worship service. This year we gathered for a fellowship time before (thanks to all who contributed breakfast foods!). During the fellowship time, I thought it would be great to have a slide show going where we feature some photos taken at various events and locations of where TCM members gather. If you read the blog, you should recognize all the pictures…
So here it is!