Tag Archives: prayer

Consumed

Are we really better off, Lord?

I mean, we have more than we can possibly need,

but we want more, and our consumption destroys your world.

And while we consume, a million babies die on a dollar a day.

 

Consumption is all, it seems.

We’re never satisfied;

and envy poisons our souls so that we consume each other:

the doctor who tries to heal us,

the police officer who protects us,

the employer, the banker, the politician, the celebrity, the worker . . . our neighbour.

We clothe ourselves so easily with the victim’s apparel,

the better to consume with pure hearts,

while the real victims wear the mantle of invisibility.

 

And still we’re not satisfied, so we fight:

we fight for land, we fight for supremacy, we fight for ideologies;

we fight to ignore the refugee

in case she comes with her children and consumes what we think is ours.

 

What we can’t consume we seek to control.

That which might serve to curb our rapacity is pushed aside.

Where once we would seek to protect the innocent in public places;

now from cinema to TV we consume our violence, sex and foul speech,

allowing our children to emulate us,

whilst your prayer is ridiculed, discarded or banned.

 

Your prayer,

which speaks of your holiness;

of your blessed kingdom of love, justice and peace;

of forgiveness;

of our need of your protection – if only from ourselves.

 

But then, you can’t consume a prayer, can you?

And there is a danger that it may make us think twice;

think about you;

so its best to ban it in public, in case it causes offence.

 

But let your prayer remind us of who we are,

and of who we might be.

Let it be a doorway into your realm.

Let it be a song of praise from Earth to Heaven.

Let it be a comfort when days are dark.

Let it speak volumes when all our words fail us.

Let it be a gift to remind us that all our consumption

will never satisfy our spiritual hunger or thirst:

 

Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as in heaven.


Give us today our daily bread.


Forgive us our sins
as we forgive those who sin against us.


Lead us not into temptation
but deliver us from evil.

For the kingdom, the power,
and the glory are yours
now and for ever.

Amen.

Advertisements

Rest

Then Jesus, crying with a loud voice, said, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.” (Luke 23:46 NRSV)

The ordeal is over; the crucified victim can take his rest.

Surely it wasn’t supposed to be this way? Not like this.

The one who came to reveal God’s love, to bring forgiveness, to be the promised blessing to all nations, to restore us to a loving relationship with our Creator – surely it shouldn’t have come to this?

A loving father would seek, would move heaven and earth, to protect his son from such pain and humiliation. Would not a loving God do the same?

The irony is that Jesus knew that this trial would come upon him, and he warned his followers in advance (even the previous evening); though they didn’t understand his prophecy.

But doesn’t that make God a capricious tyrant who would demand his own Son’s sacrifice as a ransom for sin?

No. Jesus, fully God and fully human, brought God’s love to a broken world freely and voluntarily. He could have walked away at any time, but thank God he didn’t because then salvation would not be ours.

Jesus was certainly a prophet. He knew God’s purposes and he knew the human heart; and he spoke of one into the other. And he did so out of love.

Jesus was also a priest, in the Old Testament sense of the word. He both offered and provided the sacrifice of himself (the unblemished Lamb of God) to atone for the sin of the world – including our own sin – for all time. And he did so out of love.

And Jesus was (and is) a king. Far from representing his humiliation, his crucifixion marked his coronation as the Servant King of the Servant Kingdom. The world is changed forever because of his love for all people, including you and me.

The ordeal is over; the crucified victim can take his rest.

Forsaken

At three o’clock Jesus cried out with a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
(Mark 15:34 NRSV)

“My God, why have you forsaken me?”

The cry of the poor, the abandoned, the beaten, the unjustly accused, the powerless, the abused – all echoed both in the words of the 22nd Psalm and on the Cross of Christ.

Only those who have truly known the sense of wretchedness and utter isolation of the innocent victim can even begin to come to terms with the meaning of these words. To be alone in all the world, hated and despised by your enemies, whilst those you love can only watch in despair: it is the isolation of the death camp, the gulag, the disappeared.

Like many who have been dragged off in the middle of the night to be tortured and beaten and even killed, Jesus carries the burden of his isolation.

Some would say that Jesus could not suffer as we do – he’s God after all!

But this Son of God, fully human as much as he is fully divine, carries not only the burden of his human torture, he carries also the burden of human sinfulness. If Jesus is not God, then he cannot bring God’s forgiveness and salvation. If Jesus is not human, then our humanity is not redeemed.

And so even the Son of God, in his darkest hour, describes himself in the words of the psalmist who has been brought low.

Jesus genuinely knows your pain, because he has experienced it. He has known the utter desolation of feeling cut off from God.

But in using the words of the Psalmist, which he would have known by heart, Jesus offers a clue as to the eventual outcome.

For the Psalm of Lament eventually becomes a song of praise. “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” eventually becomes, “Posterity will serve him; future generations will be told about the Lord, and proclaim his deliverance to a people yet unborn, saying that he has done it.”

Just Ask

If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it.
(John 14:14 NRSV)

At the heart of a living relationship with God is prayer.

The problem is that so many of us take such an individualistic consumer approach to prayer that when things don’t go our way, we assume that prayer doesn’t work and we give up.

But I have seen prayer work, and I have seen lives changed by prayer, including my own.

But what is prayer, and why bother to pray? Well, many books continue to be written on the subject and there are a whole range of prayer and spiritual disciplines.

In a nutshell, though, prayer is our conversation with God. In healthy prayer, just as in a healthy conversation with other people, we talk and we listen. If I am having a conversation with my wife, I don’t think I would be all that popular if I am doing all the talking. That’s especially true if all my talk is about the list of things I want her to do for me!

No, if our relationship means all that it should, we will talk, listen, and sometimes just sit quietly and enjoy each other’s company. And If I want our relationship to continue to grow and develop I will make sure that I take an interest in the things that are important to her. Finally, neither of us would ask the other to do something which was clearly not right for them, or not in character.

Our prayer life can be similar. Through it each of us can grow in our spiritual relationship with God. Yes, we can lay our burdens before him, and we can make our requests in prayer, but how much better it is to take God seriously enough to want to get to know him better along the way.

Just talk to God, anywhere, any time. Don’t use religious language; just tell him what’s on your heart. And take the time to listen, too.

Jesus said, “Ask anything in my name.” – and the clue is in those words: “in my name.”

Prayer is not the presentation of a shopping list of demands to God. It is the cornerstone of our relationship with him, and a means by which our lives can be transformed.

Jesus,
teach me to pray,
teach me to talk, to listen and to keep silent.
Amen.

Using the Same Measure

He said to them, “When you pray, say: Father, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread. And forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us. And do not bring us to the time of trial.”
(Luke 11:2-4 NRSV)

The Lord’s Prayer, in its different versions and many languages is surely amongst the most commonly used of all Christian prayers. If you can’t think what to pray then the Lord’s Prayer will certainly do.

It is not, in fact, a “religious” prayer in a sectarian or denominational sense. Anyone and everyone can pray it.

But the words do indicate the radical and subversive nature of Jesus’ teaching. It is a prayer of praise and adoration, an acknowledgement of God’s providence, a prayer for protection, a prayer of healing and reconciliation: and a prayer for justice.

“Forgive us our debts (or sins or trespasses)” is a part of the prayer which many of us might offer at times when our consciences trouble us; but the prayer also offers a caveat of pragmatism – “for we ourselves forgive . . .”

Do we? Do we forgive others to the same extent that we expect God (and people) to forgive us?

Do we ask God to use the same measure with us, as we do with our neighbours? Because that is what the prayer means: “Judge me with same level of justice that I judge others.”

For justice is not only about restitution; and it is certainly not about revenge. Justice will ultimately involve painful reconciliation and healing; and that will also involve a degree of forgiveness.

Some will find this shocking; but without forgiveness there can be little chance of reconciliation. Those who forgive bear the cost, the pain, the insult of the offence. It can be the most difficult thing; but it is the way of the Kingdom of God.

Our Father in Heaven,
may you be praised and honoured above all.
may your Kingdom of justice, mercy and love come;
may your will be done on Earth as in Heaven.
Give us today the food we need.
Forgive us the harm we have caused
to the same extent that we forgive those who have caused us harm.
Do not lead us to the time of hard testing, but protect us from evil.
Amen

Staring at the Sky

When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. While he was going and they were gazing up toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. They said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”
(Acts 1:9-11 NRSV)

The story of the Ascension is so rich in symbolism that we can miss something of its simpler message. After Jesus has given his final instructions to his friends, he takes his earthly leave of them.

There is joy, bewilderment, anticipation . . .

. . . and then a couple of angels turn up and say, “What are you standing around staring at the sky for?”

And I look at that phrase and I hear echoes of, “Don’t you get it? You’ve got a job to do. There’s a world to change, and a Kingdom to be welcomed, and it’s like nothing you have ever seen before!”

Certainly the disciples were to be patient for a while. They needed to wait to see what God would do first, so that they could do His work, rather than their own thing.

But they had better be ready, and so had we.

Because when the promised gift of the Holy Spirit came they were able to go off and proclaim the Good News of Christ in word and deed, and so little Christian communities began to spring up everywhere.

The Spirit enabled, the Spirit empowered, the Spirit enthused and inspired, but the believers had to be ready and willing.

And so, in a quirky way, the message of Jesus’ ascension for us may be, “What are you standing around staring at the sky for?”

There’s work to be done. There is God’s love, not only to be shown, but to be given away. There are people to be fed, spiritually, and sometimes physically. There are prayers to be offered. There are deep relationships to be built. There is justice to be worked for and evil to be challenged.

So an important message of the Ascension is to be ready and prepared; ready to serve God with the gifts he has given us, and prepared for the opportunities and challenges we will face along the way.

Jesus,
you call me to wait for your guidance
before jumping in with both feet.
Help me not to use that
as an excuse to do nothing!
Show me the tasks you call me to take up,
and guide me through your Holy Spirit.
Amen

Come to My House

Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. (John 14:1-3 NRSV)

Jesus offers words of hope and encouragement to his friends at a time in their lives when they are, to say the least, somewhat bewildered about what the future may hold for them.

He is preparing himself for the dreadful ordeal of the cross, and he knows that he must travel this journey alone. They cannot follow him: not yet anyway. For the moment they will be helpless spectators.

There are times when most of us have felt like helpless spectators of events, especially at the time of the illness or even death of someone who is precious to us. We want it to stop. We want to put the clock back. We want somebody to do something! Our hearts are deeply troubled.

And Jesus offers us those same words of hope: “In my father’s house there is a place for everyone, and I’m going to get it ready for you.”

He just asks one thing of us: that we continue to believe; not so that we can be members of some special holy club, but so that we can see something of the bigger picture in the midst of our anguish; so that our hearts will be less troubled.

This is what Christians mean when they talk about “hope.” It’s not a matter of wishful thinking (as in “oh, I hope things will turn out for the best.”). No, true hope is about trusting in those things which we know to be true, but do not yet see accomplished.

True hope means trusting in the promises of Jesus, especially when life seems to be demanding that we don’t.

Jesus,
I hear your words of hope,
but sometimes I struggle to understand
that you intend them for me.
Help me,
especially when my heart is troubled,
to trust in your promises for me.
Amen.

Keeping the Wrong Company

As Jesus was walking along, he saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax booth; and he said to him, “Follow me.” And he got up and followed him. And as he sat at dinner in the house, many tax collectors and sinners came and were sitting with him and his disciples. When the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” But when he heard this, he said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. (Matthew 9:9-12 NRSV)

“You can judge a man by the company he keeps.” So goes the old saying and no doubt there is some value in it as a warning for us to choose our friends carefully.

That certainly seems to be in the mind of the Pharisees as they noted with disdain that Jesus dines with all the people they would themselves refuse to mix with socially. But why?

Almost everyone complains about paying taxes, even when they generally understand the purposes to which they are applied.

But there are tax collectors and then there are tax collectors. Matthew would have had a thoroughly bad reputation, firstly because tax collectors in his time were notoriously fraudulent in their dealings with people.

In addition, Matthew and his fellow tax collectors were working for the Romans. They were collaborators with the hated enemy who had conquered the land.

But Jesus called, and Matthew followed. Perhaps it was a spontaneous decision. Maybe he felt a sense of guilt over the life he was leading. Whatever the cause, he seized the opportunity turn his back on an old life and accept the life which Jesus offered.

Matthew gave a meal for Jesus and he introduced him to his friends. Presumably he wanted his friends to meet this amazing man, and Jesus was happy to spend time with those who were shunned by polite society.

The Pharisees thought they knew God. Matthew knew his need of God.

When we know our need of God Jesus will meet us, whoever we are, in whatever state we find ourselves.

Jesus,
I come to you,
not because I am a “good” person,
but because I know my need of you.
Bring your healing and wholeness
as a blessing to my life.
Amen.

Rivers of Justice

I hate, I despise your festivals, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies. Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them; and the offerings of well-being of your fatted animals I will not look upon. Take away from me the noise of your songs; I will not listen to the melody of your harps. But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.
(Amos 5:21-24 NRSV)

We enjoy our worship, Lord,
and we try to do it well; its important to do it well.
If only you would let us.

We try to be reverent,
to pray the right words;
but you wander off, healing the madmen,
bored with our piety.

We try to praise,
to lift you high with all our hearts;
(and to lift our hearts as well)
but you point to those we ignore –
you thrust them in our faces!

We try to be holy,
asking you to bless this, and that, and the blessèd other.
We want it to be right for you,
(and for us);
but you shout from the mountain top,
“Stop your words, stop your noise, stop your holy silences,
stop looking east and up!”

“Turn and face the world!”, you tell us,
“Let justice flow like a stream and righteousness like a river that never goes dry.
Take my love, MY LOVE, out of your cosy temples,
and into the streets and homes where my people live.
Don’t dare to keep my love for yourselves – give it away!”

“Then you will understand,
then you will be emptied of you
and filled with me.
Then you will hurt like you have never hurt before
and know joy like you’ve never known before.”
“Then your sacrifices, your praise, your worship, your prayers and petitions
will rise from your hearts and souls like a great cloud
of sweet smelling incense.”

Nigel Carter

The Eyes of a Child

You found me, Lord,
Through the eyes of a child.

Life was ok,
we were going our way
till you found me, Lord,
through the eyes of a child.

Five pounds of new life;
happy husband and wife;
then you found me, Lord,
through the eyes of a child.

Those eyes looked at me,
later on would I see
that you found me, Lord,
through the eyes of a child.

“Dad’s besotted”, she said.
and mum nodded her head
when you found me, Lord,
through the eyes of a child.

A generation ago;
a lifetime to grow
since you found me, Lord,
through the eyes of a child.

Nigel Carter