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Sunday, November 29, 2009

An Athlete Prays . . . Lord, hear our prayer!

I recently saw photos of two football teams gathered in prayer. The photos appeared in the media during the same week for vastly different reasons.

One team came together to pray because one of their star players was knocked unconscious and had to be stretchered from the field. The other team had gathered to pray following a victory on the field.

Two teams, both praying—but experiencing vastly different emotions. I found myself wondering who led prayers for the injured ballplayer? Did a team captain call the team together, or was it another player? How do you pray when a teammate is badly injured in the midst of a game? And what motivates a team to pray after an important win? Does the team also pray after losing? Do the same players lead the prayers on each occasion? Or do the coaches initiate prayer times on the field?

If you’re an athlete, do you pray when you step onto the field, or ready yourself for the start of a race? Are you known as one who prays as well as being known as a competitive athlete? Do you pray for your opponents as well as for your own team? Do your teammates know they can ask you for prayer when they are struggling on or off the field? Is your life different because you pray daily?

“Lord, teach us to pray!” was the request made by some of Jesus’ first disciples. Like them we can let out an urgent cry when an injury brings down a teammate: “Lord, have mercy!” “Lord, help!” “Be with the trainers and doctors who are treating my injured friend!” “Lord, help our teammate regain full health and strength!”

In celebrating a victory, we can express our gratitude: “Thanks, Lord, for the joys of winning!” “Thanks, Lord, for coaches who’ve helped us train and prepare!” “Thanks, Lord, for the referees who enforce the rules of our game.”

While processing a tough loss, we can pray for God’s wisdom: “Lord, help us learn from this loss!” “Help us accept this setback without unfairly blaming our teammates.” “Bring us together as a team, Lord. Help us make adjustments and prepare well for our next game.”

"Lord, help us to pray! Lord, teach me to pray!"

Thy Will Be Done . . . Praying the Lord’s Prayer

Evelyn Underhill helps us practice the next movement in the Lord’s Prayer with these words:
‘Thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven.’ We do not know what possibilities, what mysteries, may still be hidden in the unexpressed design. Yet because each step of this descending prayer is a movement of faith, obedience, and love, we bring the Infinite with us as did Christ Himself when He came down from His nights of communion on the mountain to His redemptive work among men. Here, again, the life or prayer follows the path of the Incarnation.

“The Wisdom that came forth from the Mouth of the Most High entered deeply into the common life, and there accomplished His transforming and redeeming work. We too are not to experience eternity and take up our obligations in respect of it in some exalted, other-worldly region; but here and now, right down in that common life which is also dear to God, finding in our homely experience the raw material of sacrifice, turning its humble duties and relationships into prayer.

Be it unto me according to thy Word—here, where I am. Not my will but Thine be done. This is the act of obligation which puts life without condition at God’s disposal; and so transforms and sacramentalizes our experience, and brings the Kingdom in.”

(Abba by Evelyn Underhill, in Treasures from the Spiritual Classics, 1982, Morehouse Publishing, Harrisburg, PA, third printing , 1996, pages 31-32; a compilation of extracts from Abba, 1940, Longmans Green & Co Ltd).

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Thy Kingdom Come . . . Praying the Lord’s Prayer

Mark tells us that Jesus came into the world proclaiming good news: “The time has come the kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news” (Mark 1:15). Later Jesus taught His disciples to pray: “Your kingdom come” (Matthew 6:10). But what did He mean by using those words? What do we expect should happen when we pray like this?

Our pastor recently defined God’s Kingdom as “Right relationships under God’s gracious rule.” He described Kingdom Prayer as a way of praying that is:
• Grounded in a trusting relationship with God
• Radically God-centered
• Revolutionary (God overturning the effects of sin and changing lives in radical ways)

As Evelyn Underhill writes: “Thy Kingdom come. Here man’s most sacred birthright, his deep longing for perfection, and with it his bitter consciousness of imperfection break out with power. We want to bring the God whom we worship, His beauty, His sovereignty, His order into the very texture of our life; and the fundamental human need for action into the radius of our prayer.

“Thy Kingdom come! We pray for this transformation of life, this healing of its misery and violence, its confusion and unrest, through the coming of the Holy God whom we adore.

“The Christian turns again and again from that bewildered contemplation of history in which God is so easily lost, to the prayer of filial trust in which He is always found: knowing here that those very things that seem to turn to man’s disadvantage, may yet work to the Divine advantage. On the frontier between prayer and history stands the Cross, a perpetual reminder of the price by which the Kingdom is brought in. Seen from the world’s side it is foolishness; seen from the land of contemplation it is the Wisdom of God.

“When we said ‘Hallowed be Thy Name!’ we acknowledged the priority of holiness. Now we offer ourselves for the purposes of holiness: handing ourselves over to God that His purposes, great or small, declared or secret, natural or spiritual, may be fulfilled through us and in us, and all that is hostile to His Kingdom done away . . . It is here that the praying spirit accepts its most sacred privilege: active and costly co-operation with God—first in respect of its own purification, and then in respect of His creative and redeeming action upon life. Our attitude here must be wide open to God, exhibiting quite simply our poverty and impurity. . . but still offering ourselves such as we are. Thy Kingdom come! Here am I, send me” (Abba by Evelyn Underhill, in Treasures from the Spiritual Classics, 1982, Morehouse Publishing, Harrisburg, PA, third printing , 1996, pages 25-31; a compilation of extracts from Abba, 1940, Longmans Green & Co Ltd).

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Hallowed be Thy Name . . . Praying the Lord’s Prayer

Since our pastor will be preaching on the Lord’s Prayer this weekend, I decided to read Evelyn Underhill’s Abba. Here is a quiet, reflective perspective on prayer and how prayer prepares us for action:

“Hallowed be Thy Name. The modern mind, living sometimes prudently and sometimes carelessly, but never theocentrically, cannot make anything of such words as these; for they sweep the soul up, past the successive and the phenomenal, and leave it in abject adoration before the single reality of God.

“This first response of creation to its author, this awestruck hallowing of the Name, must also be the first response of the praying soul, if we ask how this shall be done within the individual life and what it will require of us in obligation and adjustment, perhaps the answer will be something like this

‘Our Father, which art in heaven, hallowed, revered, be Your mysterious Name in my dim and fluctuating soul, to which You have revealed Yourself in such a degree as I can endure. May all my contacts and relationships, my struggles and temptations, thoughts, dreams and desires be coloured by this loving reverence. Let me ever look through and beyond circumstance to You, so that all I am and do may become more and more worthy of the God who is the origin of all. Let me never take such words on my lips that I could not pass from them to the hallowing of Your Name. (That one principle alone, consistently applied, would bring order and charity into the centre of my life.) May that Name, too, be hallowed in my work, keeping me in remembrance that You are the doer of all that is really done: my part is that of a humble collaborator, giving of my best.’

“This means that adoration, a recognition of the life and action of God, subordinating everything to the Presence of the Holy, is the essential preparation for action. That stops all feverish strain, all rebellion and despondency, all sense of our own importance, all worry about our own success; and so gives dignity, detachment, tranquility to our action and may make it of some use to Him.”

(Abba by Evelyn Underhill, in Treasures from the Spiritual Classics, 1982, Morehouse Publishing, Harrisburg, PA, third printing , 1996, pages 19-21; a compilation of extracts from Abba, 1940, Longmans Green & Co Ltd).