Prayers for Overwhelmed Students (from my students)

Student-led prayer is an essential part of the daily repertoire of my theology courses. The prayers are composed in the form of collects, an ancient form still regularly practiced in many churches. For each class one student composes a collect according to the theological content of the day. Following the collect form, the prayer springs out from the day’s content into a fitting address to God that leads to petition. As the preface to our study, it sets our feet on the cadence of lex orandi, lex credendi. The idea for this practice originated years ago with something Ben Myers wrote on the purpose of theological education: “not simply to make students cleverer, but to help them learn better ways to speak to God in prayer, and to one another in witness…In this way, scholarly discipline becomes a form of discipleship; theology becomes an exercise in prayer.

I can hardly emphasize this more: the daily collect prayers my students write time and again amaze and humble me, both in their theological richness and in their sensitivity to the lived moment of the day in which they are spoken.

The following two were recently offered In the midst of semester-end busyness. I reproduce them here for the sake of  students elsewhere who are experiencing the same (the doctrinal topic for the day is in italics).

Image[eschatological hope] Hebrews 10:24-25 – “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, 25 not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” Everlasting God, sovereign creator from the very first day till the very last, as we all look forward to the near horizon of the end of this semester – the day – let us remember not to neglect to meet with one another these last few days, but to hold together both our sadness at departing and our joy of the future, let us hold all of these emotions in the hope of you. In the same way, let us all look to the far horizon – the Day – and let us not neglect to hope for all that you will do for us in the future. You are our hope. Do not be ashamed to be called our God” (W. Stauffer).

[theological interpretation of film] “When we come to the place of exhaustion, where we question the purpose of hard work, and the fruits of our labours, I pray we look to you for our reward. I ask that you help us to persevere not in the hopes of greater recognition, but in the hopes that we are no longer able to depend upon ourselves so that we learn dependency on you, and so that we are humbled by what we accomplished knowing it was all through you and not in ourselves. Let us rejoice in this recognition of your grace and guidance. God be glorified in all things, in our weakness and in our strength. We delight ourselves in you who is our awesome maker and our true source of life” (O. Watkins).

Here is a short reflection from another student on what she sees happening in the process of composing the collect:

What took place was a giving back to God what I thought I had accomplished on my own. I had done the reading. I had answered the questions. I did the learning. But it is God who teaches. He enables me to learn. By praying my learning to him, I praise and acknowledge him for it. Grace encounters even my pride in my studies and begs me to be transformed; to acknowledge and worship God for everything in my life, including my studies (H. Lutton).

 

Prayer for Holy Week (Karl Barth)

ImageLord our God, we are gathered here on this day to consider how you have carried out your good, firm will for the world and for all of us, by allowing our Lord Jesus Christ, your dear Son, to be captured that we might be free; to be found guilty that we might be found innocent; to suffer that we might rejoice; and to be given over to death that we might live forever.

Under our own power, we could only be lost. And we have not deserved such a rescue – no, not one of us. But in the inconceivable greatness of your mercy, you have shared in our sin and our poverty, in order to do such a great thing for us. How else could we thank you but to grasp, take up, and acknowledge this great thing? How else should this happen, but that the same living Savior who suffered for us, was crucified, died, and buried, and was also raised up, should now come into our midst, speak to our hearts and minds, open us to your love, and guide us to trust in it completely and to live by it and by it alone.

So we ask in all humility, but also in all confidence, that this happen in the power of your Holy Spirit. Amen.

(Karl Barth, Fifty Prayers (2008), 23-4.)

Prayer for Lent (Walter Breuggemann)

“Loss is indeed our gain”

The pushing and shoving of the world is endless,
We are pushed and shoved.
And we do our fair share of pushing and shoving
in our great anxiety.
And in the middle of that
you have set down your beloved suffering son
who is like a sheep lead to slaughter
who opened not his mouth.
We seem not able,
so we ask you to create the spaces in out life
where we may ponder his suffering
and your summons for us to suffer with him,
suspecting that suffering is the only way to come to newness.
So we pray for your church in these Lenten days,
when we are driven to denial
not to know the suffering,
not to engage it,
not to acknowledge it.
So be that way of truth among us
that we should not deceive ourselves.
That we should see that loss is indeed our gain.
We give you thanks for that mystery from which we live.
Amen.

(Awed to Heaven, Rooted to Earth [2003], 153)

Puritan Prayers: The Trinity

Valley of VisionWith the PhD thesis officially submitted, I’m hoping to eek out a few blog posts now. My wife recently gave me a copy of The Valley of Vision, a collection of Puritan prayers and devotional reflections. It has been a joy to read thus far for several different reasons.

Probably the most significant aspect of it for me is its way of reminding me of who God is and why it is such a blessing to have a place among the saints. Even when devoting oneself to the doctrine of God in systematics, one can never take in enough thoughtful pastoral statements about the goodness and wisdom of God. These nourish and stabilize our faith (certainly mine, at least).

The meaning of the name of the volume is glimpsed in the opening prayer:

You have brought me to the valley of vision, where I live in the depths but see you in the heights; hemmed in by mountains of sin I behold your glory….Let me learn by paradox…that the valley is the place of vision….Let me find thy light in my darkness…thy glory in my valley.

The book is excellent not only for personal reading but also as a resource for crafting pastoral prayers to be used in corporate worship. Here is a longer portion of the prayer entitled “The Trinity”:

O Father, I thank you that in fullness of grace you have given me to Jesus, to be his sheep, jewel, portion; O Jesus, I thank you that in fullness of grace you have accepted, espoused, bound me; O Holy Spirit, I thank you that in fullness of grace you have exhibited Jesus as my salvation, implanted faith within me, subdued my stubborn heart, made me one with him forever. O Father, you are enthroned to hear my prayers, O Jesus, your hand is outstreched to take my petitions, O Holy Spirit, you are willing to help my infirmities, to show me my need, to supply words, to pray within me, to strengthen me that I faint not in supplication. O Triune God, who commands the universe, you have commanded me to ask for those things that concern your kingdom and my soul. Let me live and pray as one baptized into the threefold Name.

The book of course isn’t designed for the lenten season, but it does include a series of morning and evening daily prayers as well.

Prayer for the First Sunday of Advent

Arise, shine: for your light has come.Jesus_Birth
O God, we live as if the light had never defeated the darkness in the world or in us.
And the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.
We confess that we ignore the Christ you sent to be among us, to be in us.
For behold, darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples; but the Lord will arise upon you, and his glory will be seen upon you.
We’ve kept the birth of your Son confined to the Christmas season and do not yearn for his birth each moment in our waiting hearts.
And the nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising.
Lord, you come to us in the fullness of time.
Forgive us for not opening our eyes to your coming.
It’s time that we prepare for your coming.
Let the earth ring with song. Let the light break forth.
Let us all rejoice in the miracle of love.
Let Christ come into the fullness of our time. Amen.
(The Worship Sourcebook [2004])

Prayer for my theology students on the first day of classes

Joshua 24:14-15 –14 “Now fear the Lord and serve him with all faithfulness. Throw away the gods your ancestors worshiped beyond the Euphrates River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. 15 But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”

Lord, we praise you that you receive our feeble, frail, and faltering attempts at faithfulness. Like Joshua and his crew of Hebrews, we too have allied ourselves to you and more than once preferred idols. Our lives are littered with them.

We prefer a god who is predictable and safe, forgive us;

We prefer a god at our beck and call, forgive us;

we prefer a god who fits nicely into our tidy lives, forgive us.

we prefer a god who leaves our idols untouched, forgive us;

With our idols laying about, we praise you that our faithlessness is nothing like your faithfulness. “How can I give you up, Ephraim? How can I hand you over, Israel? … For I am God, and not a man— the Holy One among you (Hosea 11:8, 9). In those words rests our only hope.

Faithful One, may it be that we experience your faithfulness as we begin this thrilling journey:

Hold us secure as our false notions of you and ourselves fall away;

humble us when our comprehension of you turns out to be less tidy than expected;

give us faith when our idols burn and our fear threatens to derail the whole thing.

Like Joshua and his band of Hebrews, we commit ourselves to faithfulness, again. Don’t let us go, for we trust that you are not like us; we trust that you are the Holy One–the Faithful One–among us. Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Collect on the Incarnation

Daniel Bonnell, "Jesus Praying," pen and ink

We praise you Lord, our God, that your love for us took the strange shape of enfleshment; you made your way in this world with skin, bone, fingernails, eyelashes . . .

hungerpains, parched lips, abandonment – “made like us in all respects” but without sin.

We acknowledge our deep needs before you: our rebelliousness,  brokenness, estrangement from each other and ourselves, and our deepest need of all, to be known once and for all, inside and out, coming and going, seeking and being found.

May we make our ways in this world along the grain of your way, through Jesus Christ our Lord and according to the power of your Spirit. Amen.

Prayer for my students on the first day of classes

I am teaching a class on 1 Peter this semester. 1 Peter is a dramatic witness to the Gospel and teaching the course is really just an excuse to read Scripture as Scripture with a group of students and  grow together in interpretive wisdom. This was my prayer with them on the first day of classes.

O God, you have taught me since I was young, and to this day I tell of your wonderful deeds (Ps. 71:17).

Father Almighty, we praise you that the words of Scripture are living and active because through your Spirit you continue to correct and comfort the Church through them.

We read, we wrestle, we sometimes even throw up our hands in confusion when we encounter the words of this book we call “Scripture.”

At other times we struggle to read, we weep, and we risk saying that you seem no where about these pages.

Where have you gone? Why have you left us with these words? How do you expect us to make our ways with you along the grain of these words when we can barely make any way at all?

So we ask you to encounter us again that we might stand at the end of this semester and say with the Psalmist, “You have taught us since we were young.” And may we become men and women who “tell of your wonderful deeds” to each other and to the world. Help us, we pray, to read this witness to the Gospel before your face, with each other, and toward the world; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, Amen.

Prayer: In our Faithlessness

Lord God, Almighty and Everlasting Father, we praise you for your faithfulness when we have none.

In our faithlessness you have not turned your back on us, and we anchor our hope to your embodied faithfulness in Jesus Christ.

May we be quick to confess our faithlessness.

We are complacent regarding the brokenness and groaning around us and in us, and we reason away and justify our faithlessness with terms other than “sin.”

May we be quick to embody your faithfulness.

Make us ready to join you in your work, following you into the grieving and groaning spaces that fill our countries, towns, families, churches, and inner lives through Jesus Christ our Lord; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, One God, now and forever. Amen.

A prayer for my students on the opening week of classes

Giotto.1325.Stigmatisation of St. FrancisLord of our lives and our learning,

Today we embark on a journey of encounter, not primarily of our own convictions, beliefs, and opinions (although this will be the case as well), but we will encounter, no,

be encountered by You…

You who formed this world;

You would reconciles and redeems from sin;

You who will consummate your bride the Church in Christ’s returning.

And we…

We who follow after your constant encounter of us.

May we be humble in our tentative response to your initiative – wary of the sin of pride;

May we be joyful in the dance of self-discovery into which you invite us;

May we never forget that with knowledge of you comes great responsibility to follow after your initiative into the uncomfortable, incomplete spaces that live in this time between the times:

With the poor, those marginalized by our systems of financial prosperity;

With those living in broken bodies or with broken minds, whose dignity is daily stole by our definitions of “abled” and “disabled”;

With those whose lives have crumbled around them in the loss of those they love.

Some of us here today may identify with those places – either personally or by close association.

May what we do in this class propel us deeper into our knowledge of you and thus deeper into these spaces as we follow after your encounter.

Amen.

And then you (a prayer)

We arrange our lives as best we can, to keep your holiness at bay,
     with our pieties,
     our doctrines,
     our liturgies,
     our moralities,
     our secret ideologies,
         Safe, virtuous, settled.

And then you -
     you and your dreams,
     you and your visions,
     you and your purposes,
     you and your commands,
     you and our neighbors.

We find your holiness not at bay,
     but probing, pervading, insisting, demanding.

And we yield, sometimes gladly, sometimes resentfully, sometimes later…          or soon.

We yield because you, beyond us, are our God. We are your creatures met by your holiness, by your holiness made our true selves

And we yield. Amen

(Walter Brueggemann, Awed to Heaven, Rooted to Earth [2003])

Prayers » François Fénelon, Archbishop of Cabrai (1651-1715)

Lord, I do not know what I ought to be asking of you. You are the only One who knows what I need. You love me better than I know how to love myself. O Father! – give your child what I do not know how to ask for myself. I do not dare ask for crosses or consolation. All I can do is present myself to you.

Lord, I open up my heart to you. Behold my needs – the ones that I am not even aware of. Look at them, and act according to your mercy. Bring suffering on me or heal me, cast me down or raise me up – I adore your will for me even when I do not know what it is.

I will remain silent, offering myself up and giving myself over completely to you. I no longer have any desire other than to accomplish your will.

Teach me to pray; may you yourself pray in me and through me [some translations, "pray thyself in me"] (Fenelon: Meditations on the Heart of God, translated by Robert Edmonson. (Paraclete Press, 1997) p. 123)

Prayer: Calvin

After we have been instructed in faith to recognize that whatever we need and whatever we lack is in God, and our Lord Jesus Christ…it remains for us to seek in him, and in prayers to ask of him, what we have learned to be in him. Otherwise, to know God as the master and bestower of all good things, who invites us to request them of him, and still not go to him and not ask of him – this would be of as little profit as for a man to neglect a treasure, buried and hidden in the earth, after it had been pointed out to him.

John Calvin (Institutes, III.XX, 1.)