Uniqueness of Prayer

Scripture: Romans 8.26
In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans.

Reflection: Uniqueness of Prayer
By John Tillman

Christian prayer is unique among the religious prayer traditions of the world. In nearly every other religion prayer is either penance, incantation, or mere escapism. When Christians pray we are not paying for our sins, struggling for the attention of a disinterested deity, or striving to make meaningless our physical lives through transcendentalism. Instead, by no power or worthiness of our own, we are welcomed on a personal level—ushered in hastily to a God who has been waiting for us to join him.

Prayer has a dual nature of timeliness, relating to us in our moment of existence, and timelessness, connecting us, as Roberta C. Bondi writes, to all Christians at all times.

Whenever we pray, we pray with the whole people of God, with the people of the old covenant as well as with all the faithful Christians throughout the centuries and in all places. At the same time, with God’s enduring love as its starting point prayer is an expression of each person’s relationship with God. Therefore there is no one right way to pray.

Our prayer is unique. But this does not mean that it can be merely whimsical, without definite patterns and commitment. Whatever time of day we set aside for prayer, whatever place we select, whatever forms of prayer we use, it is important to understand that regularity is more sustaining in prayer than intensity or length.

The power of connection that is possible in prayer can be intimidating. Systems and forms of prayer help us to grasp and hold on to something that can carry us farther than we can go on our own. Bondi discusses “thinking small” about our practice of prayer—not being intimidated or discouraged by missing a day, but simply starting again.

We are spending time with God, learning who God is and who we are, learning to love God and God’s world. This happens over a matter of years. If we miss some days, we should simply start again and think small.

If prayer were penance, missing a day would multiply our sins. If it were conjuring a god, we’d be alone and powerless. If it were escaping reality, we’d be trapped. But prayer depends not on our power or sinlessness. And though consistency makes us more sensitive to God, he is always with us, in our present reality, and he will not forsake us, even if we forsake our meeting in prayer.

*Quotes from Roberta C. Bondi’s essay, The Paradox of Prayer, in Communion, Community, Commonweal edited by John S. Mogabgab

The Refrain
One thing I have asked of the Lord; one thing I seek; that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life… — Psalm 27.4

– From 
The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Full prayer available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
1 Samuel 10 (Listen – 4:34)
Romans 8 (Listen – 6:22)

This Weekend’s Readings
1 Samuel 11 (Listen – 2:43) Romans 9 (Listen – 5:15)
1 Samuel 12 (Listen – 4:19) Romans 10 (Listen – 3:21)

A Singular Plea In Prayer :: Throwback Thursday

Scripture: Psalm 41.4
As for me, I said, “O Lord, be gracious to me; heal me, for I have sinned against you!”

Reflection: A Singular Plea In Prayer :: Throwback Thursday
By Charles Haddon Spurgeon (1834-1892)

Here is a prayer: “Lord, be gracious to me.” It may mean,—and I daresay it did mean, at least in part—“Mitigate my pains.” I have sometimes found that, where medicine has failed, and sleep has been chased away, and pain has become unbearable, it has been good to appeal to God directly, and to say, “O Lord, I am thy child; wilt thou allow thy child to be thus tortured with pain?

But that is not all that David meant, I am quite sure, for, next, he must have meant, “Forgive my sins.” You can see, by his prayer, that his sins were the heaviest affliction from which he was suffering: “Be merciful unto me: heal my soul; for I have sinned against thee.” And, believe me, there is no pain in the world that at all approximates to a sense of sin.

David, when he said, “Lord, be gracious to me,” also meant, “Fulfill thy promises.”

I think that David also meant by this prayer, “Heal me of my tendency to sin.” He seemed to say, “Lord, I shall sin again if I am not healed. I have an evil tendency in me, and an old nature which is inclined to sin; if thou dost not heal me of this disease, there will be another eruption upon the skin of my life, and I shall sin again.” When a man sins outwardly, it is because he has sin inwardly. If there were no sin in us, no sin would come out of us; but there it lies, sometimes, concealed.

The second part is a confession: “I have sinned against you.”

It is a confession without an excuse. David does not say, “I have sinned against you, but I could not help it,” or, “I was sorely tempted,” or, “I was in trying circumstances.” No; as long as a man can make an excuse for his sin, he will be a lost man; but when he dare not and cannot frame an excuse, there is hope for him.

It is a confession without any qualification. He does not say, “Lord, I have sinned to a certain extent; but, still, I have partly balanced my sins by my virtues, and I hope to wipe out my faults with my tears.”

A man who only pretends to be a sinner, and does not realize his guilt in the sight of God, will not have a Savior. Christ died for nobody but real sinners, those who feel that their sin is truly sin.

*Abridged from “A Singular Plea In Prayer,” delivered by Charles Haddon Spurgeon in 1884.

The Greeting
I will give thanks for what you have done and declare the goodness of your Name in the presence of the godly. — Psalm 52.9

– From 
The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Full prayer available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
1 Samuel 9 (Listen – 4:42)
Romans 7 (Listen – 4:09)

A Sure Hold on the Eternal

Scripture: Romans 6.22
But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life.

Reflection: A Sure Hold on the Eternal
By John Tillman

When we struggle in the day to day temporal world, we seldom connect our difficulty to our loss of connection to the eternal. Practicality demands that we live in the “real” world, but certainly our practical minds can recognize that the tangibles that we obsess over are destined to be dust. When they are gone the only “real” world will be the one we tend to put off until later—the eternal. Anchoring our life in spiritual practice then, in the end, is most practical. It is our hold on the eternal that gives us steadiness and strength to cope with the temporal.

By Evelyn Underhill (1875-1941)

The people of our time are helpless, distracted, and rebellious, unable to interpret what is happening, and full of apprehension about what is to come, largely because they have lost this sure hold on the eternal, which gives to each life meaning and direction, and with meaning and direction gives steadiness.

I do not mean by this a mere escape from our problems and dangers, a slinking away from the actual to enjoy the eternal. I mean an acceptance and living out of the actual, in its homeliest details and its utmost demands, in the light of the eternal; and with that peculiar sense of ultimate security that only a hold on the eternal brings. When the vivid reality represented by these rather abstract words is truly possessed by us, when what is unchanging in ourselves is given its chance, and emerges from the stream of succession to recognize its true home and goal, which is God— then, though much suffering may, indeed will, remain apprehension, confusion, instability and despair will cease.

For a spiritual life is simply a life in which all that we do comes from the center, where we are anchored in God: a life soaked through and through by a sense of His reality and claim, and self-given to the great movement of His will.

*Quoted in the introduction to Communion, Community, Commonweal edited by John S. Mogabgab

A Reading
Get yourselves purses that do not wear out, treasure that will not fail you, in heaven where no thief can reach it and no moth destroy it. For where your treasure is, there is where your heart will be too. — Luke 12.33-34

– From 
The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Full prayer available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
1 Samuel 7-8 (Listen – 5:34)
Romans 6 (Listen – 3:53)

What Prayer Delivers

Scripture: Romans 5.1-2
We have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand.

Reflection: What Prayer Delivers
By John Tillman

We have often written, and discussed in our community that prayer is not a grocery list for God. That’s not what it means for God to be our Deliverer. Those who treat prayer so, will continually be disappointed at what must seem a very poor return on investment.

Some in the church have set prayer up to fail with this kind of teaching—attempting to create a longing for prayer through a materialistic longing for a better job, or positive, tangible outcomes in life. Teaching such as this short-circuits the real and actual longing for prayer that already exists in each person. Roberta C. Bondi discusses this in her essay, The Paradox of Prayer.

There is a deeper reason for our longing for prayer. We are so made that we cannot live fully without it. Prayer is central to the Christian life. It joins us to God, and it leads us to ourselves in God.

Prayer is something far deeper in the human soul than a list of materialistic items. It comes from longings that each person feels—a longing for identity, a longing for connection, a longing for purpose.

In prayer we find things that are more valuable than what a “deliverer god” (lowercase) might pick up at the shop on the way over. We discover who we are, who loves us, and to whom we are to carry that love—for we are God’s delivery system, not the other way around.

Prayer connects us to God, to our true selves, and to our true purpose. Bondi continues:

It is the place where we can be completely ourselves. In prayer we can see ourselves as we are and be truthful about what we see. We can enjoy our own gifts and wonder at all we have been given. We can argue with God about who we are and who we have been. We can acknowledge our mistakes and set them aside. Most important, we can learn to love God, ourselves as belonging to God, and other people as images of God, because we are shaped at our very deepest levels by our prayer.

*Quotes from Roberta C. Bondi’s essay, The Paradox of Prayer, in Communion, Community, Commonweal, edited by John S. Mogabgab.

The Request for Presence
Bow down your ear, O Lord, and answer me… Keep watch over my life, for I am faithful. — Psalm 86.1-2

– From 
The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Full prayer available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
1 Samuel 5-6 (Listen – 5:03)
Romans 5 (Listen – 3:53)

Where Judgment Falls

Scripture: 1 Samuel 2.12
Eli’s sons were scoundrels; they had no regard for the Lord.

I have suffered grievously in my life from stupid, tired, dimmed, and even bad priests. — JRR Tolkien

Reflection: Where Judgment Falls
By John Tillman

Eli’s sons were corrupt in the extreme. They stole from the offerings of the people, committing financial sins and threatening violence toward those who objected. They used their spiritual positions of power to manipulate and pressure women at the tabernacle for sexual favors. The Bible says Eli and his sons grew fat off of the offerings of the people. They are a textbook case of spiritual abuse and financial malfeasance in the name of ministry.

Anyone, even unbelievers, can name a pastor or church they consider to be a Hophni or a Phinehas. Among non-believers and those leaving the church, some common reasons are corrupt, abusive, or just plain bad leadership.

Ministers who are corrupt or simply incompetent and foolish are nothing new to Christianity. JRR Tolkien wrote to his son concerning this issue.

I think I am as sensitive as you (or any other Christian) to the ‘scandals’, both of clergy and laity. I have suffered grievously in my life from stupid, tired, dimmed, and even bad priests; but I now know enough about myself to be aware that I should not leave the Church for any such reasons…Our love may be chilled and our will eroded by the spectacle of the shortcomings, folly, and even sins of the Church and its ministers, but I do not think that one who has once had faith goes back over the line for these reasons (least of all anyone with any historical knowledge).

It can be difficult to worship God under corrupt leaders and it can even be difficult to celebrate their good moments. Hannah received her prophecy and blessing of Samuel’s birth through the tainted ministry of Eli and his sons, but rather than redeeming their ministry, it was the first step in God wiping them out.

Samuel comes to remind us that judgment is coming for the Hophni’s, Phinehas’s, and Eli’s of the world, and for us as well. That judgment has fallen on Christ, and we all receive his same mercy.

The Request for Presence
Worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness; let the whole earth tremble before him. — Psalm 96.9

– From 
The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Full prayer available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
1 Samuel 4 (Listen – 3:56)
Romans 4 (Listen – 4:08)

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