Prayer for the Day

Father, help me to live this day to the full,
being true to You, in every way.
Jesus, help me to give myself away to others,
being kind to everyone I meet.
Spirit, help me to love the lost,
proclaiming Christ in all I do and say.
Amen.

An Afternoon Prayer

Many formal, pre-written prayers are for the morning or evening. Here is one I found for afternoons:

“God, as I go back into the busyness of my day, I offer all of my activities to you as an act of service. Please renew my energy while I work. Help me solve the problems I’m facing, and make good progress toward the goals I’m trying to achieve. Let your love flow through me into the lives of everyone I relate to for the rest of this day. Help me choose kind words and actions that encourage others and reveal your light shining through me toward them. Thank you for helping me with all I need for the rest of this day. Amen.”

Prayer for Work

Here’s a prayer from The Book of Common Prayer (2019):

Almighty God, whose Son Jesus Christ in his earthly life shared our toil and hallowed our labor: Be present with your people where they work; make those who carry on the industries and commerce of this land responsive to your will; and give us all a right satisfaction in what we do, and a just return for our labor; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.”

Limitations

Today I spent time straightening up a room in our house. I cleaned the windows, got rid of clutter, and packed up some things for giving away that clearly we’re not going to use.

And it felt good. But I didn’t know I was going to do this when I got up. In fact, I felt a little frozen by indecision at first. There’s plenty of chores inside and outside the house to do. Which to pick?

Most of the time my family and I tend to the immediately necessary chores, the ones that need doing each day. Other tasks get demoted and ignored. After all, my wife and I both work full time. We have 3 teenagers. Life is busy. Not everything gets done as I’d like it to.

And this daily reality makes me think of what it means to live with limitations.

We all have limits. To be a finite creature means having limits. We only have so much time and energy. Doing this with my time means not doing that. C’est la vie.

Often I find this frustrating. Only because I get annoyed or bothered by the unfinished tasks all around me.

This mundane experience of our human limitations is indicative of more profound limitations.

I can’t do everything. Or please everyone.

Neither can you.

Exhaustion is a sign we’ve transgressed our limits. Burnout certainly is. Even depression, anxiety, and other strong negative emotions might point to ways we’ve pushed ourselves beyond where we should.

Our limits remind us that we’re not God.

In his book Emotionally Healthy Spirituality, Peter Scazzero writes this about accepting our limits: “Jesus modeled this for us as a human being—fully God yet fully human. He did not heal every sick person in the places he visited. He did not raise every dead person. He did not feed all the hungry beggars or set up job development centres for the poor of Jerusalem. He didn’t do it, and we shouldn’t feel we have to.”

If Jesus didn’t do everything for everyone, what makes us think we can or should?

Maybe you need to give yourself some grace. Admit and live within your limitations. Yes, we can all do some things. But none of us can do all things. And that’s ok. That’s how God made us. Living according to his design is how we discover rest within our limitations.

So if you find yourself frustrated or disappointed by what you’ve not gotten done, take a moment and be grateful for what you can do and remember that God loves you even if you don’t do anything.

A Prayer for Forgiveness

A prayer from an unknown 6th century author:

Forgive me my sins, O Lord,
forgive me the sins of my youth and the sins of my age,
the sins of my soul, and the sins of my body,
my secret and whispering sins,
my presumptuous and my crying sins,
the sins that I have done to please myself,
and the sins I have done to please others.
Forgive me those sins which I know,
and those sins which I know not.
Amen.

Pay Attention to What Moves You

Whenever you find tears in your eyes, especially unexpected tears, it is well to pay the closest attention. They are not only telling you something about the secret of who you are, but more often than not God is speaking to you through them of the mystery of where you have come from and is summoning you to where, if your soul is to be saved, you should go to next.

—Frederick Buechner, Whistling in the Dark: A Doubter’s Dictionary

Maybe you’ve had the experience. You’re watching a movie, listening to some music, going for a walk at sunset, reading a book, having a special moment with someone you love, or doing something else altogether, and all of a sudden you feel deeply moved. Something about what you’re doing or experiencing in that moment connects with the deepest part of who you are. Maybe you cry.

And there’s nothing wrong with crying. Real men cry. Indeed, Jesus wept.

I had an experience recently when I was listening to music and, like Buechner says, I found myself crying “unexpected tears.” It wasn’t a hymn or worship song. It wasn’t even a Christian song. I don’t even think it had anything to do with the lyrics. It was the sheer beauty and purity of the performance. I can’t even describe it. I was surprised at how it made me feel. And this same sort of thing sometimes happens because of something I read in a book or a scene in a movie or TV show.

When I came across the above quotation, I had already been thinking about how important it is to pay attention to what moves us, what speaks to us in a specific moment, especially if we find ourselves emotional and releasing unexpected tears. As Buechner says, our tears can be a sign that God is speaking to us about what’s going on in the depths of who we are.

In his book A Time To Heal: Offering Hope to a Wounded World in the Name of Jesus, J.R. Briggs writes this:

The fact that liquid leaks out of our faces is a gracious gift from God. When we are overwhelmed or scared or scarred or saddened or beyond grateful, our physical bodies realize it is too much to handle on its own; it must be released. These are sacred moments. Theology is built into our biology . . . God designed us to release tears . . . out of our face, the most significant relational receptor on the human body.

That phrase–theology is built into our biology–is perceptive and profound.

In The Return of the King, Gandalf says that “not all tears are an evil.” And of course we know he’s right. There are tears of joy, tears of gratitude, as well as tears of sadness. Tears come from the deep well of the human heart when what we’re feeling can’t be contained.

And when that happens to us, it is well worth our while to pay attention to that moment. That’s all I’m trying to say.

Prayer of Basil the Great

Here is a prayer from 4th century Greek Bishop Basil the Great (330 – 379):

“Oh Lord our God, Steer the ship of our life to yourself, the quiet harbor of all storm-stressed souls. Show us the course which we are to take. Renew in us the spirit of docility. Let your Spirit curb our fickleness; guide and strengthen us to perform what is for our own good, to keep your commandments and ever to rejoice in your glorious and vivifying presence. Yours is the glory and praise for all eternity.

“We’re Going On a Bear Hunt” (Or Why We Need a Better Theology of Suffering)

We’re going on a bear hunt.
We’re going to catch a big one.
What a beautiful day!
We’re not scared.

Uh-oh!
Mud! Thick oozy mud.

We can’t go over it.
We can’t go under it.
Oh no! We’ve got to go through it!

We probably read this book to our kids dozens if not hundreds of times. This family goes on a walk together and they keep on encountering obstacles to their journey: inclement weather, scary forests, and hard to navigate terrain. Realizing the only way to continue moving forward is to go through and not around the obstacles they face, we get their refrain, “We can’t go over it. We can’t go under it. Oh no! We’ve got to go through it!”

There is wisdom in children’s books.

Somehow a lot of Christians and a lot of churches think that following Jesus and being a person of faith ought to solve all of our problems or take away all of our suffering. They think that the Christian life ought to be a lovely, beautiful, problem free walk. Lots of sunshine, and no clouds. Like the family in the book, we pretend to be going on a bear hunt but we don’t actually expect to come across a bear.

Worse, we tell people who are suffering that they just need more faith and to pray harder. And when it happens to us, we even conclude sometimes that God is mad at us. Our adversity is the consequence of God’s disappointment with us. It’s all our fault.

Now, sometimes we do face difficulties because of our poor–and, yes, sinful decisions–but the rain falls on the just and unjust. Life includes hardship. As the book says, We can’t go over it. We can’t go under it. Like it or not, sometimes we simply have to go through it.

Some of us shake our fist at God, angry that he would allow us to go through such suffering. Often this betrays a kind of works righteousness. We think that if we’ve lived as we should, then God should bless us–which we take to mean being exempt from suffering. If I’m a good person, in other words, God owes me. Our relationship to him turns into a mathematical calculation.

This is why we need a better, more biblically faithful and robust theology of suffering. The problem, of course, is that we’re not always very well equipped to deal with suffering. We mostly want to avoid it or distract ourselves from it or deny it. Or when we are suffering, often we want to downplay it. Someone is always worse off. Which, while true, doesn’t change the fact that we, too, hurt. Indeed, sometimes we hurt a lot.

So what do we do with this? Do we simply put up with it? I suppose in part, yes. Of that we have no choice. Suffering of one kind or another will inevitably come our way. But is it only about surviving the storm? Do we only hunker down, cover our heads, and hope that it passes sooner than later?

What if God allows suffering in our lives so that perhaps we would realize all the more how utterly dependent on him we are? C.S. Lewis, in his book The Problem of Pain, famously wrote: “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” More than that, what if God actually seeks to grow us spiritually in the midst of suffering? What if by permitting hardship he is conforming us more and more to Christ, our Lord who, while now risen, had to undergo the pain of rejection, humiliation, and suffering unto death?

It’s easy for us to live as though we’re self-sufficient or in control–and even to believe it. Times of suffering strip this illusion away. Whether we lose a job, a relationship, or our health, without something else underpinning our sense of self and our place in this world we’ll end up in an existential tailspin that will leave us bitter or hopeless. With our usual sources of comfort and security gone, where do we turn? On what–or who–do we depend?

And in the church we need to do better. We need to handle suffering better. We need to be a safe place where people can process and work through their pain and loss without judgment. We need to quit acting as though everything is ok when it clearly is not. We need to stop telling people to pull their socks up and move on. We need to practice lament. The Psalms, after all, are full of lament, of songs that bring grief, confusion, and even anger into the presence of God through prayer and worship. Because it’s there that we discover and experience the hope we have in Christ.

Psalm 34:18 says that The Lord is near the brokenhearted; he saves those crushed in spirit. And it’s in the presence of the Lord who is near to us when we suffer that we eventually find healing and transformation. That’s what we really need. Suffering will come to each of us. We can’t go over it. We can’t go under it. Oh no! We have to go through it. But not alone. Instead, with one another, weeping with those who weep, in the presence of the Lord who knows our tears and draws near to us through them.

Habits

We all have habits, good and bad. And when I think about what a habit is, I think of a regular pattern of behavior that has become unconscious over time because of frequent repetition. What you deliberately begin doing, if repeated often enough, becomes what you do without thinking. Sometimes this is a good thing. Often, however, it is not such a good thing.

Which brings me to my real question: why are bad habits so often more easily formed than good habits?

In my experience, bad habits kind of start because we’re looking to avoid something that requires more effort and discipline. For instance, someone may develop a habit of going through a drive thru too often for meals because making something at home is too much of a bother. This is a bad habit for obvious reasons.

A number of years ago I had developed the habit of watching TV in the evenings and staying up too late doing so. It began as a way of decompressing, of trying to wind down and get my mind off of whatever stress I was feeling. Eventually I found myself just doing it because that’s what I did. It was a bad habit for at least two reasons. First, I would stay up much later than I would have otherwise–because with a streaming service you can watch episode after episode of your favourite show. Hence, the term “binge-watching.” Indeed, I would often doze off in my chair because I was up too late. Truth be told, that means I wasn’t actually watching TV for the last little while; I was napping in front of the TV. And the result? Not as restful a sleep that night. Inevitably, I felt groggy and less attentive the next day. Not to mention a little guilty.

Second, I would eat more. Yes, I said it. Staying up watching TV later meant I would give in to the munchies. Doesn’t mean I was truly hungry. Doesn’t mean I needed more sustenance. But like a lot of other people, I associated watching a favourite show or movie with having a snack. Again, not a good thing. Mostly because celery and carrot sticks were not my usual snack of choice. In any case, one bad habit opened the door to another.

So that’s me. I’m sure you have your own bad habits to contend with.

The bottom line: bad habits require nothing of me. They often offer gratification in the moment. If I’m depressed or frustrated or stressed, then I can make myself feel better (at least briefly) by indulging in a bad habit, a behaviour that distracts me from how I’m feeling. It’s a temporary fix. Bad habits are often about passively reacting to life. And unfortunately such bad habits involve other unintended, negative consequences.

But a good habit requires something of me. A good habit takes conscious effort and intention. If, for example, regular exercise is a good habit, I have to plan to exercise. It’s not simply going to happen on its own. For many of us, it is very difficult to include exercise into our lives. Lots of things become obstacles to doing so. And the lack of a plan, of a system that incorporates it into our everyday lives, certainly doesn’t help.

Good habits also mean having to defer gratification. A good habit may not feel good. It may not bring immediate relief or satisfaction. Some good habits are very, very difficult to develop. Particularly if you have some life-patterns already firmly set in place that the good habit seeks to dethrone. Most of us have a degree of aversion to change. We don’t tend to be enthusiastic about exchanging unhealthy habits for healthy ones. It’s too much work. Life is already too hard.

Here’s the thing. Sometimes we have a skewed view on what’s good. We might actually fool ourselves into thinking that treating ourselves several days a week by going through the Tim’s or McD’s drive-thru is a good thing, a reward for a hard day’s work or a source of comfort for the stresses of our circumstances. Ever think, I deserve this? Been there, done that, right? The truth is, we deserve better than what our bad habits offer us.

Maybe you’re wondering (but probably not) what this has to do with faith or with following Jesus. Isn’t this all self-help talk? Well, first of all, let’s be careful about separating what we think of as spiritual from what we think of as non-spiritual. Just because something isn’t overtly spiritual or religious doesn’t mean it has nothing to do with what it means to be a Christian. Every inch of our lives concerns God and relates to how we connect with God and live out our faith. Put simply, everything is spiritual: our eating habits, the way we handle our money, the entertainment or media we enjoy and consume. We can’t separate the way we treat our bodies from what’s going on in our hearts. We are whole beings, commanded in Scripture to love God with all that we are. Jesus did say, after all, to Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind (Matthew 22:37).

Sure, he doesn’t say anything about loving God with all our bodies. But let’s have a moment of honesty. What’s happening with our bodies has a profound effect on our hearts and minds. If I am groggy from staying up too late the night before, it will be harder to focus if I am trying to pray the next morning or to read Scripture. Or I might be more grouchy and impatient with my family.

Consider, also, that forming bad habits is often a result of wanting to avoid dealing with difficult things in a healthy way. Or of simply not wanting to put in the effort to do something worthwhile. What effect is this going to have on our spiritual lives? Do we think that following Jesus ought to be effortless, that we can grow in our faith without any intention or work on our part? Do we think that we will never have to deal with suffering? Is life–including the life of faith–about our comfort and ease? We need to be aware enough to notice how our attitude in one area of life impacts our attitude in other areas. We cannot so easily compartmentalize ourselves.

As far as good habits go, we can often struggle with prayer and other spiritual disciplines (because we all love discipline!) because there’s no immediate payoff in the moment. There’s no instant gratification. It doesn’t automatically make us feel better. Prayer and reading Scripture and engaging in Christian community are not there to distract us from the stuff that stresses us out; instead, they should provide us with the spiritual resources to deal with such stuff in a more healthy, ultimately life-giving way. Does this mean we that we are spiritual failures if once in awhile we have too much Haagen-Dazs or watch a little too much TV? No, but we ought to work towards being more intentional with our lives and the choices we make and the habits we therefore form. In one sense, our habits are our lives. So reflecting on our habits–good and bad–is to reflect on what we want our lives to be like and who we want to be.