Books from the Library

I got a call yesterday from our local library letting me know that a book I ordered had arrived. To be honest, I couldn’t remember what book I had ordered! Something one of my sons had requested, perhaps? Much to my joy, I discovered it was the one volume edition of Isaac Asimov’s original Foundation trilogy. I had ordered it several weeks ago and had forgotten. What a great surprise! I don’t read a lot of fiction, but having read Asimov’s prequel to this series last year—Prelude to Foundation—I am excited to crack the spine on this book!

You see, at the start of the summer, we cancelled our subscription to Netflix to lessen the screen time of our kids. However well that strategy worked (or not), we also took our sons to the library every week or two to get books to read. Usually they came home with quite a stack.

For my part, thanks to our local library I’ve read Jordan Peterson‘s two books, 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos and Beyond Order: 12 More Rules for Life. While I found the first especially thought provoking and moving at times, both are very much worth reading.

I’ve also just started another book that I’ve heard about on various podcasts, Bessel Van Der Kolk’s The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma. Still very much getting into this one, but it’s fascinating so far. As someone in a “caring” profession, it provides a lot of insight about how people deal with and are affected by traumatic experiences.

So while I still have a large list of books waiting on my Amazon wish list for me to order someday, I’m grateful for my local library. I get to read some interesting books without spending money or having to make yet more room on one of our crowded bookshelves.

What books, if any, are you reading right now? Do you make use of your local library?

3 Good Reasons to Pray the Daily Office

For the last several months my wife and I have made regular (or at least semi-regular use) of the Daily Office in the Book of Common Prayer. Most often we do so individually, but sometimes we pray the Office together. On occasion, we use the family version with our kids at bedtime. We are using the 2019 BCP published by the Anglican Church in North America. While we each have the actual book version, you can find the online version of the Daily Office from this edition of the BCP here. It is also available as an app for your smartphone.

I’m a bit of a Christian hybrid. I was raised Roman Catholic but for the last roughly 25 years I have been active as a Baptist. For a good portion of that time, I have been pastoring in Baptist churches in Atlantic Canada. So I am thankful for both formal and informal forms of worship. I love the gift of being able and free to pray spontaneously from the heart to my heavenly Father. I also love being able to make use of written prayers drawn from church history. I don’t see any reason why the two need to be mutually exclusive. More recently, I have grown to have a deeper appreciation for the richness of historical liturgy, and perhaps especially the prayers of the Daily Office. To that end, I want to share three reasons the Daily Office has been a help and blessing to me.

First, praying the Daily Office slows me down.

I don’t know about you, but left to my own devices first thing in the morning my heart and mind will easily start rushing about. If I’m not careful, I can let the concerns and responsibilities of the day crowd out the quiet I need to hear from God. As a husband and father, mornings during the school year can be particularly hectic. I need something to anchor me in God’s presence.

Sitting down in our living room rocking chair with my Bible and The Book of Common Prayer, and taking the time to pray the Daily Office and attend to God’s word, forces me to take a breath and slow down. Of course, I have to be intentional about it. I have to let let my eyes and my heart pour slowly over the prayers and Scripture readings. I have to be patient. I have to be willing to take the time. You can’t pray through the Daily Office in 5 minutes. Even if there are portions that you skip, most times you’re looking at having to spend a good 15–20 minutes praying and reading Scripture. Some mornings I have spent closer to an hour.

When I deliberately pay attention to the words in front of me, it helps me to refocus and regain perspective. It makes it possible for me to orient my life within God’s story of creation and redemption. It provides context to all the little bits of my life. Otherwise, I can too easily find myself falling prey to false narratives that can wreak havoc with my sense of identity and purpose.

Life seems to conspire somehow to keep us distracted, hurried, and anxious. Too often we turn to Facebook, TV news, or our smartphones as soon as we get up in the morning. We all need to slow down and, I believe, intentionally enter God’s presence. Praying the Daily Office makes that possible for me.

Second, praying the Daily Office gives me words when I have none.

Believe it or not, even as a pastor I can sometimes be at a loss for words. Including when I sit down to pray. The Daily Office includes prayers of confession, canticles of praise, the gloria Patri, the Lord’s Prayer, a general thanksgiving, and collect prayers for each day of the week (and for a variety of occasions). When my heart and mind are too tired to muster up my own words, the Daily Office provides me with a wonderful vocabulary of prayer.

More than that, the Daily Office gives me words of prayer that wouldn’t always occur to me. Through it I am being taught to pray, I think, more biblically. Whereas on my own I can quickly leap to praying for my own needs and concerns, the prayers of the Daily Office teach me to pay attention to certain spiritual realities and biblical truths that may otherwise escape my attention.

For example, here is one of the prayers of confession:

Almighty and most merciful Father, we have erred and strayed from your ways like lost sheep. We have followed too much the devices and desires of our own hearts. We have offended against your holy laws.

We have left undone those things which we ought to have done, and we have done those things which we ought not to have done; and apart from your grace, there is no health in us.

O Lord, have mercy upon us. Spare all those who confess their faults. Restore all those who are penitent, according to your promises declared to all people in Christ Jesus our Lord. And grant, O most merciful Father, for his sake, that we may now live a godly, righteous, and sober life, to the glory of your holy Name. Amen.

BCP 2019

And this is how the Daily Office begins, with a straightforward reminder of our need for forgiveness, grace, and the good news of Jesus crucified and risen. I cannot recall ever hearing a prayer remotely like this on a Sunday morning outside of a more formal church liturgy. And while I’m not saying that all churches need to incorporate such written prayers into their worship, I wonder if not having prayers like this (spontaneous or written) has left us more spiritually shallow. It makes me wonder, too, what we are communicating to our congregations about prayer without realizing it.

Then there is the General Thanksgiving prayer:

Almighty and most merciful Almighty God, Father of all mercies, we your unworthy servants give you humble thanks for all your goodness and loving-kindness to us and to all whom you have made. We bless you for our creation, preservation, and all the blessings of this life; but above all for your immeasurable love in the redemption of the world by our Lord Jesus Christ; for the means of grace, and for the hope of glory.

And, we pray, give us such an awareness of your mercies, that with truly thankful hearts we may show forth your praise, not only with our lips, but in our lives, by giving up ourselves to your service, and by walking before you in holiness and righteousness all our days; Through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom, with you and the Holy Spirit, be honor and glory throughout all ages. Amen.

BCP 2019

Let me simply say, I love how this prayer asks the Lord to give us an awareness of his mercies. It doesn’t presume we are already aware and thankful. Instead, it acknowledges we can very easily take the Lord and his blessings to us for granted.

Even if we just read a prayer like this and take a few minutes to reflect quietly on what it teaches us, we will discover spiritual truths that we may otherwise tend to neglect. Such prayer language can reveal our hearts to ourselves and orient us before God.

One specific type of prayer that blesses me is called a collect. There are a wide variety of these collect prayers in the BCP and they essentially are short, summing up prayers, often thematic, and bracketed by language of praise. Here is one example:

Almighty and merciful God, it is only by your grace that your faithful people offer you true and laudable service: Grant that we may run without stumbling to obtain your heavenly promises; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

BCP 2019

One of the most valuable aspects to the BCP and the Daily Office is that it takes you through the book of Psalms regularly. In fact, the whole book of Psalms (in the Coverdale translation) is in the Book of Common Prayer. It is divided into sections for morning and evening prayer, usually consisting of 3–4 psalms at each sitting. If the psalms are longer, then perhaps the morning office will only consist of 1 or 2. I don’t follow this strictly. Because I am more consistent in praying the morning office, I will often read more psalms in one sitting.

In any case, given that the Psalms are the Bible’s prayer book and hymnal, going through the psalter gives us language for our prayers that we might not have without it. Sometimes the language of the Psalms take me off guard. Sometimes the words in a particular psalm makes me uncomfortable. Psalmists, for instance, speak a great deal to God about what they would like him to do to their enemies. But this is important too. It expands our understanding of what we can say to God in prayer and what feelings we can freely express.

Third, praying the Daily Office reminds me I am not alone.

I am often reminded that in the Lord’s Prayer roughly half of the pronouns are plural. Our Father, give us our daily bread, forgive us our trespasses, etc. Our Lord Jesus taught us to pray in such a way as to remind us that we do not pray alone. And, as is clear from the examples above, the same is true of the prayers in the Daily Office. So even if I am praying the Daily Office individually, I am reminded that I am a part of a spiritual family that spans the globe and the centuries of church history. When so much of evangelical spirituality and piety seems privatized and individualized, praying the Daily Office offers a healthy corrective.

Praying the Daily Office also helps me understand that I do not have to construct my prayer life from the bottom up without any help. I needn’t be left to my own devices. The wisdom of believing generations before me is a rich spiritual resource that I neglect to my own detriment. Why deprive myself of that and be left thinking it’s all up to me?

I have one more closing thought to sum up. Praying the Daily Office can be a springboard for our more personal prayers.

Theologian Karl Barth, in his little book Prayer, says this about praying the Lord’s Prayer: “Be content with possessing in the Lord’s Prayer a model, but let your prayer arise from the freedom of the heart.” What’s true of the Lord’s Prayer is also true of the Book of Common Prayer and the Daily Office. It is not something that we should be legalistic about.There are days when I do not use it. Nor does it need to be a replacement for more personal, spontaneous prayers. I have found that in my most blessed experiences in praying the Daily Office, the written prayers lead me into moments of spontaneous prayer.

Of course, praying with the above in mind does not require using the Daily Office. But if you sometimes find that prayer is a struggle or if you find yourself feeling guilty when you lack what you think should be the right words, might I suggest giving the Daily Office a try? It may bless and encourage you more than you think.

Carrying One Another’s Burdens

Imagine a man walking a dusty road carrying a very heavy load. He can barely manage it. Without help, he knows he might not make it. He prays for God to help him. Someone comes along and offers to help. The man refuses the help, and says, “The Lord will help me with my load.” After he’s walked a little longer, another person offers similar help. “That’s ok,” the man says, “The Lord will help me with my load.” Eventually the man collapses on the side of the road under the weight of his burden. Discouraged, he cries out to God, “Lord, why did you not help me with my heavy load?” The Lord replies, “I offered you help with your load twice, but you refused.”

In Galatians 6:2 the apostle Paul says: Carry one another’s burdens; in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.

The first and obvious thing to point out is that we all have burdens. Some of us have them right now. Some are emotional. Some are physical. Some are financial. Some are relational. Scripture assumes at some point we will all find ourselves carrying burdens—that we’ll find ourselves in situations and dealing with struggles that weigh us down.

Put simply: living the Christian life does not mean having a trouble-free life.

Not only that: But all of them are spiritual. Let’s be honest, depression can affect us spiritually. A chronic illness can affect us spiritually. The breaking up of a close relationship can affect us spiritually. Losing a job can affect us spiritually. Finding it hard to make ends meet can affect us spiritually.

Our burdens affect how we relate to God. They can make it harder to pray and trust God. Sometimes the burdens of life make us want to stay home from church. Or make it impossible to go. And because God is interested in our entire lives, he wants us to learn to deal with our burdens in the right way.

At the very least, we need to be honest about the fact that we all have burdens.

The second thing is this: Carrying one another’s burdens means knowing one another’s burdens. It means knowing one another. Does anyone else know when you feel overwhelmed by guilt? Are you ever aware if someone you know is feeling weighed down by sorrow?

Bearing one another’s burdens—including letting someone into our lives to help us bear ours—is really hard because it means becoming that much more honest with ourselves and vulnerable before others. Are we strong enough to admit weakness? Are we ready to admit that to someone else?

The church is many things. Among them, it is also a family. We’re called brothers and sisters. We are called to care for one another. And that doesn’t always happen in ways that fit into our comfort zones.

The question is: are we prepared to step into someone else’s life when it’s going to be messy and uncomfortable? Sometimes I wonder if we’re more interested in having neat and tidy lives than in actually being in real and honest relationships with other people in the church.

I know it’s a risk, and it’s not one we should take with everyone around us. But each of us needs to have at least one or two other believers in our life that we can open up around. I honestly believe in those moments of vulnerability that God meets us. We all need someone we can be open with about our deepest cares and struggles.

The third thing is this: Bearing one another’s burdens is how we love like Jesus. Just like Jesus entered our situation, our lives, in order to bear the burden of our sin and our brokenness to bring forgiveness and healing, so we are called to enter into one another’s lives to offer love and the presence of Jesus.

Jesus touched people. Literally and otherwise. He drew near to the hurting. He spoke words of comfort and healing. He didn’t avoid the awkward moment but stepped into it.Consider Psalm 34:18: The Lord is near the brokenhearted; he saves those crushed in spirit. Psalm 147:3 says He heals the brokenhearted and bandages their wounds.

Notice how both verses include the brokenhearted. We often talk about physical healing. We talk about people having sins forgiven. But what about those who are suffering from heartbreak because their kids won’t speak to them? Or are still living out of past trauma? Or are hanging on to grief? The Lord promises to be near to them also.

One way—one important, fundamental way—he does that is through his people. Not because there are those among us who haven’t had struggles, but sometimes precisely because we’ve had similar struggles.

In 2 Corinthians 1:3—4 it says: Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and the God of all comfort. He comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any kind of affliction, through the comfort we ourselves receive from God.

We can’t solve the problems of others. We can’t eliminate their burdens. And we can’t take on all of their burdens ourselves. Paul also says that each person will have to carry their own load. Our burdens are still ours. But we can share the load.

Ultimately carrying one another’s burdens means carrying one another to Jesus. It means letting someone cry on your shoulder. It means being willing to listen without jumping in with easy answers. It means praying for and with one another. It means sharing how God brought you through your own tough time.

At the end of The Return of the King Frodo Baggins and Samwise Gamgee are on the slopes of Mount Doom. Their journey has been long and perilous. Frodo’s mission to bring the ring to Mount Doom and destroy it is near the end. But he’s spent. He can barely bring himself to go on. And Sam, his ever-faithful friend, says to him, “Come, Mr. Frodo!” he cried. “I can’t carry it for you, but I can carry you.” What a wonderful picture of Paul’s words in Galatians!

Are you willing to open up to others about your burdens? Are you willing to have others open up to you? Do you trust Jesus to meet you in the midst of your burdens? And do you believe that he can meet you through your brothers and sisters in Christ?

A Prayer to Start the Day

Blessed are you, creator of all,
to you be praise and glory for ever.
As your dawn renews the face of the earth
bringing light and life to all creation,
may we rejoice in this day you have made;
as we wake refreshed from the depths of sleep,
open our eyes to behold your presence
and strengthen our hands to do your will,
that the world may rejoice and give you praise.
Blessed be God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Unresolved

And life is full of loose ends, of rivers never crossed/ On tiny scraps of paper, notes jotted down and lost.

— Brooks Williams, “Some Fine Day”

It’s an experience every pastor has eventually. Someone stops coming to church for no clear reason. There’s been no conflict and no division, at least that you are aware of. Visits and phone calls, if received at all, add no clarity. You’re simply left with unanswered questions and a feeling of loss.

A lot of life, not only church life, is like this: unresolved loose ends and questions.

What do we do about situations like this? How do we handle it when there’s a distinct lack of resolution?

Sometimes our “Why?” questions are left hanging in the air, without answers forthcoming.

Like it or not, I think we have to learn to live with this lack of resolution. Whether it’s to do with church, a relationship, or something else. Because people are messy. We human beings are quite inconvenient creatures. We don’t easily fit into people’s expectations of us. Others don’t neatly fit into our expectations. We don’t even always fully know our own motivations or reasons for the decisions we make. We can be a mystery to ourselves. No wonder we can confuse and confound those around us.

And life is complicated a lot of the time. There’s a lot going on around us. And inside of us. We don’t understand it all.

It occurs to me that one of the reasons I can be left so frustrated with the lack of closure that attends life (and ministry) at times is that it leads me to question myself or the value of what I am doing. I wonder if I’ve done something wrong. I can wonder if there’s something I didn’t do that might have prevented the situation. Sure enough, that might be the case at times. After all, I make mistakes. We all do. But other people make decisions too. And their choices aren’t always–or even usually?–about me. Either way, the fact is I may never know the reason why a given situation lacks closure.

And think of it this way. There may very well be other people who experience a lack of closure because of you. Knowingly or not, perhaps you’ve left someone out there wondering why, and feeling unresolved about some situation. As the lyric above from Brooks Williams says, “Life is full of loose ends.” And sometimes our best intentions become sins of omission or “notes jotted down and lost.” There is someone out there who has disappointed you. There is also someone out there whom you have disappointed.

Ultimately, life–that is, people and our circumstances–does not always provide the closure we desire or seek. So we’re often left with these (sometimes) unconscious feelings of longing for wholeness. That’s where regret sometimes comes from. Such a longing can surface in all kinds of ways. In bitterness, sadness, resentment, as well as in our feelings of disapppointment regarding family, relationships, our professional lives, and church experiences. But this longing points us to something deep inside of us. We all have a longing for wholeness. But if we’re counting on such closure or resolution in order to feel better about ourselves and our lives, we’d best get used to locating our sense of wholeness elsewhere.

At the beginning of his Confessions, Augustine wrote these famous words: “You have made us for Yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in You.” That’s where we receive wholeness. That’s where we find ultimate resolution to all the broken pieces of our lives. That’s where all the loose ends either get sorted out or no longer matter. To that end, when we find ourselves feeling such a lack of closure, and we have it about something that this life can never truly resolve, we should let that experience point us to the only One who can resolve it. And not because in eternity we necessarily will get all the answers to the questions we’ve asked in this life. No, because once we find ourselves in his presence forever we will discover in his face all the answers we will ever need whether we asked them or not.