Holy Trinity Anglican Church

Prayer

Fourth Week of Advent – Prayer of Praise

Over the past few weeks, we have looked at different prayers during Advent – the prayers of intercession, lament, and silence. Each of these types of prayer take us outside of our own circumstances and invite us to see things from a different perspective, a Kingdom perspective. This week, we will look at the prayer of praise from a Kingdom perspective.

It is generally fairly easy to praise God when things are going exceptionally well. We can even usually remember to offer thanksgiving when things are pretty normal. The difficulty comes in praising God when things are not going well. 

If we are honest with ourselves, we judge God’s praiseworthiness by our own feelings and circumstances. From a Kingdom perspective, God is worthy of our praise not because of what He does for us but because of who He is. Sometimes, it requires the discipline of praise to give us this perspective. 

The Magnificat provides a form for this discipline. Luke records this prayer of Mary as she “went with haste” into the hill country of Judea to visit her cousin Elizabeth. Because we know the rest of the story, we can easily forget the danger and despair of Mary’s circumstances. Unwed and pregnant, Mary faces danger that Joseph could have her killed or with mercy “dismiss her quietly” (Matthew 1:19) which did not offer prospects any better for a woman in first century Judea or Galilee. The angel’s words that Mary was favored by the Lord must have seemed very distant from the circumstances in which Mary found herself. Yet, as Elizabeth hails her as blessed among women, Mary responds with this beautiful song of praise that we repeat at the end of each day as a canticle in Evening Prayer. 

My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.
For he has regarded
the lowliness of his handmaiden.
For behold, from now on,
all generations will call me blessed.
For he that is mighty has magnified me,
and holy is his Name.
And his mercy is on those who fear him,
throughout all generations.
He has shown the strength of his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.
He has brought down the mighty from their thrones,
and has exalted the humble and meek.
He has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich he has sent empty away.
He, remembering his mercy, has helped his servant Israel,
as he promised to our fathers, Abraham and his seed forever.
Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit;
as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be,
world without end. Amen.

I invite you to spend some time with this prayer of praise this week. Perhaps, you might pray this prayer at the end of each day between now and Christmas. Allow the stress, excitement, disappointment, and anticipation of this busy time of the year fall away into a Kingdom perspective that does not discount or cover over the trials of our current circumstances but reminds us of the power and promise of God within those very circumstances.

Just as we often judge God’s worthiness of our praise by our own feelings and circumstances, we also often judge our own worthiness of God’s love based on our feelings, actions, and circumstances. The discipline of praise reorders our judgements to align with the Kingdom perspective. God is worthy of our praise because of who He is and we are worthy of His love because of who He is. Indeed, let my soul magnify the Lord!

Third Week of Advent – Silence

For God Alone My Soul in Silence Waits – An Invitation to Listen for God in Silence

In all the hustle and bustle of this season, it is easy to lose perspective. Holiday planning, shopping, travel, and the myriad other things that vie for our attention can make the chaos overwhelming. We can easily forget the sovereignty and loving kindness of God. In this third week of Advent, I invite you to cultivate a practice of silence.

Silence is one of the most difficult practices to describe mainly because it is a practice that does not depend on our own efforts. Silence is a gift rather than an achievement. It is a grace and not an accomplishment. In truth, we never truly practice silence, we can only place ourselves in a posture to receive silence in God.

In a variety of places we catch sideways glimpses of silence in Scripture. Elijah encounters God in “the sound of sheer silence” (1Kings 19:11-13). The Psalmist entreats us to “Be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10). Paul describes a “Peace which surpasses all understanding” (Philippians 4:7). Often we long to encounter this type of silence, stillness, and peace but do not know how.

I find Psalm 62 to be a practical guide and description of the invitation to rest in silence. The Psalm begins, “For God alone my soul in silence waits.” This tells us right away that silence is a practice not of the mind or of the emotions but rather of the soul. I know about thinking and feeling, but it is hard for me to wrap my understanding around “souling.” Our understanding of the soul comes from the very beginning of Scripture as God breathes life into the Man and the Man becomes a living soul (Gen 2:7). The soul is the very essence of our being. As we enter into silence, we wait in our being rather than in our doing.

The Psalm also describes the experience of silent prayer. We begin with the intention to wait in silence (v. 1-2) and are immediately confronted with the distractions of our circumstances and relationships (v. 3-4). We gently return to our intention (v. 5-6). We might meet distraction again or we might start to think about God rather than simply be in the presence of God (v. 7-8). Again, when we notice our thinking instead of our being, we return to our intention, “For God alone, my soul in silence waits.” 

The fruit of the practice of silence is also difficult to grasp for it is a fruit of the soul rather than the heart or the mind. It takes time to recognize the transformation of the soul in the presence of God, but ultimately, we come away with a different perspective (v. 9-12). We begin to see the smallness of our own strivings in comparison to the mighty working of God. We begin to see our existence through the power of God and his loving kindness. We begin to see the reward of our soul in God and not in our status among people.

While there are a number of ways to listen and wait for God in silence, I invite you to explore the following practice this week. First, find a time and a place in which you can be free of distraction for 15-20 minutes. Silence your phone, set a timer, and find a comfortable position. Now, invite yourself to notice God’s presence with the prayer, “For God alone my soul in silence waits.” Then wait. As you notice thoughts and feelings come up in you, simply thank God for these noticings and offer the thought or feeling to God. Return to waiting again with the prayer, “For God alone my soul in silence waits.” Repeat as often as necessary. When the timer goes off, simply thank God for the work He has done in this time of silence. Trust that God has been at work in this time, even if you are unaware. 

Psalm 62
1 For God alone my soul in silence waits; * 
from him comes my salvation.
2 He truly is my strength and my salvation; *
he is my defense, so that I shall not be greatly shaken.
3 How long will you assail a man to crush him, all of you together, *
as if you were a tottering wall or a broken fence?
4 Their plan is only to bring down the one whom God has exalted; *
their delight is in lies; they bless with their mouth, but curse with their heart.
5 Nevertheless, for God alone my soul in silence waits, * 
for my hope is in him.
6 He truly is my strength and my salvation; * 
he is my defense, so that I shall not fall.
7 In God is my help and my glory; *
he is the rock of my might, and in him is my trust.
8 O put your trust in him always, you people; *
pour out your hearts before him, for God is our hope.
9 As for the children of men, they are but a breath; *
the children of men are deceitful; upon the scales, they are altogether lighter than a breath.
10 O trust not in oppression; put not vain hopes in robbery; * 
if riches increase, set not your heart upon them.
11 One thing has God spoken; indeed, two things have I heard him say: *
that power belongs to our God;
12 And that you, O Lord, are merciful, *
for you reward everyone according to his work.

The Second Week of Advent – Lament

It’s hard to be sad this time of year. Everyone is telling us to be merry. Happy families send us their pictures. Colorful lights adorn houses to stand against the early darkness of winter. We even have songs that celebrate frozen precipitation. 

It’s hard to be sad this time of year, but many of us are indeed sad. We have loved ones we miss, broken relationships, unmet expectations, and any number of other hurts and regrets. We try to put on a happy face and press on as if nothing is wrong because “It’s the holiday season!”

Too often, we feel that we can only bring our happy face before God and only after we “get over it” or “move on.” We begin to think that our inability to see “God working all things to the good of those who fear Him” or “abounding in plenty and in want” are a sign of a lack of faith. Instead this is a call to a deeper faith, a faith based on God’s grace and not our striving. In the Psalms, we have a Biblical example to lead us beyond a shallow view of God and into a deeper more honest relationship.  

One way to see the Psalms is as a commentary on Torah, a record of the messy place where worship meets life, the place of our experience. The Psalms teach us to view our day to day experience of joy, frustration, wonder, longing, hurt, and healing through from the perspective of our relationship with a loving and powerful God. The Psalms of lament teach us to respond to the difficult parts of our lives from this perspective. Lament does not allow us to hide our hurt and disappointment behind a false piety nor does lament allow us to wallow in our own self-pity. Lament is the hard work of taking our pain before God and waiting in His presence to receive His healing love. In lament, we trust the love of God to be big enough to hear our complaint and the power of God to be great enough to respond.

The basic form of lament has four movements. These movements are not always in the same order nor are they always obvious in the Psalms. 

One movement is naming the facts and feelings of our current circumstances. In this movement we are brutally honest with God about what is broken or hurtful in our lives and how we feel. 

In another movement, we admit our inability to make things better on our own. We may even list all the things we tried to fix ourselves. We admit that we can’t tolerate things as they are. 

In a third movement, we admit to God that only He can fix whatever is broken. We may even have the boldness to demand that He fix things because it is after all His job. We might even complain at His seeming slowness. 

In these three movements, we allow our uncensored hurt, pain and disappointment to be poured out before God. Then we wait. If we are bold enough in our lament, we might even wait with a bit of fear at God’s response. Yet we wait in the confidence of God’s love. This is the stillness between movements. This is God’s stillness and we must not rush or ignore it.

The last movement of lament is praise. Not a shallow resignation to praise, not a fresh coat of paint over a spot of mold. This is a praise from the depth of our being. We have poured out the brokenness of the “what and where” around us. we have poured out the “how and why” of our feelings and desires. We have waited until God has spoken into the very core of our identity, the “who” at the center of us, and we have heard again of our belovedness and we rejoice.

Lament reorients us from our outside-in view to an inside-out view. Our circumstances and even our feelings may not change but through lament we view our circumstances from the perspective of our belovedness in God rather than our brokenness before God.

I invite you to see these movements of lament as you read Psalm 13. I invite you to read the Psalm once more and pray yourself into this Psalm. I invite you to read once more. Read slowly, pausing to rest in the fact and feeling that the words call forth in you. Wait in the silences for God to comfort you.

Psalm 13

1 How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
2 How long must I bear pain in my soul,
and have sorrow in my heart all day long?
How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?
3 Consider and answer me, O Lord my God!
Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep the sleep of death,
4 and my enemy will say, “I have prevailed”;
my foes will rejoice because I am shaken.
5 But I trusted in your steadfast love;
my heart shall rejoice in your salvation.
6 I will sing to the Lord,
because he has dealt bountifully with me.

It’s hard to be sad this time of year, but by taking the time to lament during Advent, we open ourselves to the deep Joy that comes through Christmas. The season of Advent calls us to longing. This longing calls us to bring our pain, hurt, and disappointment before God.  In Advent, we see the brokenness and hurt, the sin and injustice, the darkness and despair that remain in the world, and we wait and long to celebrate our salvation in the Nativity of Christ and the Light of Epiphany. Advent calls us to lament. 

First Week of Advent – Intercession

This week we will begin with the prayer of intercession. Intercession is simply praying on behalf of others. For whom should we intercede in this season? Take a few minutes to prayerfully read the Benedictus (Luke 1:68-79). Allow God to lead you to those for whom He would have you pray.

Benedictus     The Song of Zechariah

Luke 1:68-79

Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel; *
he has come to his people and set them free.
He has raised up for us a mighty savior, *
born of the house of his servant David.
Through his holy prophets he promised of old,
that he would save us from our enemies, *
from the hands of all who hate us.
He promised to show mercy to our fathers *
and to remember his holy covenant.
This was the oath he swore to our father Abraham, *
to set us free from the hands of our enemies,
Free to worship him without fear, *
holy and righteous in his sight
all the days of our life.
You, my child, shall be called the prophet of the Most High, *
for you will go before the Lord to prepare his way,
To give his people knowledge of salvation *
by the forgiveness of their sins.
In the tender compassion of our God *
the dawn from on high shall break upon us,
To shine on those who dwell in darkness and in the shadow of death, *
and to guide our feet into the way of peace.

Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit; *
as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be,
world without end. Amen.

This is the song that Zechariah prays over the infant John the Baptist. He foretells the work of Christ who will “shine on those who dwell in darkness and in the shadow of death.” In the Now and Not Yet of the Kingdom, we each walk partially in Light and partially in darkness. Who do you know who currently dwells in darkness? In this Advent season, who needs the light of Christ in their lives? Who are the five people for whom you are called to intercede during this season of Advent? (It is okay to select yourself). There is nothing really special about selecting five people. Feel free to pray for more or fewer people in this season. Five simply allows you to select one person for each week day for whom to pray, or select a day each week to intercede for all five.

How do we intercede? Intercession may be as simple as praying, “Lord Jesus Christ, in your compassion shine the light of your love on ____________________________ who is dwelling in darkness and the shadow of death. Guide my feet into the way of peace. Amen.” Spend some time listening for how God might be calling and guiding you to bring light and peace into this persons life.

If you are desiring a more contemplative prayer practice, prayerfully ask to join Jesus and the Holy Spirit in interceding for the people you have selected. Scripture tells us that both Jesus and the Holy Spirit are engaged in intercession for us (Romans 8:26-27,34 and Hebrews 7:22-25). While this is of great personal comfort to know that Jesus and the Holy Spirit are interceding for me, it is also a beautiful time of prayer to quietly join them in interceding for someone else. While there is no one right way to pray in this way, I will share my practice as a starting point. I find a quiet space and remind myself that, “The Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God” (Romans 8:26-27). I then prayerfully ask to join in this eternal prayer of intercession and wait to be invited. I sit for a while in these “groanings too deep for words” and then ask to join in the specific intercession for a person. I try to resist the urge to bring my own solutions into this prayer but instead listen and follow the Spirit who intercedes “according to the will of God.” 

Praying through Advent

On Sunday, we celebrated the sovereignty of Christ the King and the “Now” of the Kingdom. This Sunday, we will begin the season of Advent and the longing in the “Not Yet” of the Kingdom. As we look to the “Now” of the Kingdom, we are aware of the Light of Christ. As we consider the “Not Yet” of the Kingdom, we notice the darkness that remains in this world until Christ returns. On our sacred journey in the Now and Not Yet Kingdom, there are parts of our lives that are fully in the Light of the Kingdom. There are also parts of our lives that remain in darkness awaiting the Light of Christ. Advent is the season in which we are aware of our waiting.

We also begin a new year in the Lectionary. Just as we walked through Mark’s Gospel this past year, in the coming year we will walk through the Gospel according to St Luke. Luke records two poems, or canticles, in his account of the time before the birth of Christ that we now use during Morning and Evening Prayer, the Benedictus and the Magnificat. Over the next four weeks, we will explore prayers of intercession, lament, silence, and praise.  We will use these canticles and Psalm 13 and Psalm 62 to guide our prayer during Advent. 

Week 1- Intercession

Week 2 – Lament

Week 3 –  Silence

Week 4 – Praise