So I was reading some Eugene Peterson today and I stumbled across a chapter on “The Apocalyptic Pastor” He suggest that one of the things the church needs more than anything else is apocalypse. By this he doesn’t mean more “End-Times” preaching, but more imaginative preaching. Here is how he puts it:
Apocalypse is arson – it secretly sets a fire in the imagination that boils the fat our of an obese culture-religion and renders a clear gospel love, a pure gospel hope, a purged gospel faith.
This dove tails with what James K.A. Smith has been talking about the past few years when he writes on cultural liturgies. This is hard work. How do we create striking and provocative language that carefully reflects the truth of scripture to a culture that is blind to its blunt demands and claims?
God, who walks amidst the prayers of your people that rise up like smoke all around you,
We pray today that you would enliven the imagination and language of your people.
Lord we pray that our worship would see the beautiful and terrible throne room;
That we would see created order singing your praise around us and gather them into your courts.
We pray that we would see our idolatry as wicked and detestable as a whore,
That we would see through the veil and find our culture to be as dangerous as a dragon.
God who makes all things new, we pray that we could see your plan is golden and your future as brilliant.
Father, our minds are dull and our tongues are weak. Help us to have a fire inside of us that sees you for who you are.
Terrible and brilliant, like a meteor shower that crashes through the sky all around us. Amen
Whether you go to a church that has a congregational form of government, is elder-led, or is a part of a more formal church governing body, you have men and women who serve the church who are not full-time employees. These folks give of their time and effort to love Christ Bride and receive no monetary compensation. They work all day and then have to attend business meetings that can last long (sometimes very long) into the night. They give up their time with their families to care for God’s flock. They are the heart of the church; and the strength (or weakness) of any body of Christ.
Lord, you have called some out from among your flock to serve in a special way.
You have gifted and equipped them to lead; help them to lead as servants.
You have made them teachers of your Word; help them to be teachable students of the Gospel.
You have charged them to govern your Bride; Help them not to use their authority like the world does.
You have asked them to sacrifice time in your service; bless their families as they are away.
You have called them to take up their crosses; give them the strength to carry the burden you have given them.
You have asked them to shepherd your sheep; shepherd their hearts and protect them from the evil one.
Satan has asked to sift them like wheat; Pray for them that their faith may not rail.
If most of us are honest, prayer is difficult. We always feel like we aren’t doing it right. Like we should have more to say and that the things we say probably aren’t even asking for the right things. I know that I often get paralyzed by these things.
One source that I have found great encouragement in is the prayers of Pastor Scotty Smith. Scotty’s blog, which is composed mostly of prayers is a great resource. Additionally, thanks to Baker Books, you can now purchase a hard copy of 365 of his prayers arranged for devotional use.
This collection is excellent in doing two things that all of us need. First is models gospel oriented prayers. Pastor Smith’s uncanny ability to relate everything to the gospel in his prayers is encouraging to me. It is a challenge to come back to the cross and not give God a “todo” list. Second, Scotty prays about everything. Anything and everything. Some of the topics include: Friendship, the Old Testament Law, Shame, Restlessness, and the passing away of loved ones.
To give you a taste of this, I want to share Scotty’s prayer for those in need of healing, which is the March 28th reading from Everyday Prayers and can be found on his blog.
Most merciful and mighty Jesus, I begin this day with two strong images and one deeplonging. The first image… oh my, how thankful I am that I get to see what John saw—a vision of the Day and City in which perfect health will permeate all things. You have taken up all our infirmities and by your wounds we are being healed. Because of the tree of Calvary, the tree of life will stand tall in the New Jerusalem… bearing the fruit of yourconsummate glory and the leaves of our complete healing. Oh to live, play and praise in the shade of that tree, in which every expression of disease, disintegration and distress will be gone forever…
The second image which preoccupies my heart this morning is that of my precious grandson—weary, worn out, and weepy from, what seems to be, never-ending ear infections. I know his struggle is not that on the scale of the whole nation of Haiti… or the horrors in the Sudan… or the struggles of AIDS wracked-countries, but he is my grandson. And as much as I love him, I know your love trumps mine a thousand-fold. I bring him before your throne of grace right now…
Even as I pray for marriages of friends to be healed… the minds of those suffering with mental illness to be healed… the fabric of our racially torn community to be healed… the emotions of the demonized to be healed… friends with stories of abuse, cancer and heart disease to be healed… indeed, for the nations to be healed…
Jesus, I don’t understand, and I don’t have to understand the already-and-not-yet of your healing ministry between your two comings. Why, how and when you choose to bring a foretaste of perfect health in the present-state of our brokenness, is up to you. You are the King who does all things well. You don’t need our permission to do anything.
But holding my little grandson before you re-intensifies my commitment to avoid two extremes: Keep me free from faith-formulas that treat healing like an on-demand right, and keep me free from a theology that has no expectation of your kingdom breaking in with power and healing.
More so than ever, I intensely and deeply long for the Day perfect health. Until that Day, help me and our church family, anticipate and extend various dimensions of your healing ministry, to one another, our community and the nations. So very Amen, I pray, in your holy and healing name.
I hope you are as encouraged and instructed by Scotty’s prayers as I am,
For the past several years, I have loved reading from the Book of Common Prayer.
If you are unfamiliar with this book, it is an old, old prayer book of the Anglican Church. It contains all of the liturgies from the church year. But the real jewel of the book is the daily office. The daily office is a series of prayers and readings from the Psalms, Old Testament, New Testament, and Gospels. The readings follow the church calendar.
The thing that I have been most impressed by as I read through these texts is the uncanny way in which The texts seem to connect with my life despite the fact that their order has been set for hundreds of years. In particular I love one of the final prayers in the daily office. It is the prayer of John Chrysostom (an ancient saint of the church).
ALMIGHTY God, who hast given us grace at this time with one accord to make our common supplications unto thee; and dost promise that when two or three are gathered together in thy Name thou wilt grant their requests; Fulfil now, O Lord, the desires and petitions of thy servants, as may be most expedient for them; granting us in this world knowledge of thy truth, and in the world to come life everlasting. Amen.
I love this prayer. I love the connection between my personal time with Christ and the corporate nature of our faith. I love the way it acknowledges what our true needs are.
Also while I am talking about the Book of Common Prayer, I want to point out a couple of resources available for the 21st century christian to experience this awesome resources. Mission St. Clare has a great website that has both the written and audio version of each days prayer as well as an iPhoneand Android app that sets the daily office up for you with the scripture already integrated in.
I feel like I spend a great deal of time explaining that I love/hate technology. Steve Jobs and Wendel Berry are raging inside of me. Wendel Berry hasn’t ever one, but he puts up a great fight. I would link to some of the works of Wendel, but he is quite the Luddite.
No area is more conflicting than the availability of information and accessibility of communication. Last night, I was sitting with Angie, watching a favorite TV show when my phone buzzed. The magical “tritone of email awareness” rang through the house and I instinctively picked up my phone and read the email.
The weekend had been long and exhausting. I was tired. I was emotional. The socket where my recently removed molar had resided ached. I had been struggling all day with things that I thought I was sure of. I had been sure of them just a few days earlier.
But now I wasn’t.
And the email that popped up pushed me further down the road of uncertainty. It robbed me of sleep and disturbed my fragile peace of mind. How dare it. If I had gotten the email a day before, no big deal. A day later, probably wouldn’t have phased me. But in that moment, it messed me up.
Father, You are the maker of all things
You created creativity and have blessed your children with the ability to conceive and create new things
You are not shocked by technology, nor is it out of your hands
Ultimately, emails come from your hand.
You can slow servers and deaden cell towers
Lord, when you surprise us, your children, with unexpected news help us to seek your face
When you allow our hearts to experience confusion, help us to seek you
Clear our minds and give us wisdom.
You are clear, if we lack wisdom and ask for it you will give it to us
Lord we need wisdom
Lord, I need wisdom
For some reason, by the time I had graduated from high school, I had developed an incredible fear of hospitals. I hated them. Bad.
Once, during my sophomore year of college, my co-RA (kind of like a “dorm-older-brother”) and I went to visit one of our students who was sick and in the hospital. Immediately when I walked in, I could feel myself go flush. I felt like I had been stabbed by a needle, and I really hate needles. My friend looked at me. He cocked his head to the side as if to say, “What’s wrong?” I shrugged, as if to say, “Idunno.” As we continued to trek towards the students room I became noticeably short of breath. “Seriously, dude, are you ok” No. I was having a panic attack because I was fine. The hospital had that dramatic of an affect on me.
This caused a fairly large bit trouble for me. I deeply felt called to pastoral ministry and hospital visits is part of the gig. I began to pray that God would begin to help me with this, not knowing what that would mean.
A few years, yes-years, later God answered my prayers. One of my closest friends in seminary had a son who had significant health problems. As fate would have it, his son was being treated at a hospital just a few miles from my church. His son was in the St. Josephs for months. I began to every now and again visit my friend Adam and his son Lowry. Slowly, God began to help me be calm in hospitals. Around the same time, I took a class with Steve Brown. Steve helped me to see that when I went to the hospital, it wan’t to be a hero, or a doctor, but a friend and a pastor.
I am deeply grateful to Adam and Steve as well as Bo Byrne and Tom Sandoff who all helped me to understand the art of pastoring alongside the nurses. I am also grateful to Julian Riddle and Tim Melton for giving me the opportunities at Surfside to go on hospital visits.
With all that in mind, if I ever visit you in the hospital, you will probably hear me pray somethings like this:
Great God, our Father
You are the maker of all things and sustainer of them all too.
You have made our bodies with all of their beauty and frailty.
You are not surprised by our sickness, nor do you fail to care for us in these times.
Father, help us to remember that this illness is not due to our sins, but for your glory.
God, help us to remember that you are the great healer
Whether you choose to heal my friend or allow his sickness to continue, we ask that we would feel your presence.
We ask that you would help us to see you as our great and loving shepherd.
You have in mind our eternal good and so we ask that you would help us to trust your current providence.
Yesterday, I had the privilege to preach at Surfside. You can listen to the sermon here. preaching is one of the most awkward and draining things that I can think of. There is the tension to be faithful to the text, while at the same time affectively communicating that text to the people of the congregation.
On top of that at Surfside PCA, we have to preach back to back services. I find myself distracted in the second service by the slight differences in my sermon (against the first service). Then, after this exhausting exercise, you have to stand in the receiving line and hear comments, some genuine, some not; some encouraging, some not so much.
As we wake up this morning, we are reminded of our unfaithfulness
We have not prepared the way we should, We have been distracted by all kinds of things.
We have thought too often about the way our words will reflect on us instead of how they will reflect on you.
Lord, forgive me for my non-chalance in approaching your pulpit; for my cavalier attitude towards your call.
Jesus, this morning may the marrow of what was preached yesterday settle into the hearts of the congregation.
May your words continue to penetrate the lives of your people.
Father may people forget the messenger and the way he bumbled the message, and remember You.
Without this, I am undone.
Editor’s Note: If you haven’t caught on yet, each day of the week will have a different theme. Monday with Be Matins Monday.
There was a day in seminary when one of my favorite professors (Reggie Kidd) was lecturing and began to talk about his favorite painter, Georges Rouault. He showed us images from one of Rouault’s collections called the Miserere. If you have ever been in my office you may have noticed that I have a copy prominently displayed and opened to my favorite page:
The caption of the print reads: Chantez Matines, le jour renait. Which translated means, “Sing Morning prayers, a new day is born” and refers to the first Easter morning. For some reason the painting and its inscription have stuck with me. So each Monday I will be posting prayers for the new week.
With the tragedy in Japan and the way #prayforJapan is trending on twitter, I thought I might focus on that this morning.
A Tsunami Prayer (cf. Psalm 93)
Father, in the face of tragedy like the earthquake and tsunami’s in Japan it is hard to see what you are doing.
We know that you are good and powerful, but both of those thoughts are drowned out by the roar of the waves.
The earth shakes around us and our vision of you is blurred.
Tragedy, heartache, pain, and sorrow multiply.
Where were you when the earth moved? Where were you when the mountains fell?
As we see the tragedy across the see, we also wonder where you are in our pain.
Where are you in the midst of abuse, neglect, abandonment, and pain in our lives?
Where are you?
As we question these things, we are reminded by David that your throne has been established from all generations.
Every sparrow is held up by your breath, and every minute is numbered in your mind.
You are good and you are strong.
Though the waves threaten to drowned out these things, we know you are mightier.
Despite the pain in the world and in our hearts, we know your decrees are good and your faithfulness extends to all nations and all generations.
O Lord, make haste to help us and those in Japan.
O God, make speed to save us.