A Post-Election Prayer

By faith, we have gone behind the curtain.
We have made our voices heard, according to the temperature of our hearts —
Some with a raised fist;
Some with a wavering hope.

We have sifted the relative merits of deeply flawed and difficult candidates.
We have heard the word “Never” said about winners and losers, and
we have learned that only You are equipped to say that word with absolute certainty.
Thank you that the eye of the storm has passed, and we can now begin to put feet to those whispered prayers:  “Thy will be done.”

In the aftermath of a political hurricane, we ask for grace:
To be charitable;
To pray for the winner;
To honor the brother or sister who voted differently;
To advance into the culture — knowing full well that politics is all “downstream”;
To trade litmus tests for conversations with real people;
To renounce our deep desire to say, “I told you so”;
To live in such a way that strong families, strong churches, strong communities, and strong faith will become our First Thing, giving us courage to stand for righteousness.

May our desire to be folded into the number of those nations who are called “blessed” impact the way we practice Mere Christianity, knowing that those who fear You, who hope in Your mercy, and who wait for You are those who will rejoice.

Let Your mercy, O Lord, be upon us,
Just as we hope in You.”   (Psalm 33:22)

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This prayer was inspired by the stimulating and insightful conversation between World Magazine’s Warren Cole Smith and Rusty Reno, editor of First Things Magazine in the November 4, 2016 edition of the Listening In podcast.

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The Ancient Way of Praying Made New

Last summer, sitting on a rocky beach with family all around, I noticed a small white shell among the scramble of stones and shards of driftwood. Soon I had collected a handful, all pure white and perfectly whorled, the former dwelling place for some diminutive, absentee mollusk. For a few days, I carried them around in my pocket, reaching in to finger their smooth contours, already wondering what practical use I could devise for them, and their story would have ended in a dark kitchen cupboard if Paraclete Press had not sent me a copy of Bead by Bead: The Ancient Way of Praying Made New.

I am Protestant to the bone, and it would never have occurred to me that ten small white shells in my hand could represent ten members of my family and serve as a tactile reminder to pray for each, one by one. Author and jewelry designer Suzanne Henley reminds readers that ancient practices of prayer were very tactile. Bead by bead, fingers remembered what the heart cherished, and words would spring to mind.

As a glass artist, Henley has the unique privilege of crafting customized prayer beads, and her creative view of the world lends a gritty practicality to the business of prayer that so many of us talk about — but so few of us practice in the way we want to.

“Praying is not just an arcane, dusty practice that a group of humorless, self-righteous old men sat down and made up a long time ago. It is not just words in a prayer book. It’s not a milquetoast, rehearsed exhortation delivered in a faux-devout voice to begin a citywide prayer breakfast with cold scrambled eggs. We carry this need for connection in our guts . . .”  (xi)

The History of Prayer Beads

So, as Suzanne scoops handfuls of Mongolian sand beads from the Gobi Desert and beads crafted from ancient Roman glass fragments, she invites us to look with new eyes at a tradition that, by the time of the Reformation, had deteriorated into an empty piling of slippery words upon which the praying saint hoped to ascend to heaven. Fast forward to 1987, however, and to the statisticians’s great surprise, as church affiliation begins a decline, the use of Protestant prayer beads is in an upswing.

Madeleine L’Engle described prayer beads as a tool to “enflesh the words, make thought tangible.” Maybe our distracted, squirrel-chasing, social-media-saturated brains are seeking an analog anchor. Apparently, the earliest known example of tactile prayer reminders were used by the Desert Fathers who committed to praying the 150 Psalms twice a day. In order to keep track of the number, they carried 300 pebbles in their cloaks, tossing one out after each prayer. Because I am unfamiliar with the historic prayers associated with the rosary, I appreciated a charming child-drawn diagram, as well as the road map for Protestant prayer beads which proscribes no set words or prayers.

Prayer and Work

Suzanne and I are kindred spirits in our numbering of the tedious steps of grocery shopping:  “Into the basket, out of the basket onto the checkout stand, into the bags, into the car, into the house, and into the fridge and cabinets . . .” (43) However, instead of an occasion for grumpiness, Suzanne sees grocery shopping as a “weekly prayer-bead adventure” in which she meditates on the fruit of the Spirit in the produce section, wordlessly blesses fellow shoppers, and quiets her heart while pushing her cart.

Cracking 360 eggs to make breakfast for a gathering of homeless people, Suzanne also practices a ministry of prayer with each thwack against the rim of the bowl, reminding me of prayers I lifted while pinning small socks to a clothesline (Thank you for the gift of this small life . . .), or, more recently, over sports uniforms and tattered work pants (Bless this boy with safety and success . . . ).

Whether we use beads or seashells, the events of our life, or the fingers of both hands to mark the practice of our prayers, the prayers are offered, word-by-word, thought-by-thought. This is also the nature of a life poured out, not in a great gush, once and for all, but drop-by-drop as we pay attention to the voice of the Spirit and open our hands as well as our hearts in gratitude, thanksgiving, and love.


Many thanks to Paraclete Press for providing a copy of this book to facilitate my review, which, of course, is offered freely and with honesty.

I  am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com. If you should decide to purchase Bead by Bead: The Ancient Way of Praying Made New simply click on the title (or the image) within the text, and you’ll be taken directly to Amazon. If you decide to buy, I’ll make a small commission at no extra cost to you.

Joining you in thanksgiving for a God who hears and answers prayer,

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Praying the Words of Jesus for Your Teen

For one short season of our parenting journey, my husband and I felt as if we were hanging onto the reins of a runaway horse. Daily battles over curfews and negotiations around boundary lines had taken the place of warm conversation and laughter around the table, and we mourned the loss as we searched for words to pray over family life in what felt like a war zone.

We were desperately trying to hold the line against hormonally-fueled pressure to relax biblical standards of holiness in the home, while also negotiating the pressure of imminent college and career decisions, and it drove us to our knees. However, at a time when prayer should have been a crucial lifeline, I found that I did not trust my own words in prayer for my teen children.

Could I even know what to ask God for when I was feeling unsure about my own motives?
How does a mother ask God for help in dealing with the daily arguments without lapsing into imprecatory psalms?  

Prayer in the Pressure Cooker

Because I am of a practical frame of mind, my prayers for the people I love are mostly bound by everyday concerns. Even so, I am learning to embrace the prayers that God gives us in His Word — prayers of much more lasting import than I’m usually inclined to pray.

Jesus’s prayer for his disciples in John 17 comes from the pressure cooker of His final earthly hours. In a dark and dismaying context of betrayal and mental anguish, He managed to put words around his deepest longings for His beloved friends. Following three years of intensive ministry, of loving and leading an unruly band of disciples (who most likely were teens!), Jesus poured out words of hope for their future. His prayer extended beyond their immediate impact to touch a world that still desperately needs to behold His glory.

Praying Jesus’ words for my teens lifts my eyes beyond every immediate need to the greater and more pressing concerns that Jesus voiced for His followers of all time, those who were with Him at the Last Supper and those who sit around our dining-room tables today.

It’s a joy to be writing about prayer at Desiring God, and I invite you to join me there to continue reading this post based on the prayer of Jesus for His disciples (and for us!) in John 17.

I look forward to meeting you there!


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A Praying Life

I shut off the mower’s whirring blades, removed my hearing protection, and there it was:  the splash and whoosh of the Atlantic Ocean, always restless, continually wearing away the granite at the bottom of the embankment in the back yard where I had been mowing.  Clouds above were heavy with rain; therefore, sunset would come early. Even so, I paused for just a minute to absorb the sound of waves, to note the gray, glassy swells, and to soak in the truth that the sound had been there before I could hear it. My listening did not bring it into being, but stopping to hear and to appreciate it had changed my view of the world.

Prayer has the same effect, it seems. God is always present, always moving, continually at work. It takes just a minute to remove my ear plugs (and my blinders) of busy-ness, anxiety, entertainment, and the endless drivel that occupies my gray matter during waking moments. Prayer is the conversation that welcomes God into my life, and lately, I’ve been absorbing the idea that it’s not self-talk that’s going to change me or my way of thinking. It’s more productive for me to turn that stream of words toward the God who is always there listening anyway.

Prayer is a Conversation with God

I am committed to the responsibility of praying for my family, and have embraced the privilege of praying by name each day for those closest to my heart, but there’s an emptiness in a prayer life that ends up as a shopping list. There’s a touch of the audacious in showing up with my list when that’s the only conversation of the day.

Reading Scripture, especially from cover to cover, the narrative arc from Eden to Golgotha shouts God’s involvement in the weaving of a story. The post-ascension Acts of the Holy Spirit set up one book-end on a continuing story, and that’s where we pick up the thread until the second book-end called The Revelation brings the story to its glorious conclusion. In all this weaving of story, God is no less present as the main character in these days of Google and Facebook than He was on Mt. Sinai. In spite of my persistent doubts, prayer is still a conversation with the God of the universe, even if my face does not glow after every encounter.

In C.S. Lewis’s Screwtape Letters, he refers to this planet as “the Kingdom of Noise,” and since he was writing in the 1940’s, his readers would have been nodding their heads (and clicking their tongues in disapproval?) about the persistent background noise of “the wireless” in their homes–and maybe a Victrola? It’s no wonder that 21st century believers mistake prayer for a one-sided conversation. After all, podcasts abound, Alexa speaks audibly, and even my antiquated GPS (which I love) gives me spoken directions when I veer off course. In all the aural chaos, how are we to distinguish the voice of God from our own tangled thoughts?

I’m reading A Praying Life: Connecting with God in a Distracting World by Paul Miller, and it’s about time! He writes from such an awareness of my frustration with prayer that it’s practically eerie, and yet I am encouraged by his insights to persevere and to cultivate a praying life that is commensurate with the way I talk (and write) about my relationship with God. For Miller, prayer “feels like dinner with good friends.” There’s no agenda other than simply enjoying each other. That’s the motivation that kept Jesus continually coming to the Father, and if “prayer is simply the medium through which we experience and connect with God,” (8) and if Jesus felt the need to pray, no wonder we humans are plagued at times by a sense of the absence of God.

Prayer is an Invitation to Come, Weary and Overwhelmed

If “a praying life feels like our family mealtimes,” it’s because “prayer is all about relationship.” (8) When we make it formulaic and tear it away from real life, we miss the point, and it becomes as dry and unappetizing as yesterday’s muffins. In a real relationship, conversations go down rabbit trails, but when that happens in prayer, we complain that we’ve lost our train of thought and are tempted to give up. When it seems as if all our messiness floats to the top like the layer of scum on dirty dishwater, we write ourselves off as hopeless and wish that we could pray with soaring syllables of praise. What a relief to read that prayer is an invitation to come, weary and overwhelmed! The God who made me wants to engage in an authentic relationship with the real me, not some super-spiritual version of me who shows up a few times a day for a quick conversation.

I’m still reading, and A Praying Life may be front and center on my Kindle for a long time, because I have a lot of bad habits to unlearn, and prayer is, after all, the journey of a lifetime.

Thanks for joining me along the way,

michele signature[1]

I  am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com. If you should decide to purchase A Praying Life: Connecting with God in a Distracting World, simply click on the title within the text, and you’ll be taken directly to Amazon. If you decide to buy, I’ll make a small commission at no extra cost to you.

 

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I link-up with a number of blogging communities on a regular basis. They are listed in the left sidebar by day of the week. I hope that you will take a moment to enjoy reading the work of some of these fine writers and thinkers.

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Everyday Habits of Holiness

The insistent tone of my cell phone’s timer carried through floorboards to our basement schoolroom–another call to prayer unanswered.

I sighed, turned the page, and continued with my sixth-grader in a lesson on fractions.

I had been reading about the historical practice of praying the hours, setting aside intentional moments throughout the day at specific times to stop everything and pray.

Believers long ago listened to the sounding of bells to remind them to pray.

My solution?

Setting a cell phone timer.

It seemed like the perfect solution for a more intentional prayer life..

Why, then, did my timer always seem to sound when I was in the middle of an un-interruptible task?

  • Dinner preparation on a ball game night.
  • A fervent untangling of numerators and denominators.
  • An intense disciplinary moment.

The reminder was impractical for that season, but it was an important step on my journey toward a more mindful use of my minutes in building my relationship with God.

Today I’m joining Sarah Koontz over at Living By Design to share 5 ways I’ve learned to invite holiness into my every day habits. Click on over to join me there, and let’s pause together to consider how these simple strategies may encourage your faith and help you to grow.

Everyday Habits of Holiness

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Teaching Children to Worship at Home

When the year is fresh and the calendar pages are crisp and spacious, our commitments and resolutions seem like adventures. “We can do this!” we declare as we gather the family around and open our Bibles to Genesis. Unfortunately, by Epiphany, the luster has worn off our resolve, and family devotions have begun to feel like a chore. And then there’s Leviticus . . .

Lora A. Copley and Elizabeth Vander Haagen have prepared a guide that does the heavy lifting of plotting a course for family worship. Teach Us to Pray: Scripture-Centered Family Worship through the Year is organized into seasons based on the church calendar: Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Easter, and Ordinary Time. The readings are dated for long-term use through 2027. An introduction to each section provides background and front loads a challenge to the parents along with a heads up about materials and recommended activities for planning purposes.

In the process of teaching the small people in our lives to worship, our own hearts learn the practice anew, and as I perused each day’s lesson for Advent, the eight-part pattern began a drumbeat in my thinking about exactly what worship entails:

  • Preparing – What environmental conditions will enhance the experience?
  • Inviting – God is there already. Invite Him into the center of your worship.
  • Stilling – In the silence, ask the Spirit to help you pay attention to God.
  • Singing – Music and lyrics for thematic songs are provided.
  • Reading – When we read Scripture together, we hear the voice of God.
  • Dwelling – What questions come to mind in relation to the text?
  • Praying – Thank God and praise Him for the day’s wonderful truth!
  • Blessing – Words from Scripture invite you to pray a blessing over your family.

How would my personal, grown-up variety of worship be enhanced if it was continually being shaped by these action verbs?

Encouragement for Worship at Home

Family worship took on many forms during the growing up years of our four rowdy sons. Often we gathered at meal time, but there were seasons when we occasionally claimed a Saturday night for a more intensive teaching session — followed by popcorn or some other treat. Three principles come to mind that guided us through those important years:

1.  Persevere.  Don’t give up!

If you forget, remember next time.
If you fail, do better next time. Just be sure there IS a next time.

2.  Take grace.

Conversations about spiritual things with my kids never go as smoothly as I plan them.  Sometimes my words sound brittle or awkward even to my own ears, and now that they are older, even if they are gracious enough not to roll their eyes, I wouldn’t blame them if they did! However, the Word of God is living and powerful. He keeps His promises, and He is able to incline our children’s hearts toward truth, even if we are unhappy with our own skill in delivering it to them.

3.  Maintain a long view.

Even the most serious of cross hymns sung during Holy Week lose their solemnity when there is a St. Bernard in the dining room throwing his head back and howling a descant in accompaniment.

Advent candles set a worshipful tone and help us to focus.  They have also been known to ignite a paper napkin that somehow went airborne during family worship.

I can laugh at these aberrations now because they are part of our family’s story. They remind me that worship is part of life, and as we guide our children’s faith-formation, daily times of family worship will set up a rhythm of faithfulness that will enable our children to envision a life in which God and His Word are part of every season and every day.


This book was provided by Calvin College Press via Westra Events and Media in exchange for my review.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

 I  am participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com. If you should decide to purchase Teach Us to Pray: Scripture-Centered Family Worship through the Year, simply click on the title here, and you’ll be taken directly to Amazon. If you decide to buy, I’ll make a small commission at no extra cost to you.

If you enjoy reading Living Our Days, subscribe to get regular Bible studies and book reviews delivered to your inbox.  Just enter your e-mail address in the field at the top of this page.

I link-up with a number of blogging  communities on a regular basis.  They are listed in the left sidebar by day of the week.  I hope that you will take a moment to enjoy reading the work of some of these fine writers and thinkers.

A Bundle of Letters on the Church’s Doorstep

When a pastoral search goes well, everyone wins. Last year when a soft-spoken lobsterman rose to his feet and challenged us at Spruce Head Community to seek a shepherd who would lead us and love us, we began praying and seeking to that end. The seeking and the finding has united us, and we are blessed to have welcomed a godly man and woman who are living small-town life alongside us, all the while holding forth the Word of Truth.

Winn Collier is also a small-town pastor, but with Love Big, Be Well: Letters to a Small-Town Church, he’s wearing his fiction-writer’s hat. Nonetheless, his heart for ministry comes shining through along with a clear-eyed affection for Christ’s body, communicated through the character of Pastor Jonas McAnn.

The pastoral search committee of Granby Presbyterian Church had grown tired of searching, weary of interviews, and fed up with the pretense when Amy Quitman, resident of Rural Route 28, took matters into her own capable handwriting and penned a letter that wrapped itself around one question:

“Do you actually want to be our pastor?”

Formalized by four signatures, the letter went forth to all future candidates.

In a half-hearted search of his own, Jonas McAnn saw in the letter a reason to reply with his own epistle, and finally, to leave behind his safe and predictable life in an insurance company cubicle, and to risk following his heart back into the trenches of pastoral ministry.

What follows is a bundle of letters from Pastor Jonas to his flock, randomly spaced and warmly personal. They have landed on my doorstep as well with their revelation of one side of a “spacious” conversation between a man who knows he was not called into the pastorate to fix anything or anybody and a group of people who have committed themselves to contributing “disruptive input” to each other’s lives.

With engaging characters and a page-turning narrative arc, Love Big, Be Well is a satisfying read for the story alone. Shades of John Ames of Gilead and Tim Kavanagh of Mitford made me hope for a sequel to follow Jonas’s return from sabbatical and future ministry at Granby Pres. However, at the risk of being banished to Wendell Berry’s desert island of exile for finding a subtext where none was intended, I will share that I came away with valuable insights — not in the form of a treatise on ministry, but rather more like thoughts overheard from a corner table at Stu’s Mud.

Thoughts on Calling

Jonas came to life in Granby with the settled conviction that he was committing himself to a web of relationships:

“So I committed my life to walking alongside people who I hoped to call friends. I committed to learning how to help people pray. I determined it would be my job to simply recount, over and again, that one beautiful story of how Love refused to tally the costs but came for us, came to be with us, came to heal us. . . “

Thoughts on the Role of a Pastor

Jonas McAnn came from a long line of pastors and proudly owned his heritage as one who fulfilled a unique and valuable role in the community:

  • to “live with people” (42);
  • to pray with them;
  • to ponder Scripture with them;
  • to “speak in good faith to other people who are trying very hard to listen in good faith” (47);
  • to receive the wisdom of God as “a slow drip, not a sudden knowing,” (60) and then to keep showing up where it will do the most good;
  • to “not take a position” when that is the most honest response;
  • to take cues from the farmer who “tend farms small enough to know and love, using tools and methods they know and love, in the company of neighbors they know and love.”

Thoughts on the Role of the Church

Amy ruefully described Granby Presbyterian to a friend and managed to capture every other church in the process:

“Unfortunately, if you’re looking for people to disappoint you, we will provide the material. In spades.”

Even so, under Jonas’s leadership, the church was called away from a shiny and boisterous presence into a resourceful availability to clean up messes — with the humble admission that the church is called to go first in admitting to our own messiness. “This is why we need the church all the more . . . [for] the only thing worse than our failing to inhabit mercy and holiness would be our making no attempt at all.”

On a practical note, the pastoral/congregational relationship gets off to a good start when the body is there en masse to greet and unload the moving van. From that point forward, the liturgy of even the most non-liturgical band of worshipers is one of “showing up, doing the work, being together.”

Thoughts on Love

Pastor McAnn’s eponymous “Big Love” comes down to “simply circling and staying near.” It was God’s big love that called Granby Pres. member Don Brady into the kingdom and that carried him through the rigors of cancer treatment as he wisely concluded:

“Love’s the main deal.”

Thoughts on Prayer

When elderly Miss Nelson prayed over Don’s cancer treatment, she reminded me that even when we do not know the will of God on a matter, there’s nothing wrong with reminding Him of how much we love and need someone in our community.

Given my own uneasy relationship with prayer, I collect wisdom to keep me in the game. Jonas related a homely parable on prayer from a fruitless fly fishing adventure with Luther that left him flat on fishing, but tutored him in the practice of prayer:

“‘Why would anyone torture themselves with this galling pastime?’

‘I like how you’re just in it. You’re in the water, in the woods. Everything’s happening around you.’

I’ve concluded that my problem (aside from how I have no idea what I’m doing on the river) is my focus on casting properly, on actually catching fish. Luther, however, comes to the river in a much different way. ‘I like being in the water,’ he explained, ‘with the breeze and the scent and the solitude. Even when I don’t catch anything, I come back different than when I left.‘”

Jonas McAnn wrote letters to his congregation from a desire to pay attention and to help his people do likewise. He wanted to remind his readers that life together is good and it consists of shared stories — shared experiences that call us toward the Light. For anyone who is committed to this calling over the long haul, Love Big, Be Well is a benediction, a reminder that ministry is “shot through with blessing,” and a celebration of the dignity of the slow work of ministry in community.

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This book was provided by William B. Eerdman’s Publishing Company in exchange for my review.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

If you enjoy reading Living Our Days, subscribe to get regular Bible studies and book reviews delivered to your inbox.  Just enter your e-mail address in the field at the top of this page.

I link-up with a number of blogging  communities on a regular basis.  They are listed in the left sidebar by day of the week.  I hope that you will take a moment to enjoy reading the work of some of these fine writers and thinkers.