A lot of us are stuck at home at the moment, perhaps for several weeks. That means we will not have the chance to gather as a Christian community and worship God together – and just when we most need God’s strength. There are suggestions below about what you can do, something new each day. They will be in reverse order with the most recent at the top.
With thanks to Shetland Church of Scotland for this 40 days of prayer initiative and allowing us to reproduce the content
On the Wednesday of Holy Week, Jesus was at the home of Simon the Leper, when a woman came and broke a jar of perfume and poured it on his head. The perfume was nard, also called spikenard. It is a perfume that was used in the Temple, on the altar of the Tabernacle, the seat of God. It was also used in ancient times to anoint dead bodies. And in aromatherapy, it is sometimes used to calm the dying and ease their passing into the next world.
The woman was doing something deeply profound and sensitive. She recognised that Jesus himself was the ‘seat’ of God – the presence of God on earth. When others were still in denial, she understood that Jesus was already a ‘dead man walking’. And she did what she could to calm his fear, and to ease his passing.
You may have somewhere in your house a scented candle or an oil burner, or even just some perfume. Place it on your prayer table, and let the room be filled with its beautiful scent. In the Temple and in some churches, incense is a sign of the prayers of the faithful rising to God. Let the perfume carry your prayers to God, as you contemplate the power of kindness to make beautiful even the most painful of times.
On the Tuesday of Holy Week, Jesus returns to the Temple. It is as if he wants to spent every last moment he has with God.
After raging at the exclusion of the poor yesterday, today he observes a poor person who has refused to be kept away from God. He sees a widow give two small coins to God – everything that she had.
Though we don’t know her age, I imagine this widow. As well as being female and poor, I imagine that she was probably also elderly and frail – the kind of person who, all told, is mostly invisible to society. Yet Jesus notices her. He points her out to his disciples, and he admires her.
This elderly frail woman is the opposite of the young strong man who observes her. But something about her situation calls out to him. Perhaps it is his own impending weakness and frailty, that makes him hyper-alert to the invisible other. For in his crucifixion, the all-powerful ‘male’ God would have his power taken away from him, and he would soon become one with the weakness of this frail woman.
And perhaps what Jesus also saw in her was a kindred spirit. She gave everything she had for the love of God – and shortly Jesus would give everything he had, his strength and his life, laying them down like her two coins in love and sacrifice.
Today in prayer, think about poverty and weakness and frailty and giving your all to God. As you go about your daily business, be alert like Jesus was to the struggles and courage of the elderly. Many of them are people of faith, and have walked with God their whole lives. Point them out to your community and church. Admire them. Honour them.
And if that elderly person is you, then know Jesus has seen you and blessed you, and counts you as a kindred spirit.
I explained how originally these 40 days of prayer were designed for Lent. So although we are well out of Lent now and half way through the Easter season, nevertheless I am going to return you to Holy Week now. In this time of great sorrow and isolation, it is perhaps not inappropriate, although we will also welcome the Resurrection of hope with Alleluia.
On the Monday of Holy Week, Jesus overturned the tables in the Temple. He was particularly outraged by those selling doves. Doves were the required sacrifice for poor people, so Jesus is angry here at how the poor are being exploited. They are being told that they can have no access to God unless they buy the required sacrifice at a hugely inflated price.
So today, note Jesus’ fury at the exploitation of the poor. Now think about the poor of your own time and place (which may include yourself). Who or what is blocking their full participation in society? Who or what prevents them from coming to church? Who or what is denying them access to God?
Today, at your prayer table, pray to God for clear sight, that you might see these obstacles for what they are. Pray to God for righteous anger, that you might feel Jesus’ fury at these obstacles. Pray to God for courage, to speak up against them. Then choose one obstacle in your community or church that you could actually do something about. Maybe refrain from actual table-flipping! But with God’s help, work out what you can do, say, or write. And take steps today to do it, to speak up about it, to write to someone about it
A wise minister once counselled a group of students who were training for ministry. “When you lead the Prayers of Intercession,” he said, “never omit the prayers for the sick and the grieving. For remember that on any given day, approximately one third of your congregation will be living in their own private hell.”
The same rule of thumb can be applied as we go about our daily lives. Consider that perhaps one third of the people we encounter may be dealing with long-term illness, with a devastating diagnosis, or with chronic pain, either in themselves or in someone they love. And almost no one gets through life without some great loss or heartbreak.
According to the old Creed that many Christians recite regularly, after he died Jesus ‘descended into hell’. For us, this means that there is no place of sickness or pain or loss where Jesus himself has not been. So when we are in our own private hell, we can have faith that Jesus is there with us.
So today, pray for those who are sick and who grieve. Pray that they may know the comfort of the presence of God. And pray too that Jesus may lead them out of their own hell and into God’s own heaven, a place where hope and healing and happiness are refound, both in this world and in the next.
I once went for a job interview in a totally new part of the country. I arrived in a rather run-down town, and stayed in a dismal hotel room that looked out onto the bins. The job was a good one – but I did not like the look of the locality. I doubted I could ever feel at home there.
I shared my dismay with God. And suddenly my attitude was switched completely around. The question was no longer, “Can I be happy here?”, but “Is this where God wants me to be?” Before my eyes, the town was transformed. Grace was here.
Wherever you live, in whatever kind of locality, try seeing it today through God’s eyes. Go for a walk if you are able to, or even just sit by your window and let your eyes and mind rove. Consciously notice the houses and schools, the shops and businesses, the fields and farms, the community centres and places of worship. See as if for the first time the wants and needs of your community. Let yourself care. Think of all these people who live and play and work here, each one of them a precious child of God, each one a recipient of God’s grace. For Jesus lived and died and rose again for each one of them.
And as you are roving, pray.
All this month you have been praying individually, by your own prayer table in your own space. But when it comes to prayers of intercession, prayer suddenly widens out. It is not just about you and God anymore – it is now about all these other people and situations as well. Once you have put on your own oxygen mask, it is time now to help others.
Almost every major religion has a place where people come to pray together, joining their individual prayers with the prayers of all the faithful. In church and synagogue, mosque and temple, prayer is a communal activity. And so is answering prayer. Across the world, places of worship help with food banks, run soup kitchens, support Street Pastors, provide premises for community groups to meet, raise money for charities, care for children, run lunch clubs for the elderly, visit the sick, bury the dead, and comfort the bereaved. All of these and more are answers to someone’s prayer – perhaps even to yours.
Do you have a church you go to, when not in lockdown? Or do you know of a local church that is trying to love others, as Jesus told them to? Surprise that church today by reversing the flow of prayer – by praying for the church as it prays already for you. Pray for its peace, its blessing, and for the resources it needs to answer prayers in this world.
As we said yesterday, when it comes to praying for others and the world, the problem is knowing where to start. So over the next four days, we are going to follow a classic structure for intercessory prayer: the World, the Church, the Community, and the Sick. We will not try to pray for everyone and everything in only a few days – that could never be possible. But if it becomes a joy to you, to talk to God about the needs of others, then perhaps this can become a lifetime’s habit.
So we start today with the World – the largest category of all. If you have a globe or an atlas in the house, then add that to your prayer table. Otherwise just picture the globe in your mind. Let your thoughts range over its continents and islands. Think about how amazing and beautiful it is, with its oceans and rainforests, deserts and icecaps. Think about its great cities, its huge diversity of peoples, its animal and plant life. Think about God’s Holy Spirit hovering like a bird over all these places and peoples, as she hovered over the waters before creation.
Now let your thoughts stop and hover over one place. Call to mind what you know about this place, what you know is happening there, what you have read about or seen in the news.
And pray. Ask God to help. It’s that simple.
The problem with praying for others is knowing where to begin – and where to end. The needs of the world are just so huge, from wars to disease to poverty to environmental disaster. And we are each only one person, and what can we do?
Before bombarding God with words, take a moment just to sit in silence. Sit in silence before the sorrow and suffering of the world. Admit the limits even of prayer, for no prayer can restore a lost life.
This is God’s starting point too. Sheer grief, profound silence, an incoherent cry of pain. When Christ died, the skies darkened, thunder roared, and the Temple curtain was torn as in his grief the Father rent his garments. Then nothing. Just clearing up the aftermath.
Of course, resurrection did come: new life and hope and all these wonderful things that we pray for. And we will get there. But the suffering of the world is real, and prayer is no quick fix. Neither is answering prayer a matter of God waving a magic wand. When the people prayed, “Save us! Help us!”, just look at the cross to see what it cost God to answer.
“We do not know how to pray as we ought,” said St Paul. Admitting that is a good place to start when praying for the world. So sit in silence for today. Tomorrow, we will start forming the words.
Day 30: Intercession
When we finished our section on Thanksgiving yesterday, we thought about the importance of remembering. But remembering also prompts another kind of prayer. God instructed the Israelites to ‘remember that you were slaves in Egypt’, not just to remind them to give thanks for their redemption, but also to inspire them to treat others better than they were treated. And on Remembrance Sunday, as well as giving thanks for peace, we also commit ourselves to helping the victims of war, and resolve not to inflict war upon others.
Remembering is therefore one of the foundations stones of justice. If we remember how we have suffered, then we will do our best not to inflict the same suffering on others. It is also one of the foundation stones of mercy. If we remember how we have suffered, then we will be kind to others who are suffering.
As we turn now to Prayers of Intercession – prayers for others and the world – sit today at your prayer table for a time, with your hands held out in front of you. In one hand, feel the weight of justice, the divine command that we remember the poor and the enslaved. In the other hand, feel the lightness of Christ’s mercy, and the joy and relief it brings.
There is a pattern in the Old Testament, a form of words that is repeated over and over again, so that it becomes a litany. “Remember,” says God. “Remember. Remember that you were slaves in Egypt. And the Lord your God redeemed you.” God’s people must never forget, that if they are in a good place now, it is because God has brought them there. Without God’s saving help, they would be neither free nor flourishing.
Remembrance is a crucial part of thanksgiving. We remember how things were before, and we thank God for how things are now. This is exactly what we do on Remembrance Sunday every year. Remember these generations who fought in two world wars. Now give thanks for peace.
As you sit at your prayer table today, let your memory stretch long past your own lifetime – and long past this current crisis. Do you remember how childhood diseases used to kill? Give thanks for modern medicine. Do you remember how few choices women had? Give thanks for education. In my own family, I remember how my grandmother had only one cold tap in her house, and I give hearty thanks for modern comforts.
Tomorrow we will move to praying for those who still lack these things. But for now, just pause and appreciate what you have, and say thank you. They are good things. They are blessings. They are gifts.
Sometimes, without meaning to, we can get sucked into a culture of complaining. At work or in our homes, at church or out and about, we bond with other people by moaning together! “This is rubbish,” says someone. “This is unacceptable.” And we all agree.
There is nothing wrong with complaining about bad treatment, or with sharing our upsets with others. But if this becomes a pattern, then it makes thankfulness very hard. If everything is always negative, how will we notice the good things? – and the good people, who are trying hard?
Once I was at a Christian conference which was filled with a spirit of negativity. Nothing the hard-working organisers did was good enough, and everyone was complaining. Then one of our group pointed out to the rest of us how sour the mood had become. “We have to resist this,” he said. “This is not of God.”
So today, try saying your prayers of thanksgiving throughout the day. Notice the good all around you, and say a quick ‘Thank you, God’, wherever you find yourself. See if you can break your own culture of complaining, and turn that into a culture of thankfulness, blessing the Lord at every turn.
When disaster dominates the news, it can be hard to remember that this world is still a good and beautiful place. But in the Bible, when God created the world, we are told over and over again, “And God saw that it was good.”
And so it is. The world is filled with people doing good things, caring for others and for the environment. The world is filled with scientific discovery and artistic endeavour, with amazing human ingenuity and creativeness. This good world that God has made is filled to the brim with those three things that last for ever – faith, hope, and love.
So today, have a look around for evidence particularly of these three things. Where do you see faith at work in this world? Where do you see hope in the future, belief that the world is still a good place? Where do you see love in action, helping to make people’s lives better? Think on these things, and be amazed, and give thanks to God.
And maybe give thanks in a practical way too. How can you help increase faith, hope, and love in this time of isolation? It might be as simple as phoning a friend, sending a donation to charity, or checking on your neighbour.
People who don’t usually come to church often ask for a church baptism or blessing for their new baby. They may not be sure what they believe about God, but they know on an instinctive level that their baby is a gift. And so they come to the church, looking for a way to say thank you for their little one.
The impulse to say thank you remains strong, even when our faith is weak. No matter what we believe, we never lose that sense of wonder at the birth of new life, whether it is a beloved human baby, or the new little creatures of spring. Life is a gift, and it directs us to say thank you to the Giver.
So today, find something to place on your Prayer Table that says ‘life’ to you. Perhaps a photo of family members, or a picture or ornament that represents one of God’s little creatures. Light your candle, and look at that item, and let wonder and thankfulness fill your heart.
Day 25: Thanksgiving
A Christian writer once described how he re-found his faith after losing it for a few years. He was simply out for a walk in nature, and found his heart soaring with joy. And all of a sudden, he needed someone to thank – someone to say thank you to, for his good life, his happy marriage, and for all this beauty around him.
So today, embrace that impulse. Leave your prayer table behind, and if it is possible in your circumstances, go outside – for your daily walk or just out into the garden. If you can’t go outside, then simply open a window to let some fresh air in. Notice the wonder of fresh green budding on the trees. Notice the birdsong. Notice the shape of the clouds. Notice the wonder of the wind or hold out your hands to the gift of rain. Notice the warmth of the sunshine or of your coat/ Notice the beauty of the face of God in every person you see.
“And be thankful,” says the letter to the Colossians (3:15). It’s a complete sentence. “And be thankful.”
In his Gospel, Mark tells us about an encounter between Jesus and a father and son (Mark 9:14-29). The son has what we would probably diagnose as epilepsy, but which people back then understood as demon possession. The father can only watch helplessly as his son suffers.
So the father comes to Jesus, and asks him to help his boy – ‘if he can’. The conversation that follows is remarkable. Jesus reminds him that ‘if’ doesn’t come into it – “All things can be done for the one who believes.” And the father cries out in simultaneous hope and despair, “I do believe! Help my unbelief!”
The father’s cry is our cry too. We do have faith; we don’t have faith. We believe God cares; we think God doesn’t care. We pray to God; we are not sure if prayer makes a difference. Help us, God – if you can!
But no matter his belief or unbelief, no matter whether he was filled with faith or just plain desperate, the father got this one thing absolutely right – he went to Jesus for help.
When praying for our own needs, the best and most beautiful prayer we can make is for more faith. The prayer in itself is enough to set loose the healing power of God. Why not make this your prayer today?
We are still thinking about Prayers of Supplication – prayers for your own needs.
Does it embarrass you a little to pray so much for yourself? You might have a sense that such prayers are somehow less worthy than other prayers, or that they are selfish.
If so, then don’t worry – we will get to prayers for others very soon! But prayer works on the same principle you find in safety demonstrations on planes. In an emergency, we are told, always secure your own oxygen mask before helping others. For if we collapse through lack of oxygen, then no one else will be helped either.
Prayer is the oxygen of faith. Someday God may send you to help someone else. Then you will be God’s answer to someone else’s prayer. When that time comes, you will need to be breathing deeply of the love of God, or you may struggle to be of any use to them.
So take a little time this morning to pray for yourself, and do so with joy. Do you need strength? Do you need wisdom? Do you need patience? Do you need healing? Whatever you need today, ask God for it. And breathe.
There is little in life that hurts more than frustrated desires. There are those who long for a life partner, but never find one. There are those who long for children, but are never given them. There are those who long for acceptance, but never receive it. And there are our everyday longings for love, for touch, for intimacy, for freedom, for appreciation, or simply for a life more meaningful than the one we seem to be living. When such desires are not fulfilled, the result can be real physical and mental anguish.
Psalm 23 begins, “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.” We use the word ‘want’ casually in everyday speech, but it has quite an intense meaning – to ‘want’ means to ‘lack’. To say that that we want someone or something means that their lack is felt intensely, that their absence is felt as a gap in our very being.
“I shall not want”, says the Psalm in a sweet voice of calm. “I shall lack for nothing. All my desires shall be fulfilled.”
Led by God our shepherd, the rage of unfulfilled desire shall give way to these promised green pastures and still waters. For all our desires – for intimacy, for acceptance, for adventure – come together in a single desire for God. And God, so full of grace and truth, will not leave us empty.
So today, bring your longings to God. Be honest. Tell God how you feel, share those desires, the worthy and the unworthy alike. Don’t be afraid of anger or tears. God understands how you feel.
Then hear the promise of the Psalm again:
The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
He restores my soul.
In our prayers for ourselves – our own needs and desires – today we turn our thoughts to our physical wellbeing. This could be in terms of our health, or our energy and fitness, or it could also be in terms of our personal safety.
All our illness, our aches, and our tiredness are reminders that we don’t simple have bodies – we *are* bodies. Who we are cannot be separated from the body through which we relate to each other and the world.
So whatever condition your body is in – and however much you like or dislike your body – take a moment today to marvel at it. Our bodies are tough, self-healing, capable of astonishing feats of dexterity and strength. And at the same time they are fragile, delicate, easily broken. Our bodies remind us that we are not gods. We are mortal and human, shaped from the dust, fearfully and wonderfully made, and designed for loving touch.
Now with that sense of wonder in the miracle that is your body, bring to God your prayers for your own healing.
Well, we’re half way! Time perhaps to take stock. Sit at your prayer table today, and use the items on it to remind you of your journey so far. What have you prayed for? How has God responded to your prayers?
If you have been praying regularly, you may well have spent more time with God these past 20 days than you ever have. Do you feel that you know God any better? Do you feel closer to God? Whether the answer is a surprised ‘Yes’ or a frustrated ‘No’, tell God honestly how you feel.
And remember, that knowing God is not a 20 day programme. It is a life-long journey of sometimes closeness, and sometimes distance. But God is faithful, and God’s love never-failing.
So to finish your prayer time, ponder these words of St Paul:
“For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known.” (i Corinthians 13:12)
I’m going to ask you now to add something unusual to your Prayer Table. Not anything beautiful or sacred, but something that represents your daily work or routine. It could be your phone, or a diary. It could be a cooking utensil or a duster. It could be a tool or an electricity bill.
If you sit and look at this item, chances are that it gives you a certain anxiety. Our lives are often so busy that we can feel overwhelmed. And many of the tasks we have to do are not exactly pleasant.
But here is where we offer the our busyness to God. Think of the day to come and the tasks and duties that await you – the things that must be done, the people who must be dealt with. Then ask God to cover all these duties with grace, that the doing of them may bring you energy and calm.
For this is a great truth about God: that God is not just for the special holy days, but that God makes the ordinary days holy and special. May God bless you today in your work.
Day 18: Supplication (petition or request)
Time to tend to your Prayer Table. Does the water need refreshing? Do you need to replace any flowers? Does anything need dusted? How is the candle holding up?
For the next few days we are going to be thinking about a different kind of prayer. Our focus this time will be on our own needs and desires. If there is anything weighing on your mind; if there is any problem you are struggling to deal with; if there is any unfulfilled desire that you still long for, then this is where we will take these to God and ask for help.
Prayers of this type are called Prayers of Supplication. They are the great privilege of the Christian, because they are where we present ourselves to God exactly as we are – no hiding! It’s just you and God, just the two of you, face to face, real and raw and honest.
So for today, why not try the most simple prayer that I have ever been taught? Sit for a while at your Prayer Table and say, “Lord, you are here. Lord, I am here.” And repeat it throughout the day, whenever your mind turns to God.
In one of the traditional prayers of the church, we confess that we have sinned ‘in thought, word, and deed’. Today we come to the last of these, and the one which in many ways is the most serious. While it is not true that ‘sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me’, yet there is an escalation of harm from thought to word to deed.
It is hard for us to face, that there is a kind of violence deep down in all of us. Most of us (I hope) would not physically lash out. But whenever we see someone else’s needs as less important than our own, and act accordingly, then we do a violent thing. We may not mean to hurt them. We may even convince ourselves that we are doing it for their good. But we have pushed them away from ourselves, and so have sinned against them.
(It may be that you are ‘more sinned against than sinning’. If someone else cares only for their own needs, and not for yours, then it is vital to prioritise your own safety. You are not sinning against anyone by removing yourself from their reach.)
Our model in all of this is Jesus, whose interaction with others was one of gentle and loving service. He never imposed himself on others, not even in his desire to help, but asked them first, “What do you want me to do for you?” (Mark 10:51)
In your prayer time today, come to God in your neediness. Lay your sins before him, and hear him ask with a voice full of love, “What do you want me to do for you?” And if you want forgiveness, then tell him.
A colleague of mine once asked a Bible Study group, ‘Would you call yourself a sinner?’ But this group of devout people drew back from that word. As one person put it, “I know that I sin. But to call myself a ‘sinner’ seems a bit strong.”
The theologian John Calvin could not understand this. In the Bible, we are told that Jesus “welcomes sinners and eats with them”. So why would anyone want to deny they are sinners? It is precisely the sinners of the world that get to meet Jesus!
Spent today’s prayer time reading the verses below, from Luke 15:1-2. Can you see yourself as one of the sinners who is trying to get close to Jesus? Can you hear the mutterings of judgemental people who try to get in your way? Can you see the huge grin of welcome that lights up Jesus’ face when he sees you drawing near?
Yesterday, when we confessed our sins of speaking, we thought about the things we have said that we should not have said. But what about the things we have not said? The kind word that we did not speak? The thank you that we did not say? The prayer that we did not offer?
And on another level again, what about the times when we should have been brave, and spoken up for someone, or spoken out for justice? But because we were scared, we did not. When you start thinking about it, ‘the things we have not said’ is a very large category indeed.
If there is a sense of hopelessness about ever confessing all the things we failed to say, then remember that water of baptism. If you haven’t changed the water in the shallow bowl, for it will be stale by now. Take it to the sink, pour out the old water, and fill it afresh with clean new water. This is what God does for us in our baptism: God washes away our stale sins, and refills us with the clean and life-giving water of the Spirit.
Confession is never meant to weigh us down with despair. Rather, it begins with the love of God, and leads us back to the love of God.
The amazing truth we confront in confession, is that God’s forgiveness is greater than even the longest possible list of our sins. So sit for a while with that clean fresh water on the table in front of you, and marvel at the infinite love of God. Then ask for the continued grace of repentance, and for the help you need to speak the right word in the right moment to the right person.
At the beginning of almost every sermon in our tradition, the minister will say a version of these words from Psalm 19:
“May the words of my mouth
and the meditations of my heart
be acceptable to you,
O Lord, my strength and my redeemer.”
This prayer acknowledges that the words that come out of our mouths are not always pleasing to God. It doesn’t mean coarse language, which is the least harmful kind of ‘bad words’. It is talking about the attitudes we give voice to, of unlove and unkindness – and these attitudes can be expressed in the most polished and reasonable of terms.
Take to your prayer time today a glass of drinking water. Ask God to bring to your mind any words you have said recently – or were planning to say today – which are not pleasing to God. Then, like yesterday, ask for the grace of repentance. Lastly, take a drink of the water to remind yourself that God forgives, and washes clean even the words of our mouths.
‘”For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” says the LORD.’
When we hold up our thoughts against the measure of God’s goodness, we see how very far they fall short.
Sit in the presence of God for a while, and think upon this truth: that our thoughts and God’s thoughts are very different. Then let God guide you to a thought you have been nursing, that is in some way unworthy. It might be a thought about yourself, or about someone else, or about a whole group of people. Bring that thought into God’s light, and ask for the grace to repent of it.
Then finish your time of prayer by hearing again what Jesus said: Your sins are forgiven. (Mark 2:5)
Begin today’s prayer time by sitting still and becoming aware of the presence of God. Perhaps use the line from Psalm 46: “Be still, and know that I am God”. Sit with that verse for a while.
For today we begin to think about the confessing of our sins. That can be a frightening or oppressive thought for many people, as if confessing sin is like standing before an angry headmaster. But God does not shout at us or humiliate us or punish us. Rather, God wraps us around with love that will never falter for a second, no matter what we confess.
Being in God’s presence is the safest possible place to be. Be still and know that God is God, and you are loved beyond measure.
Day 11: Confession
Today I suggest that you add some water to your prayer station. Ideally this would be in a low-rimmed bowl of some kind, but even a glass or jam jar will do. Fill it with cool clear water from the tap, and place it on the purple cloth beside your candle and your item from nature (which you may need to replace by now!).
Today, let the water stand for the water of baptism. Let your fingers play in the water today as you sit with God.
If you have been baptised, whether as an infant or as an adult, think back upon your baptism and what it means to you now. If you have not been baptised, ponder upon this ancient Christian symbol, and what this cool clear water says to you. Share these thoughts with God.
All this time, while you have been contemplating the wonder of nature, you have in fact been praying in adoration to God.
In our church tradition, worship always begins with a prayer of adoration before we then move to confess our sins. This is because it is only when faced with God’s goodness that we realise how far we fall short. But it also sets the context for confession – a context of love and complete safety.
Lent is a time of confession and repentance, more than any other time of the Christian year. But it is not about beating ourselves up with our failures. Rather, confession is surrounded always by the love of the God who made us, and the love we return to God in response.
Next, we will think more about confession. But for today, just bask in the loving relationship you and God are growing between you
Our sense of wonder when we think about God’s creation turns into a sense of wonder at God. God, says Julian of Norwich, “is the creator and protector and the lover”.
Think today about God who is your creator, protector and lover. You would not be here except that God created you. You would not be here except that God has kept you in life. And you would not be here if God did not love you so much, that he rearranged the universe to make a space for you.
Let your prayers turn to him today in joyful praise.
We are not the first to wonder at the marvels of creation. From the dawn of thought, humans have looked at the stars, and wondered about our place in the universe.
In the Bible, the Psalmist ponders upon the universe and the majesty of God. “When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,” the Psalmist exclaims, “the moon and the stars that you have set in place – what are human beings that you are mindful of them? What are mortals that you care for them?” And then with even greater wonder, the Psalmist marvels: “You have made them a little lower than the angels and crowned them with glory and honour.”
Think about this verse all day. Then, this evening, if the sky is clear, step outside and look to the moon and the stars. As you look at them, think about the Psalmist’s great insight, that the most amazing thing that God has made is you.
If it is true, that we know God too little, then how can we know God better? One way of drawing closer to God is to think upon God’s creation.
Julian of Norwich was a medieval mystic, and perhaps the first woman writer in English. Like you did yesterday, she loved to contemplate the small things in nature. Once she sat with a hazelnut in her hand, and this is what she wrote:
“In this little thing I saw three properties. The first is that God made it, the second is that God loves it, the third is that God preserves it.”
Look again upon that small piece of nature you put on your prayer table yesterday. Hold it in your hand. And this time direct your wonder to the thought, that God made it, that God loves it, that God preserves it.
If you have a garden, take a little wander out into it today. Have a look at the spring growth, and collect something that seems lovely to you. It could be a single flower or leaf, a twig, a feather, or perhaps a little bunch of early spring flowers. If you don’t have a garden and can’t go outside, choose some small item from around your house that says ‘nature’ to you – like a picture or ornament or a piece of jewelry.
Place your item on your prayer station on the purple cloth beside the candle.
Now look at the item you have chosen, and let a sense of wonder rise up in you at the beauty and delicacy of God’s creation.
SUNDAY 22 MARCH 2020
As mentioned elsewhere, you are invited to come together in prayer at 7 pm with people of faith across the whole country. Light a candle as a sign of hope, and place it in your window. Then let us join our voices in prayer. You may wish to use the prayer below. (Please have due care for fire safety, and do not place candles near curtains, or leave unattended.)
For all that is good in life, thank you,
For the love of family and friends, thank you,
For the kindness of good neighbour and Samaritan stranger, thank you.
May those who are vulnerable, hungry or homeless, experience support,
May those who are sick, know healing,
May those who are anxious or bereaved, sense comfort.
Bless and guide political leaders and decision-makers, with wisdom,
Bless and guide health workers and key workers, with strength and well-being, Bless and guide each one of us, as we adapt to a new way of living.
And may the light shining from our windows, across road and wynd, glen and ben, kyle and isle, be reflected in our hearts and hands and hopes.
Through Jesus Christ our Lord,
DAY 5: Adoration
I have a little old-fashioned book on prayer called “The Secret of Adoration”. In it, the writer asks an obvious question: “Why is prayer not a greater joy and delight? And his answer is that “we know God too little”.
If we knew God better, then prayer would be as easy as chatting to an old friend – and 5 minutes wouldn’t be nearly enough time. So today, light your candle and sit with God, and say this ancient prayer: “To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul” (Psalm 25). And if that is all you pray today, then that is fine.
DAY 4: Building the habit
A candle is a sign of prayer. This is how the church has always understood them, and why so many cathedrals have places where you can light a candle and say a prayer.
Prayer does not have to be a lot of words. Sometimes it is as simple as lighting a candle, and in that act thinking for a moment on God.
So for today, light the candle on your prayer station, and say the prayer in the image below – a prayer about not having the right words, but praying anyway.
A candle is always a comforting light. It is warm and friendly somehow, and although it is a very small flame, it is enough to see where we are going.
The Bible tells us that Jesus is the Light that shines in the darkness – and the darkness has not put it out. If Jesus is with us, then no matter where we walk, even into the wilderness or the shadowed valley, we will have enough light to see where we are going.
Find a candle today to add to your prayer station. If safe to do so, light it, and sit with it a while, and maybe say a friendly word or two to Jesus, who sits with you. (please don’t forget to extinguish the candle before you move away).
The traditional colour of Lent is purple. This is because the robe that the Roman soldiers put on Jesus was purple. It was the most expensive colour in the ancient world, and was worn by kings and emperors. The Roman soldiers put it on Jesus to mock him, because – beaten and broken – he seemed to them the opposite of a king.
See if you can find a purple cloth today to add to your prayer station. If it is big enough, use it as a table cloth for the rest of Lent. (If you can’t find a cloth, add a ribbon or any other purple item.) Then sit for 10 minutes and look at the colour. Think about the ‘kings’ of this world, and what they stand for. And then think about Jesus, broken and beaten, the opposite of a king.
So on this first day, find yourself a chair and small table in a quiet corner – or even in a noisy corner, if you have children running around! (Children can be part of home-based worship too!) Over the weeks, build yourself a ‘prayer table’, so that it can become a focus of worship in your house.
And then just sit there for five minutes. Don’t worry about saying anything to God yet: just sit and get used to the space and the time and the quiet. As the Lord says, “Be still, and know that I am God.” (Psalm 46:10)