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 except for the introductory video.
With thanks to Shetland Church of Scotland for this 40 days of prayer initiative and allowing us to reproduce the content.
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)