Adventures in Thanks-Living

Living the gift of life one breath at a time

Archive for the tag “prayer”

Midweek Prayer (in the spirit of Taize’)

It’s a wet, snowy winter-into-spring kind of day in south-central Pennsylvania. We woke to about four inches of sloppy snow (much more on the mountains). It was supposed to be much worse, so schools, churches, and businesses opted to close in advance of the storm. If you’re looking for a meditative mid-week prayer option, you’ve come to the right place. Here’s what the congregation I serve would have been doing tonight, had we not canceled all activities. Peace, blessing, and reflective quiet. (Note: I apologize for any ads that show up with the songs. You might try opening the hymns in separate windows to cue when you are ready.)

Lenten Midweek Prayer in the Spirit of Taize’

(Light candles)

Song: “The Lord is my Light”

Psalm 39

1I said, “I will guard my ways that I may not sin with my tongue; I will keep a muzzle on my mouth as long as the wicked are in my presence.”

2I was silent and still; I held my peace to no avail; my distress grew worse,

3my heart became hot within me. While I mused, the fire burned; then I spoke with my tongue:

4“Lord, let me know my end, and what is the measure of my days; let me know how fleeting my life is.

5You have made my days a few handbreadths, and my lifetime is as nothing in your sight. Surely everyone stands as a mere breath. Selah

6Surely everyone goes about like a shadow. Surely for nothing they are in turmoil; they heap up, and do not know who will gather.

7“And now, O Lord, what do I wait for? My hope is in you.

8Deliver me from all my transgressions. Do not make me the scorn of the fool.

9I am silent; I do not open my mouth, for it is you who have done it.

10Remove your stroke from me; I am worn down by the blows of your hand.

11“You chastise mortals in punishment for sin, consuming like a moth what is dear to them; surely everyone is a mere breath. Selah

12“Hear my prayer, O Lord, and give ear to my cry; do not hold your peace at my tears. For I am your passing guest, an alien, like all my forebears.

13Turn your gaze away from me, that I may smile again, before I depart and am no more.”

Reading from Scripture

Luke 13:18-21

18He said therefore, “What is the kingdom of God like? And to what should I compare it? 19It is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in the garden; it grew and became a tree, and the birds of the air made nests in its branches.” 20And again he said, “To what should I compare the kingdom of God? 21It is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened.”

Song: “In God Alone”

Silence

Allow ample time to still your heart in silence and wait for the Lord. We usually allow 7-10 minutes in our worship.

Song: “Lord, Hear my Prayer”

Intercessions

As we continue our Lenten sojourn may we remember those who travel. Keep them safe. Guide them to their destinations. Give them hope and bread for the journey. Lead them beside your still waters and give calm to their weary souls.

Lord, we ask your blessing.

As we continue our Lenten sojourn, we remember those who have no place to call their own, no pillow on which to rest their weary heads, no money to buy their bread. Open not only our hearts and minds, but our hands and resources to share with those who have greater need.

Lord, we ask your blessing.

As we continue our Lenten sojourn, we remember those who are ill, who live with chronic conditions, who are oppressed, and who mourn. We name them now in our hearts or on our lips. (Name those for whom you pray.) Surround them with your love and care. Heal the sick, comfort the afflicted, and walk with the dying and grieving. Show us the way to provide care and comfort.

Lord, we ask your blessing.

As we continue our Lenten sojourn, we remember families, communities, nations, and leaders. Guide and direct those who lead to be gentle, wise, and prudent. Let your Holy Spirit surround them and enfold them so that they may be good and just in their servant leadership.

Lord, we ask your blessing.

We lift our petitions, our hope, and our dreams to you, O gracious Creator. Enliven and sustain us, giving us strength for the journey ahead. Amen.

Lord’s Prayer

Our Father in heaven,

hallowed be your name.

Your Kingdom come,

your will be done,

on earth as in heaven

Give us today our daily bread.

Forgive us our sins,

as we forgive those who sin against us.

Lead us not into temptation,

but deliver us from evil.

For the kingdom,

the power and the glory are yours.

Now and for ever.

Amen.

Closing Prayer

Loving God, open the eyes of my heart to see your world afresh. Let me never be blind to injustice, to meanness, and to pain. Enable me to be fully present to you and to all your people in each moment of each precious day. Fill me with your Holy Spirit. Let me be the hands, feet, eyes, and presence of Christ to others. Equip me. Stir me. Discomfort me. But, always, always, draw me ever closer to you. Amen.

Song: “Jesus, Remember Me”

Until we meet again, go in peace to  love and serve the Lord.

Note: Scripture readings (NRSV) are taken from the ELCA Daily Lectionary. The Lord’s Prayer is the modern ecumenical translation. The prayers are my own–now yours to share. Blessings!

My Prayer

And this is my prayer, that your love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight to help you to determine what is best… — Philippians 1:9-10a

Read: Philippians 1:3-11

Ponder:  “What does love look like? It has the hands to help others. It has the feet to hasten to the poor and needy. It has eyes to see misery and want. It has the ears to hear the sighs and sorrows of men. That is what love looks like.” — St. Augustine

Reflect: Paul wrote his letter to the believers at Philippi while under house arrest in Rome. He had every reason to be discouraged, but instead he overflows with joy, thanksgiving, and encouragement for this young worshiping community. He praises their generosity, and infuses the entire letter with a sense of hope and belief that this group of Christians will, through love, discern how to serve and be the light of Christ to all whom they encounter.

Sometimes it seems we live in a very dark world. Hate, anger, violence, and fear move like heavy fog across the landscape of our days and nights, settling in life’s deep valleys and the remote crevices of our hearts and minds. We cry to God in the face of injustice, evil, and pain. How can this be?

Paul would, I think, encourage us to live on in love, to continue to find joy in every circumstance, and to trust in God’s gracious presence and never-ceasing love for even the most broken parts of this world.

Even in the darkest and coldest days of winter, light is just beyond the horizon–waiting to dawn and spread hope like sweet honey. May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ keep you through the darkest hours of night, assuring you of the promise of light and the presence of love. This is my prayer for you.

Thanks-Living:

Light a candle tonight for peace in the face of evil, brokenness, and darkness. Watch how one small light begins to outshine the dark. So it is with love; love conquers all. Indeed, love has already won. Pray for strength, courage, and wisdom to share and spread love as we await Christ’s coming again into our world.

Photo by thienzieyung and Klearchos Papoutsis. Thanks!

Signs

There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves. People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken.  — Luke 21:25-26

Read: Luke 21:25-36

Ponder:

“Advent: the time to listen for footsteps – you can’t hear footsteps when you’re running yourself.” — Bill McKibben

Reflect:

A quick glance at global news headlines can be a terrifying thing. Headlines announce war, murder, destruction, natural disaster, hunger, poverty, and abuses of all kinds in a macabre parade of words and images. It’s enough to put one into flight mode–at least metaphorically.

One way some folks cope with this onslaught of devastation is to ignore it by running to other activities, passions, and pleasures. The problems seem so big, so bad, and so complicated that it’s easier to ignore them. Thank about it: after the horror of 9/11 we were encouraged to shop, to get on with life as usual and keep the economic machine running smoothly.

Luke’s gospel tells us something completely different. Instead of fleeing, falling, and fearing, we are to “stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near” (21:28b). We are to look and listen for the footsteps of God’s redemption in our world.

The season of Advent provides the space and opportunity to slow down, give our “running shoes” a rest, and listen in prayer, worship, and daily life for the signs of divine action in the world. The signs are there. They are hopeful. And  they are very, very real! Dear friends, look for these signs of real life abundant and overflowing with mercy, love, and grace. Be still and encounter God.

Thanks-living:

Take a “news fast” today. Avoid encountering news on television, radio, and website. Instead, play some music that inspires you. Take a walk outside if weather permits. Bake some bread or sweets and fill your home with the fragrance of love’s creative action. Share your baked goods with family and friends. Choose an inspiring film to watch–or a comedy if you’re in need of a laugh. Most importantly, light a candle and pray for the wisdom to work for peace and watch for God-signs in the world. Blessings on your day.

Like Dave Brubeck? Remember him this week by listening to “Pilgrim’s Progress.” Check out David Anderson’s article about Brubeck, who died December 5 at the age of 92, here.

Photo by kt Ann. Thanks!

Thanks Enough

How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy that we feel before our God because of you? 1 Thessalonians 3:9

Read: 1 Thessalonians 3:9-13

Ponder:

“For everything that lives is holy, life delights in life.” — William Blake

Reflect:

Committing to a life thanks-living means expressing thanks in all conditions and at all times. The apostle Paul knew a thing or two about being thankful in any situation. Even while imprisoned in Rome with an uncertain future, Paul still found time to give thanks for the communities he had helped to mentor on his missionary journeys.

The baser side of our human nature encourages us to think of what we do not have. Whatever is bad, sad, or ugly in our lives floats to the surface like toxic flotsam. It clouds the waters of our perception and prevents us from seeing all the blessings of God.

Today try to see the world through Paul’s eyes. If that doesn’t work for you, read some of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s work.  I recommend The Cost of Discipleship for starters. Click here to read excerpts. To read an inspiring story about finding the best in the worst of situations, click here to read the story of two men who forged a friendship from the ashes of anger and death. If your thoughts turn to the negative, take a deep breath and find something to praise or something for which to be thankful. Remember that you are where you are and who you thanks to the work, love, and sacrifice of many others, including Jesus who gives you life forever.

Thanks-Living:

Today make a list of people and things for which you are thankful. Give thanks to God for your many blessings. Call or write one person on your list to let them know that you prayed for them and give joyful thanks for them. Take delight in the life you have this day.

The Open Door

All the paths of the LORD are steadfast love and faithfulness, for those who keep his covenant and his decrees. — Psalm 25:10

Read: Psalm 25-6-10

Ponder:

“A prison cell, in which one waits, hopes… and is completely dependent on the fact that the door of freedom has to be opened from the outside, is not a bad picture of Advent. ” — Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Reflect:

During the frenzied pace of these December days, remember that God’s love for you is steadfast. The Hebrew word in this psalm is chesed, and its meaning is so much deeper than our English translations convey. Chesed is a concept rooted in covenant language, in the understanding that God will not let God’s people go. That is good news for all of us, especially in a the world that seems to chew folks up and spit them out.

We are created to be in relationship with God,and the hole at the center of our being that we so often try to fill with all manner of stuff and nonsense can only be satisfied when we trust and dwell in God’s chesed. The psalmist understands this need, this spiritual thirst that can only be slaked when we align our wills, our hearts, and our actions with God’s intent for us.

It’s a funny thing how we humans lock ourselves in prisons of our own frivolous construction, putting up barriers between the One who loves us beyond measure. Even as we desire God, we push against the bonds of this great love. Even though we build the cell, lock the door, and throw away the key of freedom, we are still dependent upon the mercy and chesed of the LORD.

The season of Advent reminds us that God is coming again to set us free. In the birth of Jesus we recall and experience how intimately we are loved by the Creator. God cares so much about every fiber of our being and each molecule of creation that the WORD put on flesh and lived with us. God comes again to open the door to our hearts.

That’s not the end. The good news doesn’t stop there. God writes on our heart, placing deep within us the teachings and instructions that lead to abundant life. The LORD again and again shatters barriers and breaks down walls.

Don’t let the frenzy of this season lock the doors of your heart and fog the windows of your soul. God’s steadfast love is here to wrap you in love,  mercy, beauty and light–a veritable patchwork of grace. Breathe in. Open your eyes and hold out your hands. God is near. The door is open.

Thanks-Living:

Today take a few minutes to sit quietly and think about anything that threatens to separate you from living fully in the LORD’s chesed. Are you too frazzled, too busy, too stressed to be attentive to your covenant relationship with God? Resolve during this Advent time of preparation to remove one barrier so that the manger of your heart is ready to receive God again at Christmas.

Photo by jgurbisz. Thanks!

Lift

http://farm9.staticflickr.com/8490/8207353574_fa0544a2c7.jpg

To you, O LORD, I lift up my soul. /O my God, in your I trust; do not let me be put to shame; do not let my enemies exult over me. — Psalm 25:1-2

Read: Psalm 25:1-5

Ponder:

“He came down from heaven” can almost be transposed into “Heaven drew earth up into it,” and locality, limitation, sleep, sweat, footsore weariness, frustration, pain, doubt, and death are, from before all worlds, known by God from within. The pure light walks the earth; the darkness, received into the heart of Deity, is there swallowed up. Where, except in uncreated light, can the darkness be drowned? — C. S. Lewis, Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer

Reflect:

Yes, light walks the earth so that we can lift our weary faces and souls to the LORD and be renewed. Despite the shortening of the days and longer shadows of night, the bright, crisp morning light dawns to cheer and warm. Turn your face to the light. Lift up your soul to the Creator of atoms and ants, mountains and molecules, water and wonder. Can you feel it in your bones? Listen. Do you hear the breathe of heaven and hum of creation? The LORD of Word and Light is drawing you–and all of creation–into pure love. The days are surely coming when all will be made new.

Lift your soul. Lift your heart and hurts and hopes. Lift your hands in praise and prayer. The Advent of the LORD is here. God is with you. God has always been and will be, speaking and spinning the cosmos into a web of redemption. And you, you dear child, are being lifted into that coming reality. God quickens and readies the Christ child to enter again into the manger of your heart. Kindle the fires of this season of waiting and preparation and anticipation. Put your trust in the Light that the powers, principalities, and darkness of this age cannot overcome. Wait this day with a glad and thankful heart. Your salvation draws near.

Thanks-Living:

Resolve to avoid all that seeks to separate you from the Light of Creator God on this second day of Advent. Take several mini-breaks to pray, breath, look, and listen. See how that last leaf hangs tenaciously on the branch outside your window. Observe the joy of a child at play. Savor a cup of your favorite tea or coffee. Tell as many people as you can that you love them.

Lift and be lifted. Make this a day of waiting–all day long–anticipating and expecting the Divine presence to lead you.

Photo by martinak15. Thanks!

How to Begin a Thankful Day

You open your eyes to the new day. Maybe you’re still tired from yesterday and didn’t get enough sleep last night. You might be excited for an event or opportunity that will come your way in the next few hours. Perhaps you wish you could pull the covers over your head and avoid another day of drudgery on the job.

Wait! You have a choice. From the moment you first open your eyes you can choose to have a thankful day or an ordinary day. There’s no set formula to ensure a day of thanks-living, but I can offer you some tried and true methods that work for me.

  1. Let the first thought that runs through your head or lands on your lips be a word of thanks that you are alive and have the opportunity to live another day on this earth. A simple “Thank you for life” will do nicely, but feel free to take more time and elaborate on the reasons you are thankful.
  2. Begin your day gently with some stretching or yoga and prayer or meditation. Take time to let your body wake up and feel the thankfulness.
  3. Drink a glass of water. Give thanks that you have ready access to clean, fresh drinking water.
  4. If you enjoy tea or coffee, take the time to savor one cup–if possible with a loved one or friend. Share at least one thing with each other for which you are grateful.
  5. Eat a simple, healthy breakfast. Try some oatmeal and fruit, whole grain bread and cheese, yogurt, eggs, and/or nuts depending on your style of eating. Fueling your body properly is critical. Avoid choking down food while commuting, and resist the urge to fill up with fast but unhealthy food at the drive-thru. Both your body and bank account will thank you.
  6. Plan to tell one person why you are thankful for them today. Of course, you can choose to tell more people what you appreciate about them or their actions. The more you give thanks and express gratitude, the more thankful and gracious you will become.
  7. Choose to look for the good in every person, place, thing, or event. The easiest thing is to look at the inconveniences and problems; remember, however, that every problem presents another opportunity, and every negative has a positive spin if you look hard enough for it.

If you’re breathing and can move, you have much for which to be thankful. If you have food to eat, work to do, and people you love, you are indeed blessed. Count your blessings and start each day with thanks. It makes all the difference.

Photo by Kansas Poetry used under Creative Commons License. Thanks!

Experiencing God in Creation

“I love to think of nature as an unlimited broadcasting station through which God speaks to us every hour, if we will only tune in.”   – George Washington Carver

Do you experience God’s presence and handiwork in the natural world? I know I do. Like Carver, I believe that God does communicate with us in many ways–some subtle and some more direct. We hear God speak through scripture. We come into the Divine presence in worship. We converse with the Triune God in prayer. We encounter Christ in Holy Communion, and we sense the nudging of the Holy Spirit in our daily  lives. Whether or not we are aware of and in tune with these holy encounters is another story.

Try this: next time you are outside try being open to the presence of the Divine. Listen for the still, small voice of God in the wind. Smell the freshness of newly turned soil. Hear the trill of a bird song. God is present. The Creator is active in the Creation. You are a blessed part of the creation and as such you are dearly loved.

Pay attention to the divine “broadcast station” of creation. Listen. Hear. Understand. Live. Give thanks. Oh, and be a good steward of this marvelous gift. God’s hand, God’s voice, and God’s presence are everywhere in it.

Photo by Per Ola Wiberg used under Creative Commons License. Thanks!

Day Two: Devotions, Daughters, & Dogs

For more than three years I have used Murray D. Finck’s Stretch and Pray program. Granted, I go through periods where I practice this discipline more faithfully than other times, but I keep returning to it because it works. Finck is an ELCA bishop (Pacifica Synod), and he developed Stretch and Pray out of his experience on a four-week mini-sabbatical/pilgrimage to Thailand and Nepal led by Roy Oswald of the Alban Institute. At that time Finck suffered from chronic back pain from an injury that occurred 20 years earlier. On the trip, the participants began each morning with a series of stretches, postures, aerobic exercises and prayers. By the end of the trip, Finck’s pain was gone.

He is quick to point out that these sort of results may not happen for everyone, but I can attest to the benefits of Stretch and Pray. When I incorporate the program into my daily routine, I feel better — mentally, physically, and spiritually. It is a wonderfully simple, invigorating yet relaxing routine. I especially like the prayer postures at the end.

Honoring Relationships

I have two for day two — relationships to honor, that is. Today I want to give thanks for my daughters. They were born six years apart on the same day. I’ve known them for 24 and 18 years respectively, and they have taught me much about what it means to love, to be fully present, to be human, and to forgive (myself and others). I am proud to be their mother, and I am proud of who they are and are becoming. Thanks, ladies!

Giving Possessions

Today is your opportunity to have a copy of the Stretch and Pray DVD. I have decided to give my copy away to a reader. I have only used the DVD a few times, so I want to pass it on to someone who might benefit from it rather than have it collect dust on the shelf. Leave a comment at the end of this post. I’ll randomly select a name on Sunday, February 26, and then pass this copy along to the winner.

Thanksgiving

I am thankful for dogs, especially Pete and Dexter. Pete is our Springer Spaniel, and Dex belongs to my oldest daughter but has been living with us while she’s been overseas. A wise colleague in ministry once said that all ministers should have a dog. Why? Because at the end of a long, draining day a dog will still greet you at the door like you’re the most important person in the world. A dog will give you unconditional love and will never criticize or judge. This is true; however, Pete will eat anything that resembles food and isn’t nailed down, and Dexter will chew socks, books, and furniture. Oh, well! One can’t have everything.

Thankful for Steady Footing

“It’s a dangerous business, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no telling where you might be swept off to.”  – Bilbo, from J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Fellowship of the Ring

Like Bilbo Baggins says, it is dangerous business stepping outside one’s door. It’s a big, wide world with plenty of distractions, wrong turns, and pitfalls. Keeping one’s feet steady and sure is important.

What does it mean to keep one’s feet? Literally, one should be careful where one steps — avoiding everything from random cow patties to rusty nails. The right shoes, the right socks, and the right frame of mind all contribute to a successful journey.

On a deeper level, to keep one’s feet entails making sure a sense of purpose carefully outlined. One needs maps, guides, and a plan to ensure a successful journey. Of course, even with the right accoutrements there are no absolute guarantees, but  good preparation is key.

For me keeping my feet, means following in the footsteps of my Creator, incarnate in the person of Jesus, the Son of God. This means attuning my gait to his gait, my direction to his direction, my routine to his routine.  Yup, my very way of being in the world needs to be as close to his example as possible to ensure steady footing. I must practice my discipleship walk, just as the marathon runner trains for a race.

In the first letter to the Corinthians, Paul writes “Do you not know that in a race the runners all compete, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win it. Athletes exercise self-control in all things; they do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable one. So I do not run aimlessly, nor do I box as though beating the air; but I punish my body and enslave it, so that after proclaiming it to others I myself should not be disqualified” (24-27).

Basically, what Paul is saying is that you have to work at the steady footing that will keep you on the right path toward the ultimate goal. Thankfully, God wants all of us to wear that “imperishable wreath” of eternal life. The gift is ours, but that doesn’t mean we can be spiritual couch potatoes.

No dear friends, up and at ‘em. No need to be swept away by the cares, woes, and lures of the world. Keep your feet by walking in the way of Jesus — loving God, loving neighbor as self, and living a life worthy of the prize to which we aspire.

Tonight, as I go to sleep anticipating a wonderful day of worship and fellowship with the faith community of which I am a part, I give thanks for steady footing, for spiritual disciplines that train and prepare me, and for the One who loves me and you beyond all compare.

Photo by lululemon athletica used under Creative Commons License. Thanks!

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