Tag Archives: prayer

Translation of a Prayer by St Bernard of Clairvaux: To love as much as possible.

My God, my Sustainer,
I know I will not love you as much as you deserve,
But only insofar as you enable me to love.
This will surely not amount to all the love I should show,
But it will amount to all the love I can show

Because it is impossible to love you
Beyond the power to love that I possess.

I will love you more
If you will make me able
Howbeit that this never will amount
To as much as you are worthy to be loved.

~ St Bernard of Clairvaux, my translation from French.

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Too Scared to Cry: The Church that Forgot How to Lament

Moore, Russell (2014) ‘Too Scared to Cry: Social media outrage and the Gospel’, published on DesiringGod.org on 28th May  2014. http://www.desiringgod.org/blog/posts/too-scared-to-cry-social-media-outrage-and-the-gospel [last accessed 30th May 2014]

I only wish there were a ‘reblog’ button for Moore’s article. The point of it is that we have forgotten how to lament. And I completely agree with it. I see this so often in the world as well as in Christian circles. Instead of being sad, we’ve got to be angry – at people and at God. We’ve got to be angry, and to make accusations and impositions on people and things to change. We shake our fists and our heads, we demand our rights from man and God, to be respected, to be prospered, we call down fire from heaven, and we say ‘How can a loving God have ordained this?’ in disgust and unbelief.

No, no, no. Let us wail and lament and cry and fast and rend our hearts for our pitiful state – our cruel world, our raggedy English church that wallows in the same mire and takes it into its delicate pores. Let’s learn to lament together about this condition, rather than stoking each other’s indignation. Let us share sadness, rather than anger. If we will permit ourselves to be sad, there might be wisdom and insight, and with these, a foundation of repentance for the bearing of more and better fruit. “Bear fruit in keeping with repentance” said Jesus (Matthew 3:8 ESV). Grief, sorrow, wisdom and insight appear to be bosom chums, after all. We would do well to get used to tempering our grief with sorrow, I feel; then we might be able to bear wisdom and insight and use them fruitfully.

For in much wisdom is much grief: and he that increaseth knowledge increaseth sorrow.
(Ecclesiastes 1:18 KJV)
The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning; but the heart of fools is in the house of mirth.
(Ecclesiastes 7:4 KJV)

Let us crack open the Scriptures, read what God says and promises to peoples who live and behave like our churches, and lament. Never was the Word of God so readily available to our people, and never were our churches so illiterate in it, and never did our churches so blithely disregard it, blaspheme it even – so dare we feel entitled to blessing, prosperity and a bounteous harvest? What impudence, to complain “The Lord hasn’t been speaking to us or pouring his Spirit out on us lately, and there is no increase”, and to feel justified in railing at God for this! For a long time now I have felt that we are dancing on the edge of an iceberg. All around are the symptoms of decay, and God knows what monstrosity lurks beneath. If these signs are all around, then why is it a surprise when ministries and endeavours praised and encouraged by churches at the proposal stage then fail for lack of support when put into practice, or when parochialism, individualism, selfish priorities, lack of diligence, lack of unity, pressure to ‘perform’, the idolatry of leadership and the devaluation of follower-ship and submission to authority, and a crumbling sense of community, push lone wolves into lone ministries that have to scrap with each other for resources in order to survive, because those who could be providing the resources have been driven by those same things to be the bosses of their own ‘lone’ ministries? Are these not just more symptoms of the underlying leprosy? What sort of house is a house struck by a leprous disease, when you need a safe structure in which to dwell and operate that’s not going to disintegrate when you need it to support you? Would you trust the decaying loft beams to hold you up while you try to build a dormer window for your roof extension?

The really sad thing is, I think, that not even the victims of this situation can claim that they do not also contribute to the problem in some way. Individuals make demands on the resources of church communities for their ministries with the intentions of doing good, but it is the church communities that have to suffer the loss of those resources if the individuals do not contribute anything to that church community from which they have taken. The church is already a large and struggling ministry from which many are prepared to take, but to which few are prepared to give in time, money, fellowship or service. Stretching the church’s resources further cannot be a help to that community, if it is already sick and weak. To put it another way, while I am working at Joe Bloggs’ street evangelism project, I am not visiting my widow friend from the 10:45 congregation – if, indeed, I were the rare and sought-after sort of churchgoer who actually visited widows and supported evangelists, as per the Biblical mandate.

Let us not be angry at this, nor let us be shocked. Let us not point fingers, even if we have specific scenarios in mind. Nobody has been wronged who is not in some way guilty, so let us not be furious: there is no-one towards whom we can rightfully direct fury; we’re all stained with the same blot, and our indignity is shared. Rather, this is what happens when you have a diseased condition in the churches and the Christians who inhabit them (and those who don’t). But where fury cannot be justified, let us not grow apathetic like people of the world do. It’s the classic get-out clause, and an excuse to do nothing, when everybody and nobody is to blame. We are not excused, and the disease does not disappear, just because nobody is allowed to rage at anyone or anything. The response I think we need to offer is a lament, and that’s a response that the world at large doesn’t seem to include in its repertoire: it seems to me that when the world goes about the business of getting down to brass tacks, it usually only rages and plots in vain, and anything else is widely considered an admission of defeat. Those moral defeats that it cannot deny: the Holocaust, the Great War – the world laments. But as for us, let us lament those things that the world would conceal: we have already surrendered to the gospel in moral defeat, we have accepted the intrinsic vileness of our condition and do not need to hide or distract ourselves from it by reviling others, and those of us who are wise stake our lives on the cause of God, and nothing can defeat that cause. Let us weep and pray and search our hearts, that they might be set right, and rifle through our practices and our ministries and our subcultures and our churches, each to that which has been put under his own stewardship, with carefully-chosen advisers, to find out where the rot is and to seek to expel it and turn away from it – this is the essence of repentance after all. God heals the broken hearted and binds up their wounds – but I cannot recall where he promises any such thing for people who have allowed themselves to be driven by judgemental, self-exalting and other-abasing anger against people and things and God.

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How to pray for something that you know you need but desperately don’t want.

Ever found yourself in a position where you have had to ask God for something you knew you should want, but actually didn’t want at all?  Like the ability to forgive someone who has deeply hurt you and refuses to repent?  Or the ability to repent for a sin that you aren’t quite sure was a sin, and had quite enjoyed committing?  Or the ability to respond respectfully to your parents or boss or teacher and submit to them when they give you a tough time over something you either didn’t do or hadn’t known you were doing, or at least, hadn’t thought was all that bad?

Admit it.  You’ve been there.  It’s the proverbial “OMG that’s soooo unfair!!!” moment.  You know you need to pray that God will help you to forgive, repent, submit – but you don’t want to.  You don’t feel like you should have to do those things.  In fact, you feel you have every right to hate those who have remorselessly wronged you, to do what makes you feel good, to stand up for yourself, to fight your corner, because you think you’re in the right, and it seems criminal to have to deny yourself the justice that’s due to you.  However, even if you can think of a million ways of justifying yourself, at the very least you know that the Bible says you ought to pray for repentance, forgiveness, submission and everything else that is required to love the Lord your God and your neighbour as yourself, and you know that if you don’t, you’ll have God to answer to.  Now, you might ask, how can I honestly get down on my knees and beg God to give me something that I not only don’t want, but vehemently hate the idea of having, and can’t see the justice in having to ask for?  One answer is: pray through the degrees of separation between you and the desire for the thing which you know you need, and one day you will cherish that thing as your own.

You might not want to forgive your selfish, thieving, ungrateful little liar of a sister, even though the Bible says that you have to forgive her.  But do you want to want to forgive her?  And if you can’t even bring yourself to desire to want to forgive your little sister, can you want to want to want to forgive her?  If even this is too much, can you want to want to want to want to forgive her?  And so on and so forth.  Carry on down the degrees of separation, and you will probably come up with a petition that accurately describes where you’re at.  God can then remove each degree of separation one by one, until you actually do desire the thing that you hadn’t originally wanted to have to ask for.

It might seem ridiculous, but no matter how many degrees of separation there are between you and the desire for that thing you know you need to pray for, you can always say, “Lord, help me to want to want to want to want to want to…”.  It’s an honest plea, and it’s something that God can work through with you step by step, until his sanctifying work in you eventually does enable you to forgive, repent, submit or do whatever else you need to do in order to honour God with your heart-attitude.  And as for the grievance done to you, the sin you don’t think you’ve committed, or the accusation you think has been unfairly levelled at you – be encouraged that God who sees all things and roots for those whom he loves knows whether you’re in the right or not, and will reward you for submitting to his Word regardless of how entitled you think the circumstances might make you to do otherwise.

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