Archive for November, 2010

Saying our prayers, part 2

So what in the world is praying a daily office?  At its pared down core, it is simply a form of prayer.  The daily office is a pattern of prayer and worship that is regularly practiced/offered to God at set times within the course of a single day.  It’s rooted in the simple reality that just like we require a mug to enjoy a sip of coffee, so we need a form for our prayers.

I regularly come across people who figure that for prayer to be real and genuine, it has to be spontaneous and extemporary.  We assume that praying printed words are lifeless ritual and that only spontaneous prayers truly flow from the heart (we don’t realize what slaves we are to self-expression and how we’ve just idolized personal originality).  We figure prayer should be like musical improvisation, something spontaneous and free.  But talk to any musician about this reality and they’ll quickly tell you that only the most accomplished musicians can improvise, and only after mastering the musical forms and structures that set in place the foundation for improvisation.

Or think of a performance of a virtuoso musical piece that has undone your heart, whether it’s a Mozart concerto or a U2 anthem – what is that but the faithful performance of a written musical score.  Yet that set music can soar like pure freedom, pierce your heart and reduce you to tears, and feel naturally spontaneous in the moment.  Likewise in prayer, we find a freedom and depth in our communion with God as we learn the words and forms that help us commune with God.  For us beginners in prayer (which is most of us), we need to learn an adequate container to carry our prayed life to God, which the office provides.

Of course this doesn’t mean you can’t riff off into spontaneous expression and ecstasy in your prayers.  I love the wisdom in an old Puritan pastor (I find a loads of wisdom in dead Christians), William Law, who wrote: “Christians ought to use forms of prayer at all the regular times of prayer.  It seems right for everyone to begin with a form of prayer.  If, in the midst of his devotions, he finds his heart ready to break forth into new and higher strains of devotions, he should leave his form for a while and follow those fervors of his heart till it again wants the assistance of his usual petitions.”

The daily office provides a pattern that frees one to enjoy prayer as an extended conversation with God – God inviting you to be with him, you quietly enjoying his presence, listening to his Word, and responding to him with the reality of your life, and God sending you with his blessing.

The term “office” comes from the Latin officum (opus, work, and facere, to do).  The daily office is the work of prayer, the duty of prayer, which is the service of all Christians to God.  There are many names for this practice and they’re all referring to this same practice (fixed-hour prayer, divine office, divine hours, liturgy of the hours, canonical hours).  To pray the daily office, or the hours, does not mean it requires 60 minutes (often more like 10-20); rather, it simply means you pray at a particular hour or set times throughout the day.

Typically, it begins with an invitation to prayer, a call to open up to the reality of God’s Kingdom.  A psalm is always a part of the daily office; praying through the Psalter is one of the oldest ways God’s people have regularly prayed.  They are, as St. Augustine said, “the school of prayer.”  A further selection of scripture is prayed through, the aim being to frame our days with the story of God.  There are also times for silence, quiet spaces in our 24/7, wired lives to be still, wait, listen and respond to God.  Included are prayers of petition and intercession, either free or written/set prayers, often along with the Lord’s Prayer.  Each time of prayer concludes with a blessing from God.

If you want to give it a try, check out either my book Seeking God’s Face or a few other good resources for praying the daily office:

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Passionate patience

One of Advent’s big themes is waiting.  Not the expected December waiting in cashier queue’s or mall parking-lot grid-lock.  You think that’s bad, try waiting thousands of years for a slow-to-come King.  The hoping and waiting in Advent is for a world that works, the realization that life as we know it is too much the same as it’s always been.  Same hurts, same problems, same quick solutions that solve nothing.  Advent’s waiting is the hoping for a real, lasting and comprehensive salvation that no politician, government program, level of education or self-help guru could ever provide.

On Sunday I heard John Mayer’s Waiting on the World to Change and thought it’s not a bad contemporary Advent hymn.  It sings of a certain resignation with what is and yet voices the heart hopes and longings for a better world, all of which are part of Advent’s wish for a long-expected Savior.

You can check out a live version here (by the way, after you click on the link it will turn black but click a second time on the “Watch on You Tube” link and you’ll be redirected to the video):

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Saying our prayers, part 1

Prayer has often been one of the weakest parts of my relationship with God.  Yeah, I’ve been a pastor for about 20 years and a follower of Jesus for longer – it’s not supposed to be this way.  But here’s the truth about my prayer life – it’s mostly distracted.  I often pray like a drunk driver, coming home to “amen” and not remembering how I actually got to the end of my prayers.  And it can be so shallow – I’m praying and off in the editorial department of my head the censors and editors are critiquing, revising and generally dismissing my prayers, realizing what lame platitudes they are.

I resonate with Barbara Brown Taylor when she writes: “I am a failure at prayer.  When people ask me about my prayer life, I feel like a bulimic must feel when people ask about her favorite dish.” (An Altar in the World, p. 176).

And so it’s quite the bizarre little irony that I’m now the author of a prayer book.  You might question using a prayer book by someone who’s just confessed prayer as one of his biggest spiritual deficits, but I think my weakness strangely qualifies me.  It was my own need to find a form of prayer that was bigger than my shrunken heart that led me to write a prayer book – if only for myself; it was my hope of finding a way of praying that drew me into something more expansive and alive than the poverty of my own religious feelings that led me to this ancient practice of prayer.

The book is called Seeking God’s Face (you can see a sample and/or buy it here) and it’s a prayer book modeled after the long-held practice of praying a daily office.

“A daily what?” you ask.  Since the daily office is mostly unknown today, I’m going to spend some time exploring this ancient spiritual practice in the next few posts.  I’m doing it because my prayer book begins today (the book is connected to the Christian year which launches out preparing for the coming of Jesus in the season of Advent).

Praying the daily office is a form of prayer that has a long history but is new to most people today.  It is a pattern of prayer and worship that is regularly offered to God at set times within the course of a single day.  It’s rooted in the simple reality that just as we need a mug to enjoy a sip of coffee, so we need a form for our prayers.

The daily office provides a pattern that frees one to enjoy prayer as an extended conversation with God – God inviting you to be with him, you quietly enjoying his presence, listening to his Word, and responding to him with the reality of your life, and God sending you with his blessing.

I’ll be exploring some of the what, why and how of praying this ancient practice in the next few posts, but why not try it out for starters.  Here’s the daily office for today, the first day of Advent, from Seeking God’s Face:

Day 1 (first Sunday of Advent)

Invitation:  “I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I put my hope.” (Psalm 130:5)


Bible Song: Psalm 25:1-11

In you, LORD my God, I put my trust. I trust in you; do not let me be put to shame, nor let my enemies triumph over me. No one who hopes in you will ever be put to shame, but shame will come on those who are treacherous without cause. Show me your ways, LORD, teach me your paths. Guide me in your truth and each me, for you are God my Savior, and my hope is in you all day long. Remember, LORD, your great mercy and love, for they are from of old. Do not remember the sins of my youth and my rebellious ways; according to your love remember me, for you, LORD, are good. Good and upright is the LORD; therefore he instructs sinners in his ways. He guides the humble in what is right and teaches them his way. All the ways of the LORD are loving and faithful toward those who keep the demands of his covenant. For the sake of your name, LORD, forgive my iniquity, though it is great.

Bible Reading: Jeremiah 33:14-16

“‘The days are coming,’ declares the LORD, ‘when I will fulfill the good promise I made to the house of Israel and to the house of Judah. “‘In those days and at that time I will make a righteous Branch sprout from David’s line; he will do what is just and right in the land. In those days Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety. This is the name by which it will be called: The LORD Our Righteous Savior.’”


Dwelling in the wordRead the passage again slowly … find a word or phrase that catches your eye or moves your heart …. Slowly repeat it … pray your thoughts, desires, needs, and feelings from your meditation … enjoy the presence of your Lord and Savior

Free Prayer:

  • For fellowship with the coming Jesus
  • For spiritual renewal and refreshment

Lord’s Prayer: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us today our daily bread. Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.  And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one, for yours in the kingdom, and the power, and the glory forever.  Amen

Prayer: Living God, I confess the slant of my heart to hate you and my neighbor.  But that sounds so harsh – I’m not that bad, am I God?  Yet if I am brutally honest I see that I’m in deeper than I dare admit, unless I am born again by your Spirit.  Fill me with the greater hope this Advent season that in Christ’s love I am on my way to new life.  In the Savior’s name, amen.

Blessing: “Come, Lord Jesus. Come.  The grace of the Lord Jesus be with God’s people.”  (Revelation 22:20-21)


Are you ready?

Tomorrow starts the Christian season of Advent (from the Latin adventus, meaning “coming” or “arrival”).  I love Advent for being an invitation into a parallel but alternate reality to the usual December experience, which has morphed Christmas into something almost unrecognizable.

Advent is the four-week season of preparation for the coming of Jesus at Christmas.  Any good celebration requires proper preparation for us to fully enjoy it.  During December, however, we mostly confuse Christmas readiness with the hustle of shopping, parties, and preparations.  Advent feels out of sync with all this noise and busyness which is why we so badly need it.

More than just recalling Christ’s first arrival, Advent hopes for the coming of Jesus again.  Advent is a season of expectant waiting, tapping into the sense we have that all is not well, the longing for the world to be made right again. It’s a time for restless hearts and people weary of a broken world who long to know there’s something more than this. Advent cultivates in us a discerning eye, helping us to spot the sin that clutters our lives and notice all the ways we need to be saved.  By helping us to hope intensely for restoration, to feel our own need to be saved, Advent readies us for genuine Christmas joy and faith in the One who saves us from our sin, Jesus.

At the church I served, we’ve prepared for Christmas by entering into Advent with the help of the good folks at the Advent Conspiracy – check out their website here.  Their aim is to restore Christmas by reclaiming the scandal and wonder of the story.  It’s full of challenging ideas and good resources to help reorient Christmas preparations and reclaim the scandal of Christmas again.

And check out this video as a way to enter into some Advent hopes and desires

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Friday photos – backyard by moonlight

I woke up way too early this past week, wondering who had left a light on.  I came into our kitchen and saw a fully moon-lit and shadowed backyard.

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An anthem for Black Friday

Tomorrow is Black Friday south of the 49th, the biggest consumer bender known to humanity.  Called black because merchants’ books finally crossover from the red into the black, it’s an apt adjective for other reasons.  And it would be so easy to watch the spree and smugly gloat, believing I’m free from that, above it all.  Truth is, what separates me from a Black Friday binge is merely opportunity.

In the past few weeks, since stepping down as Sr. Pastor at River Park Church and stepping into a time of pared down living, I’ve spent a fair bit of time simply scraping away the accumulated clutter of life.  I find myself surprised, wondering where all this stuff came from? I’m developing a theory about the reproductive capacities of inert material things, certain that my books, the children’s toys, electronics and clothes are all mating with each other, my desk drawers, filing cabinets and closets their dimly lit breeding grounds, with Barry White playing somewhere in the background.

I’d happily settle for that convenient explanation but the uglier truth hitting home is that for all this stuff, I saw it, I desired it, I justified its importance to my life, I had to have it, I pursued it, and in the end, I bought it.  Here’s an illustrative event, the moment a box of books (my drug) arrives from Amazon (my dealer) – the immediate hit is like a drug entering the bloodstream; I’m flush with excitement, feeling a boosted sense of identity (just having “that” book or clothing item/gadget/outdoor gear/music/artwork/whatever makes me feel smarter and savvy, well-read and in-touch, manly and spiritual).  And yet the same unbelievably boring cycle repeats itself, that in weeks, if not days, the gleam is gone and whatever it was I saw and wanted now becomes what it really is – stuff that clutters my life, needs to be maintained and cared for, and gets stored away somewhere, forgotten, stumbled upon, then hauled off and either sold, recycled or tossed.

I’m struck scared by how deep the demon is in me (the evidence is strewn all about me), how my life has been discipled into this consumer way of living without me really seeing it happen at all.  Consumerism has become an alternative but dominant religion in our world, hawking meaning, identity and purpose for our lives.  Count up all the time, energy, and hope, let alone money, that get invested in researching, ogling, desiring, pursuing, purchasing, enjoying and acquiring stuff – then tell me how free you are from this thing.

Arguably, the problem is not the stuff itself, it’s the wantings.  It’s your heart, my heart sick with desire, the wanting for something that an Ipad, sweater, new house or Chia-pet will never fill.  Something has us and how we need healing.

Which brings me to needed beauty, a shot-to-the-heart song of confession from the Avett Brothers.  If you’ve never heard of them, Seth and Scott Avett are two Jesus looking dudes with raw, beautiful music that heals and brings life.  They blew me away this summer in a fantastic festival show and now they’re on repeat in our Ipod at home.  And I can’t think of a better anthem for Black Friday than Ill with Want.

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Friday photos – memento

Yesterday with friends visiting from Vancouver, we bundled up the kids and headed to the downtown cenotaph for the Remembrance Day service.  We missed most of it (who can find a parking spot anywhere and isn’t the moment of silence to be observed at eleventh minute of the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month?) but it was still very important to be there, good for our kids to be silent and somber, if only for a moment, to honour the sacrifice that provides them today with so much life.

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