Archive for category Prayer book

James K.A. Smith on Seeking God’s Face

A few months ago James K.A. Smith (you need that many initials when your last name is Smith), Professor of Philosophy at Calvin College, posted on my book at his blog fors clavigera.  There’s a nice symmetry in this because I’m just now reading his important book Desiring The Kingdom.  What I find so lovely is that Smith’s book has articulated so many thoughts that have been stewing in my head, many of which led me to write and compile the prayerbook Seeking God’s Face.

You can check out this thoughts on Seeking God’s Face here.

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Dust to dust

Get ready to see a peculiar sight this coming Wednesday.  You’ll likely note a smudge of dirt on the guy serving up your coffee or the woman working in the next door office.  They didn’t forget to shower; it’s not ink from their newspaper.  It’s Ash Wednesday which begins the season of Lent, and for many Christians they enter this season receiving the mark of the cross, smudged on their forehead with an ash-oil mixture.  Lent is the 40 day season of penitence, prayer, passion and preparation (that’s some crazy alliteration) to walk with Christ towards the cross and welcome the resurrection.

Below is the introduction to Lent from my daily prayer book Seeking God’s Face.

Lent carries almost too much religious baggage with it for some people, popularly understood as a season of joyless custom and duty.  How then do we keep the gospel front and centre in this season of shadows?  The cross keeps our gospel focus clear.  Lent is a season to journey with Jesus in his passion, to survey the cross, taking the measure of Christ’s love in his suffering and death.

Beginning on Ash Wednesday, Lent is the forty-day season leading up to Easter. (If you count all the days, there are more than forty, but the Sundays are not counted as part of Lent, as they are resurrection celebrations held throughout the season.)  It begins with the stark reminder that “from dust you have come and to dust you will return” and leads toward Jesus’ final week, marked by Palm Sunday and stopping short of the resurrection celebration of Easter morning.  Ashes are a good emblem of Lent, a picture of our own mortality and spiritual condition, a sign of Lent’s penitent spirit, and yet a hint of the hope of renewal.

Celebration isn’t the word to use for our participation in Lent.  It is a somber journey of spiritual preparation and renewal, marked especially by repentance and prayer.  In our pain-averse culture, Lent stands apart by not shrinking away from suffering but cultivating in us the wisdom that growth often (some might say only) comes through suffering.  In a time and place of religious freedom, where we mostly don’t suffer for following Christ, Lent invites us to willingly identify with Christ’s suffering through fasting or other forms of self-denial.

The spare and sober nature of Lent is healthy for the heart and true to the gospel, scrubbing away frothy spirituality by calling us to say ‘no’ to ourselves in order to experience a greater ‘yes’ in Jesus.  It helps to imprint the form of the cross in our lives, recognizing that the news of the risen Lord Jesus is not good without the way of the cross.  Lent prepares us to experience the reality of resurrection joy only by first recognizing the depth of our sin that pinned Christ to the cross.

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I’m blushing – two fine reviews of Seeking God’s Face

Recently received notice of two great reviews of Seeking God’s Face.  One is from a blogger Pastor Ray McCalla who blogs at Sinaiticus.  You can read the review here.

The other review came via an email from Christopher Webb, the President of Renovare, an organization founded by Richard Foster committed to spiritual formation.

In an Amazon.com book review that Chris told me about, he wrote this:

This is one of the best resources for anyone looking to explore the ancient Christian tradition of daily prayer (sometimes known as the Daily Office). Most prayer books are either dauntingly complex (for example, the four volumes of the Roman Catholic Liturgy of the Hours) or overly simplified. The latter are great for a brief while, but don’t give enough variation and depth to keep you engaged in the long term.

“Seeking God’s Face” hits the perfect midpoint. Philip Reinders, the editor, has done a terrific job of presenting prayer that follows the rich variety of the church year – the seasons of Advent, Christmas, Lent, Easter and so on – in an accessible and easy-to-use format.

Perhaps the greatest single bit of genius in the book is the little sidebars on each page giving dates to guide you through the church year until the end of 2026. You could pray this book for fifteen years without ever having to know anything more than today’s date. Anyone who’s ever used a prayer book will know what a boon this is!

Each day’s prayer is split into seven sections: (i) Invitation – a short introductory verse; (ii) Bible Song – a section from one of the Psalms; (iii) Bible Reading – just what it says; (iv) Dwelling – an encouragement to richer engagement with the reading; (v) Free Prayer – three possible prayer themes to stimulate your own prayer; (vi) Prayer – a short prayer (see below on this); and (vii) Blessing – another brief Bible verse.

The whole book is great, but the Prayer for each day – section vi, which in liturgical tradition would be called the Collect – deserves special mention. Reinders,a Reformed pastor, has mined six of the great Reformed statements of faith such as the Canons of Dort or the Westminster Confession and turned their somewhat dry formulae (at least, they seem that way to me!) into beautiful and poetic prayers. I just opened the book at random, and here’s an example from the page I found (205):

“God of glory, for centuries there were flickers of it in the ceremonies and symbols of the law, sparks of it in prophetic words. I thank you that all this foreshadowing is eclipsed in the brilliance of Jesus, my glorious Savior. Amen.”

The abbreviated note after the prayer, BC 25, tells us that this prayer is based on Article 25 of the Belgic Confession. In case you don’t have your copy of BC to hand (grin!), I googled it for you:

“We believe that the ceremonies and symbols of the law have ended with the coming of Christ, and that all foreshadowings have come to an end, so that the use of them ought to be abolished among Christians. Yet the truth and substance of these things remain for us in Jesus Christ, in whom they have been fulfilled. Nevertheless, we continue to use the witnesses drawn from the law and prophets to confirm us in the gospel and to regulate our lives with full integrity for the glory of God, according to his will.”

You can see how the prayer comes from the Confession – but, at least for this Anglican who doesn’t find the language of the Reformed confessions all that inspiring, I’ll take the prayer any day of the week.

All in all, a lovely book. I really can’t find anything about it I don’t like; even the engraved leather-like cover is attractive and a pleasure to hold, and that’s alA ways nice in a book you’re handling daily. This isn’t a book for the hard-core Office freaks; you won’t find a seven-fold monastic office here. But for a new Christian, or a beginner at Daily Prayer, or someone who needs a simple but rich Office to pray, or for a community of folks who pray together daily, this could well be ideal. I spent around fifteen years working in Anglican parishes, and I wish this book had been available then. I would’ve bought one for every parishioner…

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New article on praying the daily office

I recently penned an article for The Banner, the magazine of my church tribe, the Christian Reformed Church, published in the latest edition.  The Banner is a good rag with thoughtful pieces that engage and inform – do yourself a favour and give it a look.  They’ve just completed an entire reworking of their website, which looks good and it’s linked well.

The article – surprise, surprise – is on the practice of praying the daily office.  You can check out my article, “Discipleship: saying our prayers,” and the rest of the magazine  here.

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Saying our prayers, part IV

Do your own prayers bore even you?  More often than I care to be honest about, I’ve noticed what absolutely lame and inane prayers I offer up to God, finding myself babbling who-knows-what with my head and heart miles away.

It feels like my prayers mostly swim in the shallow end of the God pool.  I’m learning that using words and prayers not my own is entering the deep end.  God becomes bigger than my own limited experience of him; I share in something so much richer and deeper that I might never have known if I stuck to only my own emotions and experience of God.

One of the unique, and oftentimes unsettling, features of praying a daily office is that you pray mostly with the words of someone else.  Scripture is given; prayers are written.  In the prayer book I wrote and compiled, Seeking God’s Face, I’ve used the words of the church’s confessions and creeds to shape the prayers.  While there is some room for free prayer, most of the words are already provided.

Which means you enter into a deep, big community experience of God.  Praying the office is really a unique community experience where you join a chorus of voices praying to God.  But there’s something in us that often reacts to this way of praying, thinking it can only lead to mindless ritual.  But think again for a moment.  Could it be that we today are slaves to self-expression?  Could it be that we’ve idolized personal originality and expression and cannot fathom the deep offense of denying the world and God of our original personality?  Don’t we need to find the room to give full and honest expression to all that is true of me?  Well, maybe, but then prayer really becomes all about me then, doesn’t it.  So who is prayer for anyway?

The wisdom of practicing praying the daily office is that it weans us off of this narcissistic spirituality and focuses us squarely on God.  Robert Benson, a fine writer who has written about praying the daily office, notes: “There is something to be said for listening to something other than our own sweet selves, something to be said for having to find and be found by God inside the words of prayer and worship that have been offered up by God’s own for centuries.” (In Constant Prayer).

Imagine the beauty of this – when you pray the daily office, you’re part of a wide community of people enjoying God together.  Even though you might be praying on your own, you’re never alone. By saying the same words you’re sharing in a long and wide community that’s loving God together, swimming in a deeper experience of God than you could’ve found by yourself.

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Saying our prayers on TV, part deux

Happy new year all.  It’s been a while since I’ve last blogged – I’ve been enjoying a trip to the southern US way too much.  Even though Florida was on the cooler side (for Florida but downright balmy compared to Calgary), it was great simply to be able to walk outside without having to layer up.

I mentioned in an earlier post that I was part of two episodes of a TV program, The Bridge, talking about praying the office and focusing on some of the other spiritual practices.  After the Christmas break they were able to get up online the second of the shows.  You can check out the two episodes here (click on episode 82 and 83).

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Saying our prayers – on TV

While I have a face for radio, nonetheless, earlier this fall I accepted the invitation to be a part of the Christian TV show called The Bridge on the Alberta based Christian network, The Miracle Channel (thanks Lucretia for getting me on the air).

We taped two episodes of The Bridge that day, focusing on the ancient practice of praying the daily office and how spiritual practices are critical to our spiritual formation.  You can check out the two shows here (look for episodes 82 and 83).

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