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Prayer

Give Us, O Lord, A Steadfast Heart (St. Thomas Aquinas)

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Give us, O Lord, a steadfast heart, which no unworthy affection may drag downwards; give us an unconquered heart, which no tribulation can wear out; give us an upright heart, which no unworthy purpose may tempt aside. Bestow upon us also, O Lord our God, understanding to know you, diligence to seek you, wisdom to find you, and a faithfulness that may finally embrace you; through Jesus Christ our Lord.

—Thomas Aquinas

A Prayer Through The Day (Leighton Ford)

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coffee cup

Drawn from the 139th Psalm, this prayer has helped many to order their days and move through them with an awareness of the presence of God.

 

MORNING

“Search me and know my heart”

Is my heart centered right as I begin today?

 

NOON

“Test me and know my restless thoughts”

Recognize and rest from thoughts which will not let go.

 

EVENING

“See if there is any hurtful way in me”

What hurts I have caused, or received, which need forgiving?

 

BEDTIME

“Lead me in the way everlasting”

Rest in God’s hands.

night

The Summer of 1946 (Leighton Ford)

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walk woods

That summer, seventy years ago, was very important in my life.

I was fourteen years old, and it had been a very difficult year. My adopted parents had a difficult relationship. I would sometimes lie awake at night listening to them argue.

My mother Ford, although a strong religious influence on me, was also a very troubled person. Early that year she simply left, and was gone for months – we did not know where. Later I learned she had gone to Winnipeg, and lived there under an assumed name, running from her fears. In late spring she returned but the strain in their marriage remained.

That summer I went for a week to the Blue Water Bible conference, a new place named for the deep blue river on which it stood.  I had fun, liked the other kids, but expected to be bored by the speaker, Oswald J. Smith, a well-known pastor and missionary leader. I remember his shock of white hair and piercing blue eyes, and raspy voice.

When he announced his topic as the “Morning Watch” I was sure I’d be bored. Instead, as he told how he prayed, I was intrigued.

“I walk as I pray,” he said, “because I am quite nervous and if I kneel I get agitated. I pray out loud so my mind doesn’t wander. And I read a verse from the Psalms and turn it into a prayer to give me fresh words.”

That inspired me. I could pray and get exercise at the same time!

Early the next morning I got up, took a big Bible my mother had given me, and went by myself to a nearby woods. There I walked up and down, hoping no one was watching, read a Psalm, and said a prayer. What the Psalm was, or my words, I have no idea.

I do know that the presence of Jesus became very real to me. Prayer became more than rote words. I knew that God cared for a lonely fourteen year old and would be with me, no matter how hard things were at home.

That day prepared me for an opportunity to serve and lead which would come suddenly, just a few weeks later, when I was asked to lead a fledgling youth movement in our city.

I revisited that spot several years ago. The buildings are mostly gone. What is left is ramshackle. The grounds are weedy and rough. The woods where I prayed much smaller than I remembered.

But the reality of that morning has stayed with me across these many years.

And oh yes, I met Dr. Smith some years later and told him what that time meant to me. He was astonished.

“At Blue Water conference,” he exclaimed. “I thought nothing came out of that week at all”!

 

A Reading Before Preaching (Leighton Ford)

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The Diary of an Old Soul (George MacDonald)

While I was rummaging through a pile of books I came across this collection of daily poem/prayers from the Scottish preacher George MacDonald. I had forgotten I had it.

MacDonald was instrumental in the conversion of C. S. Lewis, who wrote “I hardly know any other writer who seems closer or more continually close, to the Spirit of Christ himself.”

These will not be to everyone’s taste, with MacDonald’s singular style. But I find they often suit my own soul.

For example on Sunday before I preached at Wee Kirk in the North Carolina mountains I read this:

“In holy things may be unholy greed.

Thou givs’t a glimpse of many a lovely thing,

Not to be stored for use in any mind,

But only for the present spiritual need.

The holiest bread, if hoarded, soon will breed

The mammon-breath, the having-pride, I find.

‘Tis momently thy heart gives out heart- quickening.”

The book I imagine is out of print, but it’s healthy stuff,worth searching out for preachers like me, and others.

 

Leighton Ford

Sister Wendy on Prayer (Leighton)

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sister wendy
I just came across this book (hidden under another) that I had been looking for by Sister Wendy, that whimsical and wise nun, art historian and TV Presenter. It’s called The Gaze of Love: Meditations on Art and in it she writes:

Books on prayer are dangerous, They take time to read and they demand attention. This is proof, is it not (says our subconscious), that we are serious, prayerful people? Does not our reading matter, the interest we take in prayer, differentiate us from the careless, the frivolous, the less committed? The answer is no. At some level that we do not recognize, we may well be reading books on prayer as a way to allay our guilt about not actually praying. The overweight, it is said, are devoted readers of diet books, the sedentary devour travel books. Reading about prayer, even writing about prayer:these are not useless activities but they are dangerous.

Mmm. Oh, oh.

Leighton Ford

A Prayer for Ministry – And Life! (Leighton)

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There is a prayer written by my friend Lloyd Ogilvie that I often use, praying it quietly before I speak or have a meeting or conversation.

It recognizes that when we ask and trust him Jesus Christ will indeed communicate through us.

Lord, here’s my mind, think your thoughts in me. Be my wisdom, knowledge, and insight. Here is my voice. You told me not to worry about what I am to say, but that it would be given to me what to say and how to say it. Free me to speak with silence or with words, whichever is needed.  Give me your timing and tenderness. Now, Lord, here is my body. Release creative affection in my face, my touch, my embrace. And Christ, is there is something I am to do by your indwelling presence, however menial or tough, control my will to do it.

Lord, I am ready now to be your manifest intervention in situations to infuse joy, affirm growth, or absorb pain or aching anguish. I plan to live this day and the rest of my life in the reality of you in me. Thank you for making it so!

Leighton Ford

An Early Morning At Mepkin Abbey (Part Two)

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mepkin church

…The community of prayer aids my weakness. When I was mind-weary yesterday, I was helped through trusting others who prayed with and alongside me, around me, for me. My solo prayers were not the whole show. Performance mattered little. Participation mattered most. I realize that we are proclaiming the Word of God across the room to each other – we are all preachers, all hearers, no “stars”.

We sing antiphonally this morning, Psalms 103, 104, 105. One side chants, the other responds, two or three lines at a time. Two or three notes are all we use, carried by the murmur of the organ played unobtrusively by Abbott Klein, who was an accomplished musician. The organ notes almost echo our breathing, like the quiet motion of tides.

So we chant on: a hymn for Lent about our joyful fast. We are reminded that long faces do not attract God’s grace – he wants us to lift the load, to help the broken on the road. And we are reminded who made us, gave us eyes to see the full moon and stars this night. This is a long psalm about Joseph and Egypt, so long that we break it up, chant and cease. An aged brother with a long white beard takes on the role of cantor. We sing again.

Lights dim. We listen to a long reading from Exodus about plagues of flies, about gnats all over Egypt – but not in Goshen! “This is the finger of God”, the panicked musicians tell Pharoah. Has anything changed in the Middle East?

In the Moses-Pharoah encounter I hear the lifelong struggle in my own soul between God’s voice and all others. The little compromises – “Go, but not too far”, says Pharoah -with which I deny reality, fudge the truth.

I think of plagues in our lands. Traffic in drugs. Large numbers who experience depression. AIDS in Africa. Lord, when will we heed Moses?

Long silences. Waiting. No rush to fill emptiness with words. Time to think, pray. I am astounded at how clear my mind is at this hour in church!

A sermon is read – well – from  Gregory of Nazianzus, about God’s generosity, given which how can we refuse kith and kin?

Silence again.

I thank God for the ministry of World Vision. Think it is time to give again. Wonder whether Jeanie and I are generous enough to the larger family of God in the wills we are making.

Our final prayers. We stand, say the Our Father, commend ourselves to God. We remember those who work (or suffer) in the night, we ask that Christ be their companion. We remember those who have died in the Lord.

We leave as quietly as we came. But the Great Silence is not over.

We walk silently together to our rooms, across the open spaces, under the night skies, past the bowing live oaks.

There is no word.

I touch a fellow retreatant in unspoken greeting as he goes to his room and I to mine.

The silent communion goes on.

Tomorrow what will I be doing at 3 a.m.?

 

From The Attentive Life by Leighton Ford, 2008: Inter-Varsity Press)

Photo cred: mepkinabbey.org

An Early Morning At Mepkin Abbey (Part One)

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MepkinAbbey1

My alarm goes off at 3:00 AM. I wake, close my eyes again a moment, then get up lest I sleep in and miss the last Vigils of my retreat here at Mepkin Abbey. I dress without showering, brush my teeth and dab my wild hair with a bit of water, put on cap and windbreaker and step into the cool outside.

The moon is round and full as I walk toward the main buildings. Stars shine clearly and I whisper “How excellent in all the earth is thy name, O Lord…”

A brief stop in the dining room for a half-cup of good hot coffee with honey, and then on to the white Cistercian chapel, which I left only six hours ago. Joining a handful of others, I sit in my stall, waiting. Waiting is a natural part of our rhythm of life here – waiting for prayers, for meals, for dismissal after meals. When I have found my feet hurrying to prayers, something inside of me reins me in, slows me down. So we wait. A few monks in white robes and cowls filter in.

Precisely at 3:20 a bell rings. We stand, turn, and face the altar. We bow (profoundly, as we’ve been instructed). One of the monks invokes God’s blessing.

A single note sounds on the organ. The prayer leader begins “Praise the Lord, all you servants of the Lord, who minister by night in the house of the Lord.”

Someone has prepared our psalters, marked the night readings with ribbons to guide us. The first reading is Psalm 134, our psalm for each morning this week. We each have our own beautiful copy on the stand in front of us, written out in calligraphy and printed at Genesee Abbey.

After the reading, we bow deeply and sing the Gloria, as we do after each psalm and hymn. Thus each closes with “World without end.” I am comforted to participate in an ongoing chorus of worship, flowing through ages past and years to come. I am part of something bigger, wider, deeper, than my own individual experience.

 

 

From The Attentive Life by Leighton Ford, 2008: Inter-Varsity Press)

Photo cred: mepkinabbey.org

When You Pray And Nothing Much Seems To Happen

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If you’re like me you sometime – probably often – experience times of prayer when nothing much seems to happen. So perhaps this poem by Ann Lewin will speak to you as it does to me!
Leighton

“We ought always to pray, and not to faint” – Jesus

Prayer is like watching for the kingfisher

Prayer is like watching for

The kingfisher.

All you can do is

Be there where he is like to appear, and

Wait.

Often nothing much happens;

There is space, silence and

Expectancy.

No visible signs, only the

Knowledge that he’s been there

And may come again.

Seeing or not seeing cease to matter,

You have been prepared

But when you’ve almost stopped

Expecting it, a flash of brightness

Gives encouragement.

Ann Lewin