The Blessed Space of Prayer

When Solomon took the throne to lead God’s people, he found himself in a dream hearing the voice of God. God told Solomon, “Ask what I shall give you.”

Solomon responded to this invitation by recalling that God had been generous with him in the past. This dream for Solomon became an opportunity for Solomon to remember the gracious God that was blessing him and the people of Israel. He knew of the steadfast love of the Lord because of the witness of his father David. From hearing the psalms and prayers of David, Solomon learned that the God that created the heavens and the earth is our Lord. Our Lord leads us with steadfast love and care.

When we pray to God, we are responding to the invitation of God to call upon him. In Psalm 50 we read that the Lord invites us to call upon Him in our day of trouble and trust  that He will deliver us. Indeed the name of the Lord is glorified when we call upon Him in our joys and sorrows. Our Lord is alone the one true God to whom our prayers ascend.

Solomon did not pray for long life or riches. Solomon had a long perspective on his relationship with God. Solomon may live a long or short life. He may be rich or poor. No matter the circumstances of his own life, Solomon wanted God to equip him to lead the people. Solomon prayed, “Give your servant therefore an understanding mind to govern your people, that I may discern between good and evil, for who is able to govern this your great people?”

Solomon prayed that the Lord would equip him to do his job. Solomon did not perceive his throne as an opportunity for people to serve him. Solomon trusted that the Lord was placing him upon the throne to serve people. Solomon trusted that his life was blessed by God so that he could be a blessing to other people.

I believe that in our prayers we can be confident that God has invited us to seek from him wisdom, an understanding mind, so that we may be equipped to serve the people that God has placed into our lives.

The ability to seek the blessings of God in our prayers comes from the confidence that we have a gracious God whose steadfast love will embrace us daily. If you find the blessed space of prayer difficult for you to step into, I invite you to step into that space with trust in the steadfast love of the Lord. Do not step into prayer with confidence in your own works or merit. You and I do not earn the ability to approach God. Our prayers are not withdrawals from a treasure of our own good works. Prayer, conversation with God, builds on the merits of Jesus Christ. The blessed space of prayer is built on the foundation that our Lord God is gracious and merciful. If I live a long or short life, I can trust the Lord will equip me this day for what the Lord has placed into my hands.

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Preparing for the Divine Service

I arrive at church on Sunday morning with many things on my mind. I struggle with how to prepare my heart and mind to receive the good gifts of God. Besides my personal spiritual preparations for the worship services and Bible study, I also have a to-do list of things I want to get done and people I want to visit.

When I became a pastor, a mentor gave me a prayer to say in the sacristy before leading the worship service. The prayer is known as Luther’s Sacristy Prayer.

O, Lord God, dear Father in heaven, I am, indeed, unworthy of the office and ministry in which I am to make known Thy glory and to nurture and to serve this congregation.

But since Thou hast appointed me to be a pastor and teacher, and the people are in need of the teachings and the instructions, O be Thou my helper and let Thy holy angels attend me, to Thy glory and not to mine or the praise of men, grant me, out of Thy pure grace and mercy, a right understanding of Thy Word and that I may, also, diligently perform it.

O Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the living God, Thou Shepherd and Bishop of our souls, send Thy Holy Spirit that He may work with me, yea, that He may work in me to will and to do through Thy divine strength according to Thy good pleasure. Amen.

I have found this prayer to be a kind reminder that I am at the worship services to receive from God His good gifts and to share these dear promises of mercy with others.

I am concerned not only with my own preparations but also the preparations you make before the start of the service. There are people to visit and tasks to accomplish, but I encourage you to purposefully prepare for the worship service.

Pastor Mark Birkholz (Faith Evangelical Lutheran Church, Oak Lawn, Illinois) has prepared a simple guide that he includes with the bulletin from time to time (page references refer to Lutheran Service Book).

On Preparing for Worship: In the Divine Service, the Lord God of heaven and earth comes to meet with you, to speak and to listen to you, to give and receive from you, to bless you and to make you holy. This is a special time, a holy time. Here are a few suggestions for you to make best use of the time before the service to prepares yourself for worship.

Come: It is best if you can find your place a few minutes before the service. When you come late, you may distract those around you who are in the midst of singing or praying the liturgy. When you come early you have time to prepare your heart, mind, and body to meet with the Lord without being rushed.

Pray: Use the first few moments to pray. Pray for yourself, that the Lord would prepare you to meet Him. Think over the week that has past. What sins have you committed to be confessed? What blessings have you received to thank God for? There are suggested prayers in the inside cover of your hymnal. Other prayers begin on page 305. Pray particularly for:

  • Those serving in worship: the pastor, musicians, readers, ushers, and altar guild.
  • Those who may struggle during the service, such as older members who have difficulty seeing and hearing, or those with young children.
  • Those who are unable to join us on Sunday or have been absent for some time.

Meditate: Read slowly and carefully through the texts to be used in the service, especially the readings and the hymns. You may also meditate on the Psalms (front of the hymnal) and the Catechism (p. 321). Especially helpful are the “Christian Questions with Their Answers” for those who will be communing (p. 329).

Rest: Use the music of the prelude to quiet your mind. The house of the Lord is a haven, a place of peace and refreshment from the cares and busyness of the outside world.

Preparing a Parish Report

Preparing the parish report for 2012 gave me the opportunity to reflect on the past year and consider what my goals are for 2013.

Ministry moves year to year with a consistency of purpose. I am a pastor. I proclaim the law and the gospel. I administer the sacraments. I visit the sick and homebound. I equip the saints of God to do the work of the ministry. Year to year there are constants in this ministry. We are sinners in thought, word and deed. We are saints according the righteousness of Christ. In the tension between those two we live our daily lives.

I read an article on slate.com yesterday about what a person should do everyday they are in the hospital. Andrew Young Shin wrote about how to survive your hospitalization. His second point about the necessity of communication especially was of interest to me. He said,

Each day, in a notebook, review the following with your physician:

  • How am I doing? (daily assessment)
  • What’s my goal for today? (daily plan)

By writing this down in a notebook there can be a consistency of care even while the number of people involved in care is constantly changing.

Two days ago I started a prayer/gratitude journal. This journal is an assignment. But even in two days I have struggled with writer’s block. What should I write in a journal? So much in my life does not change and what does happen everyday seems at times trivial to what should be placed into words. But then I read these two questions that a person should ask everyday they are in a hospital and I found what I can write about in my prayer/gratitude journal. I will give myself a daily assessment and a daily plan. I will make sure these two issues are central to my prayers. Any assessment I do of myself and any plan I have for the day must spring from what God is doing in His Word for me. I hope this will help my writer’s block.

Election Day Prayer

On Election Day, November 6, the congregation I serve will be praying for our nation. From 7am-8pm on that day our sanctuary will be a place of prayer. People are signing up for 15 minute slots and we are seeking to have every slot filled so that there is always someone in prayer on that day while people are voting.

I prepared a prayer guide that will be distributed to people when they arrive for prayer on Election Day. I will also make this prayer guide available for people to take home on November 4 so people can be a part of the prayer vigil at home.

Going to God through His Word and letting our prayers become shaped by the Bible was important to me as I prepared the guide.

The guide begins with these words, “Please read these words from Scripture as you pray and find your prayer shaped by the wisdom of God’s Word.”

Then what comes next is the reminder that we are to pray for all people (1 Timothy 2:1-4). This guide and this vigil are not intended to support partisanship on Election Day.

The topics for suggested prayer (loosely borrowed from 40daysofprayer.net):

  • Pray for a heart that turns away from sin and trusts in God.

  • Pray that God will give America leaders of integrity who govern in righteousness, wisdom and truth.

  • Pray for God’s mercy on the Church, nation and world. Pray that He would relent from His righteous judgment and turn our hearts to His fervent love.

  • Pray for believers in God to be more concerned about more than just economic, political and social comforts.

  • Pray that people will be accurate, thorough and honest with their words.

  • Pray for God to raise up a standard against evil and restrain the forces of moral and spiritual evil.

Each one of these topics includes a couple of passages from the Bible so the prayers become shaped by the wisdom of God.

Next in the guide are some prayers from Lutheran Service Book for forgiveness, humility and peace.