A Prayer on December 31
















Good Lord,
it's the last day of 2016...

Only a few hours left in this old year
which seemed so new
oh, not-so-long ago...

Where has the old year gone, Lord?
And how did it go?

And how did I go with you,
make my way with you, Lord,
these past twelve months?

I remember the times
we walked and talked together,
side by side,
you and I...

And I remember the times
when I forgot, somehow,
that you were right there by my side,
and the times I tried to pretend
that you weren't there,
always within arm's reach...

I remember the times when you took delight
in my words and my work
and I remember the times I ignored and forgot you
- but still you loved me
and in your mercy, you forgave me...

Nothing I've done, Lord,
merits what you've given me:
all your love is grace,
an unearned gift
from your heart to mine...

In return I offer so little
and I have so little to offer...

But there comes now a new year, Lord,
and with it my prayer
to live a life more worthy
of all you so freely give me...

In this new year, Lord,
make strong my resolve to be faithful,
make deep my trust in your presence
and make sure my hope in your promise,
for without your help
I will fail...

Lord, you offer me only
what is true and pure,
good and just, strong and graced...

In this new year, help me recognize
what is false, cheap and sham...

Help me to settle for nothing less
than what comes from your heart and hand...

Nourish me, Lord:
give me a hunger for what is genuine,
a thirst for what is holy,
a wisdom for discerning your gifts...

It's the last day of the old year, Lord...

Shake from my heart what has no place there
and wake my heart
to the gift of your grace
and the dawn of a new beginning...

Amen.

(updated from my friend Austin Fleming's A Concord Pastor Comments blog)

An Invocation Before Writing

O for a muse of fire
that would ascend
the brightest heaven of invention
(Henry V, Prologue, 1).

For Research

God,
thank you for one of the most fun parts of being a writer: Research.

Thank you for the alluring rabbit trails
and multiple (even conflicting) sources
and fascinating discoveries
that make research so enjoyable.

Thank you for the availability of information
in libraries,
from experts,
in publications,
and books.

Thank you for the thrill of tracing a quote
or fact
or some other detail
backward through layers of secondary sources
to find the origin,
even when it necessitates a change of plan.

Thank you for the blessings
and dangers of living
and writing
and researching
in the Information Age,
in Jesus' name,
amen.

(photo by accent on eclectic via everystockphoto.com)

In Praise of Your Wonders

O Holy Child

O holy Child of Bethlehem,
Descend to me I pray,
Cast out my sin and enter in,
Be born in me today.
I hear the Christmas tidings
The great glad story tell,
O come to me, abide with me,
My Lord, Immanuel!

(slightly modified from O Little Town of Bethlehem, by Phillips Brooks)

New Light

Almighty God,
you have poured upon us
the new light
of your incarnate Word:
Grant that this light,
enkindled in our hearts,
may shine forth in our lives;
through Jesus Christ our Lord,
who lives and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God,
now and for ever.
Amen.

All For Love's Sake

Cone and Christmas Tree

You who were rich beyond all splendor,
Who for love's sake became poor;
Your throne for a manger surrendered,
Sapphire-paved courts for stable floor.
You who were rich beyond all splendor,
All for love's sake became poor.

You who are God beyond all praising,
Who for love's sake became man;
Stooping so low, but sinners raising
Heavenwards by your eternal plan.
You who are God beyond all praising,
All for love's sake became man.

You who are love beyond all telling,
Savior and King, I worship you.
Emmanuel, within us dwelling,
Cause us to do what you would do.
You who are love beyond all telling,
Savior and King, I worship you.

(a hymn by Frank Houghton, updated)

On Christmas Eve

Night has fallen; the clear, bright stars are sparkling in the cold air; noisy, strident voices rise to my ear from the city, voices of the revelers of this world who celebrate with merrymaking the poverty of their Saviour. Around me in their rooms my companions are asleep, and I am still wakeful, thinking of the mystery of Bethlehem.

Come, come, Jesus, I await you. . . .

I am a poor shepherd; I have only a wretched stable, a small manger, some wisps of straw. I offer all these to you, be pleased to come into my poor hovel. I offer you my heart; my soul is poor and bare of virtues, the straws of so many imperfections will prick you and make you weep--but oh, my Lord, what can you expect? This little is all I have. . . . I have nothing better to offer you, Jesus, honour my soul with your presence, adorn it with your graces. Burn this straw and change it into a soft couch for your most holy body.

Jesus, I am here waiting for your coming. Wicked men have driven you out, and the wind is like ice. I am a poor man, but I will warm you as well as I can. At least be pleased that I wish to welcome you warmly, to love you and sacrifice myself for you.

Amen.

(This prayer, written by a young Italian seminarian named Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli in 1902 who would later become Pope John XXIII, has become a Christmas Eve tradition for me, and for this blog).

The O Antiphons: O Emmanuel



O Emmanuel, our king and our lawgiver,
the hope of the nations and their Savior:
Come and save us, O Lord our God.
Amen.

The O Antiphons: O King of the Gentiles



O King of the Gentiles and their desired One,
the cornerstone that makes both one:
Come, and deliver man,
whom you formed out of the dust of the earth.

A Prayer for Refugees

The O Antiphons: O Rising Sun



O Rising Sun,
splendor of light eternal and sun of righteousness:
Come and enlighten those who dwell in darkness
and the shadow of death.
Amen.

The O Antiphons: O Key of David



O Key of David,
O royal power of Israel,
controlling at your will the gate of heaven:
come, break down the prison walls of death
for those who dwell in darkness
and the shadow of death;
and lead your captive people into freedom.
Amen.

The O Antiphons: O Root of Jesse



O Flower of Jesse’s stem,
you have been raised up
as a sign for all peoples;
kings stand silent in your presence;
the nations bow down in worship before you.
Come, let nothing keep you from coming to our aid.
Amen.

The O Antiphons: O Adonai



O sacred Lord of ancient Israel,
who showed yourself to Moses in the burning bush,
who gave him the holy law on Sinai mountain:
come, stretch out your mighty hand to set us free. Amen.

The O Antiphons: O Wisdom



O Wisdom,
coming forth from the mouth of the Most High,
reaching from one end to the other mightily,
and sweetly ordering all things:
Come and teach us the way of prudence.
Amen.

For The Bard and the Bible

Lord, you know all things. You know my heart and my need and my desires as I pray--even before I pray.

So I ask you, please, to bless my latest book, The Bard and the Bible: A Shakespeare Devotional. Bring it to the attention of those who are shopping for Christmas gifts and those who are looking for a 2017 daily devotional. Remind those who have already discovered it and loved it to mention and recommend it to others. Make it "a world of earthly blessings"--and heavenly, too--to many, many souls in this coming year. Use it to change lives. Use it to inspire action. Use it to enrich minds and enlarge souls.

You know, Lord, how important this month and next are to the success of a new devotional book, so I beg you to give this one a "strong enforcement" and enduring ministry, in Jesus' name, amen.

Bloom


Jesus, Jesus, lily of the valley,
bloom in all Thy beauty in the garden of my heart.

(a chorus by Sidney Edward; photo by RcktManIL via everystockphoto.com)

Aleppo

“You, Lord, hear the desire of the afflicted; you encourage them, and you listen to their cry, defending the fatherless and the oppressed, so that mere earthly mortals will never again strike terror“ (Psalm 10:17-18, NIV). 
Lord, hear our prayer for the people of Syria. 
Bring peace to that nation, and particularly to the war-ravaged people of Aleppo. 
Give relief from bombs and bullets and disease and hunger and hopelessness. 
Grant wisdom to those who are seeking a path to peace; awaken the leaders of the world, and especially my nation’s leaders, to risk comfort and status on behalf of those who have lost so much. 
Let the people of Aleppo not lose heart. God of all comfort, send them comfort and protect them under the shadow of your wings, in Jesus’ name, amen.

(photo by watchsmart, via everystockphoto.com)

For the Victims

Lord, have mercy
on the Coptic Christians
of St. Peter and St. Paul Coptic Church in Cairo,
whose lives and families and community
were shattered by a terrorist's bomb.
Heal the wounded.
Receive the dead and dying.
Comfort the grieving.
Shield the suffering, in Jesus' name, amen.

(photo detail via everystockphoto.com)

Walk With You

O Master, let me walk with you
in lowly paths of service true;
Tell me your secret; help me bear
the strain of toil, the fret of care,
in Jesus' name, amen.

(from a hymn by Washington Gladden, slightly revised)

Saturday Psalm #7

I come to you for protection, O LORD my God.
Save me from my Persecutor—
rescue me from the devil's traps.
If you don't, he will maul me like a lion,
tearing me to pieces with no one to rescue me.

O LORD my God, if I have done wrong
or am guilty of injustice,
if I have betrayed a friend
or plundered even an enemy,
then I know I am in the Adversary's clutches;
he will trample me into the ground.
My honor will be left in the dust.

Arise, O LORD, in anger!
Stand up against the fury of my Enemy!
Wake up, my God, and bring justice!
Gather the nations before you.
Sit on your throne high above them.
You, LORD, pass judgment on the nations.
Declare me righteous, O LORD,
Make me innocent in your sight, O Most High,
even if it means correcting me, rebuking me,
stopping me cold in my tracks and turning me around.
End the wickedness of the ungodly,
but help all those who obey you.
For you look deep within the mind and heart,
O righteous God.

God, you are my shield;
you save those whose hearts are true and right.
(Make me one of them).
You are a judge who is perfectly fair.
(I know you will be fair--and merciful--with me).
You are angry with the wicked every day.

If a person does not repent,
you will sharpen your sword;
you will bend and string your bow.
You will prepare your deadly weapons
and ignite your flaming arrows.
So I repent. I repent. I repent.
Show me any and all wickedness in me,
and create in me a clean heart.

The wicked conceive evil;
they are pregnant with trouble
and give birth to lies.
They dig a pit to trap others
and then fall into it themselves.
They make trouble,
but it backfires on them.
They plan violence for others,
but it falls on their own heads.
Save me from intrigue, Lord;
deliver me from anything that smacks of double-mindedness.

I will thank you, LORD, because you are just;
I will sing praise to the name of the LORD Most High.

(photo by Nigel_Brown via everystockphoto.com)

Prayer of Anselm

Let me seek you in my desire,
Let me desire you in my seeking.
Let me find you by loving you,
Let me love you when I find you.

(excerpted from a prayer of St. Anselm)

A Jealous Writer's Confession

Lord, I confess that I am a jealous writer,
jealous of this one’s sales figures,
that one’s income,
this other one’s ideas,
his creativity
and her marketing skills
and yet another’s craftsmanship.
I know that this is a fallen world,
but I often feel (and act)
more fallen than the rest.
At least that’s something I can claim
and not be jealous of in another.

(photo via everystockphoto.com)

Self Doubt

Who am I, Lord,
that I think I can write,
that I have anything to say,
that I can speak sometimes for you?
I have a middling brain, at best,
and some education,
but the longer I live, the less I know, it seems.
I can be lazy,
thick-headed,
shortsighted,
and careless.
There are so many others
who seem so much brighter and bolder,
so much more inspired and insightful
than I think I can ever be.
Sure, Moses felt inadequate, too.
And Jeremiah.
Paul, too.
I easily forget that they weren't all that confident and serene
when you called them,
or even as you were using them.
But you used them.
So maybe you can do something with me.
Help me to trust that possibility,
and to write better
than I think I can,
in Jesus' name, amen.

(photo by crosescribe via everystockphoto.com)

Self-Control

My prayer today for my kids and my grandkids, from the "31 Ways to Pray for Your Kids" app for iPhone and iPad:

Saturday Psalm #6

Lord, thank you that,
for all my waywardness,
you don’t punish me
or discipline me in anger.

I'm feeling frail right now;
have mercy on me, Lord.
Send healing to my hurting heart
and strength to my knocking knees.

My body tells the story of my stress;
my neck and shoulders tense.

Visit me, Lord! Overcome for me.
Break through for me yet again,
because of your faithful love.

I will praise you better from the heights
than I do in the depths...
though I will do both.

I’m worn out.
I'm cried out.

Restore my vision, Lord God.
Repel all attacks.
Answer my prayers.

Scatter and shame my Enemy.
Vindicate your Name
and use me once more.
Amen.

Against the Blank Page

Almighty God, I sit and stare,
a blank white screen
before me where
soon should be seen
the things I want to write.

It's hard sometimes
to make a start
to fashion lines
to practice art
with what I want to write.

Help me rely on you
to move my mind
to push me through
until I find
the words I want to write.

Forgive Us Our Debts

Forgive us our debts.
Literally.
Forgive the things I've charged or financed
to assuage my desires
instead of waiting
instead of saving
instead of giving.
Forgive the money I've wasted
on impulse purchases
on interest payments
on fees and penalties.
Forgive the consumer mentality
that makes me buy now
pay later
pay more in the long run.
Teach me to wait
to save
to resist temptation,
in Jesus' name, amen.

(photo by Chance Agrella via freerangestock.com)

Saturday Psalm #5

Give ear to my words, O Lord,
listen to my sighs and groans.
Turn your attention to my cry for help,
my King and my God,
as I pray to you.
In the morning, O Lord, you hear my voice;
morning after morning I lay my requests at your feet
and wait expectantly.

I know that you are not a God who takes pleasure in evil;
I know that as infinite as your presence is,
there is no room there for the wicked.
I know the arrogant cannot stand before you,
and you hate all who do wrong.
You destroy those who tell lies;
you abhor those who are cruel and deceitful men.

Only by your great mercy
can I come into your house;
awestruck, I bow down
before you.
Lead me, O Lord, in your righteousness
because of my enemies—
make straight your way before me.

Protect me from the lies of the Attacker,
and from those whose hearts are filled
with destructive thoughts and emotions,
whose throats are yawning graves,
whose tongues speak deceit.
O God, let me not traffic in
the intrigues and resentments
of those who rebel against you.
Let me walk in openness and honesty,
forgiveness and mercy toward others.

Let all who take refuge in you be glad;
and let me always be among them, singing for joy.
Spread your wings of protection over your people,
that those who love your name may rejoice in you.
Let my life, O Lord, show how you bless the righteous
and surround them with your favor as with a shield.

A Thanksgiving Prayer by George Herbert

Thou hast given so much to me,
Give one thing more–-a grateful heart;
Not thankful when it pleaseth me,
As if Thy blessings had spare days,
But such a heart whose pulse may be Thy praise.

On Thanksgiving

Our Father in Heaven,

If ever we had a cause to offer unto Thee our fervent thanks, surely it is now, on the Eve of our Thanksgiving Day, when we, the people of this Nation, are comfortable, well fed, well clad, and blessed with good things beyond our deserving. May gratitude, the rarest of all virtues, be the spirit of our observance.

Let not feasting, football, and festivity end in forgetfulness of God. May the desperate need of the rest of the world, and our own glorious heritage, remind us of the God who led our Fathers every step of the way by which they advanced to the character of an independent nation.

May the faith and conviction of George Washington be renewed in us as we remember his words:
...there is no truth more thoroughly established than that there exits in the economy and course of nature an indissoluble union between virtue and happiness; between duty and advantage; between the genuine maxims of an honest and magnanimous policy and the solid rewards of public prosperity and felicity; since we ought to be no less persuaded that the propitious smiles of Heaven can never be expected on a nation that disregards the eternal rules of order and right which Heaven itself has ordained...
For if we do not have the grace to thank Thee for all that we have and enjoy, how can we have the effrontery to seek Thy further blessings? God, give us grateful hearts.

For Jesus' sake.

Amen.

(a prayer from the Senate of the United States, November 26, 1947, by Rev. Dr. Peter Marshall, Chaplain)

Grit

God, make me a man with "grit" in me;
a man who, when he knows a thing to be right,
will not turn away, or turn aside, or stop;
a man who will persevere all the more
because there are difficulties to meet
or foes to encounter;
who will stand all the more true to my Master
because I am opposed;
who, the more I am thrust into the fire,
the hotter I become;
who, just like the bow,
the further the string is drawn
the more powerfully it sends forth its arrows,
and so the more I am trodden upon,
the more mighty I will become
in the cause of truth against error,
in Jesus' name, amen.

(modeled on lines by Charles Spurgeon; photo by frozenchipmunk via everystockphoto.com)

Saturday Psalm #4

Lord, I trust you're listening--
You, my Defender and my Advocate.

Proclaim Jubilee in my heart, mind, and life.
Have mercy on me and answer my prayer:

For freedom from insults, real or imagined,
freedom from lingering regrets and resentments,
freedom from people-pleasing cares.

I am sure of this:
I belong to you.
I matter to you.
I am clean in your sight.

Set an angelic sentinel at the entrance to my mind,
a guard against untrust and ungrace,
especially in the night watches.

Let me offer you pleasing sacrifices,
and passionate worship.
No looking back.
No wishing or longing for what is not.
Just your smiling face,
the joy of your presence,
the abundance of this moment, this season,
and the restful spirit
of a soul kept by you.
Amen.

(photo illustration by gmarcelo via stock.xchng)

Sense

Thank you, Lord,
that I can walk without pain,
see without impediment,
hear without assistance,
sleep without fear,
chew without discomfort,
swallow without effort,
work without end!

Amen.

No Untimely or Uncharitable Judgments

Abba, Father,
help me to do as your Word says,
and make no untimely
or uncharitable judgments about anyone
but to wait until the day of the Lord's return
when he will bring our darkest secrets to light,
reveal our private motives,
and give to each of us whatever is due,
in Jesus' name, amen.

(based on 1 Corinthians 4:4-5)

Perseverance

My prayer today for my kids and my grandkids, from the "31 Ways to Pray for Your Kids" app for iPhone and iPad.

Chase

O God, come to my assistance;
O Lord, make haste to help me.
Hear my prayer for Calleigh:
Chase this current infection from her body.
Expel it from her lungs.
Sweep through her with health
and freedom from infection,
that she can once again get a green light
and a reprieve from more drastic measures,
in Jesus' strong name, I pray,
amen.

Saturday Psalm #3

O Lord, how many are my foes!
Discouragement. Self pity. Weariness.
Stress. Allergies. Struggles with my weight.
Perfectionism. Procrastination.
The desire to please people.
They all rise up against me.
And make me believe
that you will not deliver me.

But you are a shield around me, O Lord;
you bestow glory on me and lift up my head.
Every single time I cry to you, Lord,
you answer me from your holy hill.

I lie down and sleep;
I wake again, because you sustain me...
And it's been this way for forty-seven years now!
So I will not fear, even if tens of thousands of troubles
draw up against me on every side.

Arise, O Lord!
Deliver me, O my God!
Strike all my enemies on the jaw;
break the teeth of the wicked.

From the Lord comes deliverance.
May your blessing be on your people, amen.

Veterans' Day

God of peace,
we pray for those
who have served our nation
and who laid down their lives
to protect and defend our freedom.

We pray for those who have fought,
whose spirits and bodies
are scarred by war,
whose nights are haunted by memories
too painful for the light of day.

We pray for those who serve us now,
especially for those in harm's way:
shield them from danger
and bring them home.

Turn the hearts and minds
of our leaders and our enemies
to the work of justice and a harvest of peace.

Spare the poor, Lord, spare the poor!

May the peace you left us,
the peace you gave us,
be the peace that sustains,
the peace that saves us.

Christ Jesus, hear us!
Lord Jesus, hear our prayer!

Amen.

(from A Concord Pastor Comments blog)

On Election Day

God, thank you
for the right
and responsibility
to vote.
Thank you for volunteers
who man the polls.
Thank you for poll watchers
who try to keep the process honest.
Thank you for all who exercise,
and for all who worked
and fought
and died
to protect and preserve,
this freedom
for all.
Amen.

For The Persecuted

Heavenly Father,
We pray for our brothers and sisters around the world who are suffering for Your Name's sake -
for those who have lost homes and possessions, family and friends simply because they profess faith in your Son, Jesus.

We pray for those who have been arrested, beaten, imprisoned, tortured beyond what we can even imagine, for the sake of Christ and the Gospel,
for the multitude of Christians who are in prison even now as we gather in the comfort of our church sanctuary.

Grant these Your grace that they may endure,
grant them courage that their faith would not waver;
may they remain true to the One who suffered and died for them.

Give them the assurance that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.

Give them love for their enemies that they might bless and not curse them,
that, in their suffering, they might testify of the love of Jesus for sinners.

May they rejoice that they are considered worthy to suffer for His name.
Give them joy in spite of their suffering,
and peace in spite of their pain,
knowing that a great reward awaits them.

We pray for their families,
that You would meet all their needs,
that they would not lose hope,
that their faith in You would remain strong.

We do pray for the release of these, Your children,
but until that day, may Your grace prevail and the
name of Jesus be glorified.

We ask this in the name of Your Son Jesus,
Who suffered and died for us. Amen.

(a prayer by monkatheart; photo by chidsey via everystockphoto.com)

Saturday Psalm #2

Lord God Adonai,
how the nations rage
and politicians plot.

The news is all bad
and getting worse, it seems.

But you are still there
on your throne,
looking down from heaven, laughing.

I don't have to listen to their raging
or watch their finger-pointing.
I will simply focus on serving you,
day by day and moment by moment,
and rejoice in your sovereignty.

Blessed are all who take refuge in you.

(based on Psalm 2; photo by C. K. Hartman via everystockphoto.com)

A Writer's Offering

Creator God, you made centipedes, oak trees, mountains and snow. Your creativity is endless, timeless, boundless and downright amazing. While I run out of ideas, you never do. You are God and I am not, but take my words as an offering of praise.

(excerpted from a blog post by Dan Balow; see more here. Photo via everystockphoto.com)

7 Prayers for the Upcoming Elections

God, your Word says that you control the course of world events; you remove kings and set up other kings (Daniel 2:21). So I pray, exert your control over the events of this election; remove and install leaders according to your “good, perfect, and pleasing” plan (Romans 12:2, NIV).

I pray for every candidate for every office, and the people who love them: God, be merciful to them and bless them; look on them with kindness (Psalm 67:1), whether they win or lose, and accomplish what is best for them, their loved ones, and their constituents.

I pray Isaiah 11:2 for every voter: Holy Spirit, speak to every person who votes in this election. Send the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and strength, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD on everyone who casts a ballot.

I pray for justice to roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream, through my neighborhood, city, state, and nation (Amos 5:24).

I pray for your people to participate in this election and respond to the results not in a spirit fear and timidity, but in a spirit of power, love, and self-discipline (2 Timothy 1:7).

As Jesus prayed, I ask for your will to be done rather than mine (Matthew 26:39). Dispel suspicion and hatred, heal divisions, repair the damage to and by your church, and restore the unity of our nation.

And, finally, Father, I ask for the faith to see your hand in the results of this election, even as I remember those people around the world who have no voice and no vote. Let my reaction to this election reveal my faith in You and my awareness of my privilege and responsibility as a citizen, in Jesus’ name, amen.