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.