A Third-Century Church Father Offers Practical Advice About Praying

As we near the season of Lent with its emphasis on self-examination, repentance, and prayer, here is some very practical advice on the latter from one of the early Church Fathers, Origen of Alexandria (d. 254AD). Notice his emphasis on the whole person, body included, in prayer. May his writing help you in your own praying, during Lent and at other times.

It seems to me that those who are about to come to prayer, if they withdraw and prepare themselves for a little while, will be more earnest and attentive in regard to their prayer as a whole. They should put aside every kind of distraction and disturbance of mind, and recollect as far as possible the greatness of God to whom they come, and that it is a sacrilege to approach God lightly and carelessly and with a kind of disdain; and they should cast off all alien thoughts. Thus ought they to come to prayer, as it were stretching out the soul before the hands, and directing the mind to God before the eyes, and raising up from the ground the reason and making it to stand toward the Lord of all. All malice toward anyone who appears to have wronged them they should cast aside insofar as they wish God to bear no malice toward themselves, since they have injured and sinned against many a neighbor, or else are conscious of deeds of various kinds that they have committed contrary to right reason. Neither ought they to doubt that, as there are countless attitudes [position] of the body, that attitude in which the hands are stretched out and eyes lifted up is to be preferred to all others, since the body brings to prayer the image, as it were, of the qualities suitable to the soul. We mean, however, that these attitudes should be given preference unless an obstacle opposes. For where there is an obstacle it is permissible on an occasion to pray suitably in a sitting position, on account of a disease of the feet that may not be disregarded, or even lying down, through fever or some such sickness. And also, on account of circumstances, if we are sailing, let us say, or if our business does not allow us to withdraw and offer the prayer that is due, it is permitted to pray without even seeming to do so.
And as for kneeling, that it is necessary when one is about to accuse oneself of one’s sins before God, supplicating him for healing therefrom and for forgiveness thereof, it ought to be known that it is a symbol of one who is abject and submissive. Paul says: ‘‘For this cause I bow my knees unto the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named.” Spiritual kneeling, so named because every creature falls down before God “in the name of Jesus” and humbles itself before him, appears to me to be indicated in the words: ‘‘That in the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven and things on earth and things under the earth.”

Origen, Treatise on Prayer 31, 11, 549-552

A Prayer for the Truth of God

O God, we thank you for all those in whose words and in whose writings your truth has come to us.
For the historians, the psalmists and the prophets, who wrote the Old Testament;
For those who wrote the Gospels and the Letters of the New Testament;
For all who in every generation have taught and explained and expounded and preached the word of Scripture: We thank you, O God.
Grant, O God, that no false teaching may ever have any power to deceive us or to seduce us from the truth.
Grant, O God, that we may never listen to any teaching which would encourage us to think sin less serious, vice more attractive, or virtue less important;
Grant, O God, that we may never listen to any teaching which would dethrone Jesus Christ from the topmost place;
Grant, O God, that we may never listen to any teaching which for its own purposes perverts the truth.
O God, our Father, establish us immovably in the truth.
Give us minds which can see at once the difference between the true and the false;
Make us able to test everything, and to hold fast to that which is good;
Give us such a love of truth, that no false thing may ever be able to lure us from it.
So grant that all our lives we may know, and love, and live the truth; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

—From Prayers for the Christian Year by William Barclay

Thanksgiving 2019: A Thanksgiving Litany

Let us give thanks to God our Father for all his gifts so freely bestowed upon us.

For the beauty and wonder of your creation, in earth and sky and sea.
We thank you, Lord.

For all that is gracious in the lives of men and women, revealing the image of Christ,
We thank you, Lord.

For our daily food and drink, our homes and families, and our friends,
We thank you, Lord.

For minds to think, and hearts to love, and hands to serve,
We thank you, Lord.

For health and strength to work, and leisure to rest and play,
We thank you, Lord.

For the brave and courageous, who are patient in suffering and faithful in adversity,
We thank you, Lord.

For all valiant seekers after truth, liberty, and justice,
We thank you, Lord.

For the communion of saints, in all times and places,
We thank you, Lord.

Above all, we give you thanks for the great mercies and promises given to us in Christ Jesus our Lord;
To him be praise and glory, with you, O Father, and the Holy Spirit, now and for ever. Amen.

A Prayer for Veterans’ Day 2019

Governor of Nations, our Strength and Shield:
we give you thanks for the devotion and courage
of all those who have offered military service for this country:

For those who have fought for freedom;
for those who laid down their lives for others;
for those who have borne suffering of mind or of body;
for those who have brought their best gifts to times of need.
On our behalf they have entered into danger,
endured separation from those they love,
labored long hours, and borne hardship in war and in peacetime.

Lift up by your mighty Presence those who are now at war;
encourage and heal those in hospitals
or mending their wounds at home;
guard those in any need or trouble;
hold safely in your hands all military families;
and bring the returning troops to joyful reunion
and tranquil life at home;

Give to us, your people, grateful hearts
and a united will to honor these men and women
and hold them always in our love and our prayers;
until your world is perfected in peace.

All this we ask through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, forever and ever. Amen.

A Prayer for All Saints’ Day 2019 (2)

Blessed are you, Sovereign God,
ruler and judge of all,
to you be praise and glory for ever.
In the darkness of this age that is passing away
may the light of your presence which the saints enjoy
surround our steps as we journey on.
May we reflect your glory this day
and so be made ready to see your face
in the heavenly city where night shall be no more.
Blessed be God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Blessed be God for ever. Amen.

A Prayer for All Saints’ Day 2019 (1)

Almighty God,
you have knit together your elect in one communion and fellowship
in the mystical body of your Son Christ our Lord:
grant us grace so to follow your blessed saints
in all virtuous and godly living
that we may come to those inexpressible joys
that you have prepared for those who truly love you;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

Ted Olsen: How to Jump Back In to Bible Reading

Christian leaders are also too aware of the dangers of bad Bible reading. We’re on alert against proof-texting. We fret about people misappropriating promises to Israel as guarantees of their own health, wealth, and safety. And we know that the Scriptures were written to believers for the life of the community, not for individualistic moments of personal piety. We start to wonder: Doesn’t the idea of reading one little chapter this morning encourage an atomized “thought of the day” when the whole point is the one large story it tells about God in Jesus Christ? Yes! And since I already know that story, do I really need to read a bit from 1 Corinthians again this morning? There’s so much else that needs doing!

Those thoughts and temptations have little purchase when I’m actually reading the Bible. It’s not that reading it always (or usually) floods me with a light of relief and certitude. But I’ve found that I’m hungriest to read Scripture when I’m reading Scripture. Part of this, no doubt, is simply the psychology driving any habit. But part of it is that the Word of God really is alive and active (Heb. 4:12)—and as much as I want to affirm its primary aims for the community of God, the Spirit keeps illuminating those ways in which it has something to say to me, personally, right now. 

https://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2019/march/how-to-jump-back-in-to-bible-reading.html

First, I would encourage you to read this short article by Dr. Olsen. I like his stuff and find it edifying. From the excerpt above he makes two important points. Don’t read passages in Scripture in isolation from the larger story presented in the Bible. Doing so can lead inexperienced readers to interpret various passages (not all) very badly. Passages of Scripture must always be read in their proper context.

Second, professor Olsen makes the keen observation that reading Scripture can actually feed our hunger to read more of it. But how to overcome our initial reluctance?

Brilliant as professor Olsen is, I am always saddened when the Church’s various traditions for reading Scripture are ignored because in my experience, reading Scripture as part of participating in the Daily Office of Morning and Evening Prayer, where Bible reading is combined with prayer, can serve as an antidote to our reluctance to begin or return to reading Scripture. In my Anglican tradition, we have the opportunity to read a vast majority of Scripture over a two-year cycle. This doesn’t overwhelm newbies but it also provides grist for more experienced readers as well as the structure to read Scripture systematically. That’s never a bad thing.

And when it comes to praying, why try and reinvent the wheel? There are a lot of saints who have gone before us who know how to pray and we shouldn’t be so arrogant that we think we can do better. Form prayers contained in the Office can easily be modified to make them quite personal and I dare say they do not lead to rote praying any more than spontaneous praying does if my experience is any indicator.

So how to jump back into (or begin) reading the Bible? Check out the Daily Office and make it your own. Using the Office, I have let the form prayers make me a better pray-er and have read the entire Bible through at least a dozen times, with each new iteration bringing new insights and teaching. The latter shouldn’t be surprising because the Word of God contained in Holy Scripture is infinitely plumbable and edifying. We would expect nothing less from the God who created this vast universe by his word and who raises the dead back to life.

So become a Daily Office Bible reader, especially if you come from a tradition that uses the Office (Catholicism, Orthodoxy, Anglicanism). You will find new clarity and understanding as well as new power and purpose for living if you do.

A Reminder Prayer for God’s People

Our Father, we have listened to your word, and loved it; we have found comfort and inspiration in song and psalter; we have enjoyed the companionship of those who, with kindred minds and hearts, have praised and worshiped you. Now help us understand that, as we leave this sacred House of God, we shall become your Church in the street.

—Anonymous

Another Prayer for Independence Day 2019

Lord God Almighty,
you have made all the peoples of the earth for your glory,
to serve you in freedom and in peace:
Give to the people of our country a zeal for justice
and the strength of forbearance,
that we may use our liberty in accordance with your gracious will;
through Jesus Christ our Lord,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and ever. Amen.

A Prayer for Independence Day 2019

Lord God Almighty,
in whose Name the founders of this country
won liberty for themselves and for us,
and lit the torch of freedom for nations then unborn:
Grant that we and all the people of this land
may have grace to maintain our liberties in righteousness and peace;
through Jesus Christ our Lord,
who lives and reigns with you
and the Holy Spirit, one God,
for ever and ever. Amen.

A Prayer for Fathers’ Day 2019

Heavenly Father,
you entrusted your Son Jesus,
the child of Mary,
to the care of Joseph, an earthly father.
Bless all fathers
as they care for their families.
Give them strength and wisdom,
tenderness and patience;
support them in the work they have to do,
protecting those who look to them,
as we look to you for love and salvation,
through Jesus Christ our rock and defender.
Amen.