Morning prayer, 9/27/16

It’s taken me a loooong time to get here. Let me say that up front. But I have a daily prayer routine now. And it’s changing my life.

My routine almost always involves morning prayer and noon prayer, and it usually involves some sort of evening prayer— if not a proper time of devotion and prayer in the evening, then at least some kind of quick “thanks and watch over us as we sleep” prayer before I call it a night.

My morning prayer has evolved over time. It’s become more of a home-grown prayer tailored to my family’s needs than the standard morning prayer taken from the pages of the Book of Common Prayer. So maybe “morning prayer” isn’t the right term to use, if that term conjures up for you images of written prayers or chanted psalms. I guess “prayer of protection” or “prayer for the new day” would work fine, too.

But terminology aside, I’ve realized over the past couple of years how supremely important it is to start each day by giving each day to God. It has helped tremendously, not only to focus and re-orient myself to the things of the Lord, but also to prepare me for and/or protect me from some of the junk that might come my way that day. There’s incredible power– and peace– in the simple act of giving each new day to God. 

The Lord knows what this day will bring. So why not invite Him into it? Every day I ask him to equip, prepare, and protect me and my family.

My basic structure looks something like this:

  • Thanksgiving for the night’s sleep, for comforting/instructive dreams (if any), for the new morning
  • Consecration of myself and my family to the Lord, giving the day over to God, placing all upcoming interactions and decisions under the authority of Jesus
  • Protection and health for myself and my family, in body, mind, soul and spirit
  • Inviting the Holy Spirit to help us discern this day as it unfolds, to give us the faith to trust and obey when He speaks to us
  • Protection over our home, our vehicles, and our time on the road
  • Asking the Lord’s blessing over any loved ones who have been on our hearts recently, praying for salvation for loved ones who don’t know Him, and asking the Lord to let the light of His love shine through us and onto them this day
  • Finally, asking for wisdom, patience, presence, and a sacrificial spirit as we shepherd our boys this day and seek to raise them well. (My recent prayer has been that I might model for the boys the way I’d want them to treat their own spouse/kids when they’re older.)

I usually pray these prayers by myself while I’m getting ready in the morning: shaving, or in the shower, or getting dressed. Sometimes I’ll just plop down in a chair or on my knees by the bed. Sometimes I pray out loud; sometimes in my mind. (I don’t think the Lord is as concerned with how we pray as with whether we pray. Don’t let the setting or the lack of a quiet space keep you from praying; the enemy knows your distractions and will set about trying to, well, distract you.)

Time permitting, I’ll also try to read a psalm out loud while we’re eating breakfast together. I find it’s easiest just to follow the lectionary from the BCP on this one, using the morning’s appointed psalm. (Much, much more can be said about the psalms, but these past 2 years for me have been a time of re-appreciating the psalms and the depth of wisdom they bring to our prayers and our worship. If my day doesn’t involve at least one psalm, it is a loss.)

Today’s psalm was #100, a special one for my family as it was read at our wedding (nine years ago this week). Sitting at the breakfast table with Courtney and the boys, it was sweet to walk through an image like “He is our God, and we are His people” at the start of this day.

These posts always end up longer than I intend, so I’ll stop here. More opportunities for reflecting on morning prayer later.

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Family communion, 9/22/16: The Force Beckons

Not every time is a grand adventure, or a deep encounter with the divine, or a tailor-made service wrapped up in a bow. Last week was one of our better times reading Scripture, sharing communion, and praying together.

Tonight wasn’t.

We tried to keep things winsome and informal again. We pulled out a different children’s Bible and A. said he wanted to hear the story about the night Jesus died. My first thought was, “Well how about that!” He even sat on my lap for a little bit while I read the story.

But soon other things caught his attention: His younger brother scrambling up a rocking chair. The gingerbread cookies. But most of all, the Star Wars book that had been sitting by the hearth for days, collecting dust. All of a sudden it was his favorite book. He HAD to read it right now. And we simply could not get him to put it down for 5 minutes and focus on the rest of our little homemade service.

We tried praying together but he was just too distracted. He could not be un-distracted, even when I put the book away. When we asked him if he wanted to give God thanks for anything, he responded, “I want to ask God to give me lots of cool things.” Courtney and I exchanged concerned glances.

She valiantly tried to turn it into a teaching moment and tell A. the story of Solomon, the king who asked God for wisdom instead of riches, but it was no use. He simply wasn’t listening. So Courtney and I just prayed some brief prayers instead while the boys returned to their intergalactic book.

Sigh.

But it’s a good reminder that SO much of this will feel like 2 steps forward, 1 step back. There’s still progress being made, even on the off-nights. And it makes me already look forward to next week, and the week after that, and the week after that… which I guess is sort of the point.

Family communion, 9/15/16: Shoes, Happiness & Adoption

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We try to celebrate communion as a family every Thursday night.

“Try” is the operative word here. We probably have a 50% success rate, and even when it does happen, it’s a beautiful jumbled mess of love and prayers and crumbs. Some Thursdays the boys are too tired, or we’re too tired, or it’s too late, or we just forget about it entirely.

But we’re slowly learning not to get distracted from the task at hand or to kick ourselves over any of these “off” weeks. Because of all the routines and rituals that we’ve introduced into the rhythm of our life together, communion is without a doubt the most important. If everything else from our liturgy of life had to go, this would be the one thing that had to stay.

It’s impossible to put into words exactly how the mystery of the communion meal knits our family more closely together while simultaneously knitting us more closely to the Lord, so I will use these posts simply to sketch a picture of what our celebration looks like from one week to the next.

We started this practice in our home earlier this year. I don’t remember whose idea it was but it just seemed like the right thing to do. And Thursday nights seemed like the right night to do it, partly because it was a good way to remind us that our sabbath celebration was just one day away. You’re almost there!*

For our first few attempts at doing communion together, I made the mistake of trying to use one of the eucharistic rites from the Book of Common Prayer. I thought the boys would be familiar with the structure and the words of previous worship gatherings, and I had visions of everyone sitting quietly around the dinner table while we read the Bible and prayed together. Big mistake. The boys were crawling over everything– the floor, the chairs, the table– and it was impossible for me to get a word in edgewise, much less 5 pages of words.

We quickly learned an important lesson about the liturgy of life: step back and recalibrate as often as necessary. Yes, we wanted it to be perfect, and we wanted it to be perfect from the very beginning. No, it wasn’t. Relax. This is about finding a rhythm of routines that fits the rhythm of your life. It’s okay to adjust, especially when you’re just starting to incorporate new traditions into your fabric of daily life.

For us, this involved migrating to the living room after dinner and letting the boys bounce around on the couch. Some nights we’ll go through a psalm together, reading it with gusto and pausing every once in a while to act out some phrase or to ask the boys to imagine what’s happening in the psalm. Other nights we’ll read the Gospel passage from the lectionary and ask the boys to pay attention (as best they can) to a story about Jesus.

Tonight, we tried a book of children’s Bible stories– Tomie dePaola’s gorgeous Book of Bible Stories— and I asked A. which he wanted to hear: either a story about Jesus or a story about “the old people of faith.” He said he wanted to hear about the old people, so I flipped through the front of the book and happened to land on the story of Moses and the Ten Commandments. Seemed as good a place as any.

Courtney asked A. to count to ten for us, and then I explained that God gave His people ten important rules to live by. Then we went through them one by one, with numerous asides and tangents along the way. (For example, “you shall not covet” led us down a rabbit trail that involved shoes, happiness, and adoption. A. asked us whether there might be a boy or girl out there he needs us to be their family, so we decided to stop and pray right there that God would help us answer that question in the coming days. A little off-topic perhaps, but if these are the kinds of off-topic discussions we’re going to have during communion, then bring us more of them, Lord!)

Another important lesson: roll with it. We want these nights to be something the boys look back on with fondness, not with groans over this rigid and boring thing they had to endure every week. Participation is key.

After that, we went into sharing the communion elements together. I said the words of institution and we prayed together that the Holy Spirit would illumine this time for us and nourish us spiritually with this meal. (Matzah crumbs typically begin flying in a frenzy at this point. There are few things A. loves more than breaking off some matzah and going to town. And L., his dutiful little copycat, is eager to do everything just like his big brother does.)

We closed, as we almost always do, with me and Courtney praying for our boys and then asking the boys if they want to thank God for anything and/or ask God for anything.

All in all, it took maybe 20 or 25 minutes. Then it was bathtime, and the boys splashed around for another 20 minutes. Then it was off to bed.

Final important lesson: Nothing fancy. Routines don’t have to be a big ordeal or production. Keep it simple. Cut something if it’s too much of a hassle or distraction. And trust that if something’s been cut that needs to be reincorporated, the Lord will tell you when and how to do that.

The best part of healthy routines is that we get to try them again and again. The more you do it, the more you realize it’s not about getting anything down perfectly. Routines, in a way, exist to remind us that we don’t rely on our own strength or abilities or even willingness to improve; we rely on God. Solely on God. And some routines help remind us of this, day after day, week after week, year after year.

*Courtney reminded me that another reason we chose Thursdays was to align ourselves with Maundy Thursday, when the Lord’s Supper was instituted.

Evening prayer, 9/12/16

No earth-shaking revelations tonight, and that alone is a helpful reminder for myself.

More often than not, this daily liturgy thing is about finding comfort in the basics. It’s like a broken-in shoe, well worn and ready to help you go where you need to go. You’re not going to run a marathon every day. Most days you just need to go to work, or go to the grocery store, or just go outside to pick up the mail.

Praying about a passage from Proverbs tonight in conjunction with the Lord’s Prayer:

“Ponder the path of your feet, then all your ways will be sure.” –Prov. 4:26

“Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” –Mt 6:13

I cherish the small, basic connections between two passages of Scripture such as this one. For me, there’s a bit of a duality between the two clauses of the Matthew passage: one is a prayer for our action; the other is a prayer for God’s action. Deliverance? That’s God’s domain. But “lead us not into temptation?” That leaves the door open a bit… after all, the Lord might not be leading us there, but we are still free to walk off the path and go there anyway. We have the power to disregard our guide and trailblaze instead (maybe trailblaze to the point where we realize the fix we’re in, and all that’s left to do is call out for deliverance).

And so tonight I found that this Proverbs passage helps color that first clause in the Lord’s Prayer passage. To ponder the path of my feet (literally, “to make level” that path) requires me to do something. And it is part and parcel with the prayer, “Lead us not into temptation.” The Lord leads us, but we also need the wisdom to heed His lead. We ask the Lord for help with this pondering. It’s a daily ascertaining of, where am I pointed? What direction am I heading? Have I been going where the Lord is leading me? The one who ponders the path of his/her feet is the one who is more willingly led away from temptation, by God’s grace and with God’s help.

“To ponder is not to wander.” A small connection, yes, but one I have found immensely helpful. And hey, it even rhymes.

Evening prayer, 9/6/16

I used to do my devotions in the morning. Before the rat race of another work day began, it was so nice to sit with the Lord, the quiet, and a cup of coffee. I loved it. I needed it. I looked forward to it.

Then we had kids.

And I’ll admit it: for a long time, I simply had no time or energy for devotionals. At all. Nothing. And my spiritual life suffered. I spent less and less time praying and more and more time complaining that I didn’t have time to pray. And it took a really, really long time for me to realize that I could carve out time in the evenings to be with God, read Scripture, and pray.

A current routine of mine is to read my daily passages (usually 2 OT and 2 NT) and then spend a few minutes praying the Lord’s Prayer alongside those readings. Few passages are as overly familiar to me as the Lord’s Prayer. And although I believe these words of Jesus are never devoid of their power regardless of the energy or passion I may bring to them, I nevertheless cherish anything that can make these familiar words speak to my heart in a fresh way. Now I don’t know how long this particular discipline will stick around but it’s been incredibly beneficial for this season of my prayer life. Sometimes we incorporate disciplines that we know need to be with us for life (like sabbath); other times, the Lord gifts us with a little something that’s meant to carry us through a particular season in our lives.

So for example, one of tonight’s NT passages was from 1 Corinthians 15, when Paul is arguing about the utter necessity of believing in the resurrection. And I took a moment to pray “For Thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory, forever and ever” through the lens of this particular Corinthians passage. In other words, what does the truth of the resurrection have to say about God’s kingdom and power and glory?

Here’s what I came up with:

Kingdom — A kingdom needs subjects. Seems obvious enough. What good is a kingdom if all its subjects are dead? The resurrection (both of Jesus and then one day of us, Jesus’ followers) is a necessary component to any assertion about God having a kingdom.

Power — Obviously resurrection requires great power, for we are powerless when it comes to death. How can mortals overcome death? The resurrection showcases God’s awesome and unprecedented and unequaled power.

Glory — But more than just a show of power, resurrection is also about God’s glory. Bringing forth life from death gives glory to God. Redeeming and restoring that which has been lost to sin and death is glorious. The Lord glories in the glorified body of His Son, Jesus.

So the resurrection– both of Christ (“the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep,” 1 Cor 15:20) and eventually of us, Christ’s followers (those who will/have already fallen asleep)– is absolutely central to establishing God’s kingdom, power, and glory, forever and ever, amen.

 

Of pancakes and Psalms

Yesterday (Saturday) was our day for sabbath. For us, Saturdays have made sense not only because of the biblical precedent but also for practical reasons: after all, Sundays are busy days for pastors and their families, and often feel like just another work day than a day of rest. If there’s any day when we can unplug a bit, Saturday’s it.

Our re-awakening to the importance of sabbath occurred about 8 or 9 years ago, shortly after we were married. A dear friend had recommended we read Mark Buchanan’s The Rest of God, so we did, and it deeply affected us: sabbath as a commandment, yes, but also sabbath as a gift. Why wouldn’t we want this in our lives?

And so we made the intentional decision early in our marriage to start setting aside Saturdays for whatever the Lord would have us do on that day. At the time, I was still a student and my wife Courtney was working as a teacher, so we agreed not to do any school work or textbook reading or grading on Saturday. It was a sacrifice. But once we started it and made it through the bumpy first few weeks (which almost always accompanies any new discipline, and is to be expected when incorporating healthy habits into life), we knew there was no going back. The benefits were extraordinary and almost immediate.

We’ve been through seasons with our sabbath observance. For a time it looked more like study hall: Courtney and I would drag out some of our religious books and spend hours reading and comparing notes and drawing parallels over hot tea and Nick Drake tunes. Other times, it involved just keeping our schedules open so we could be free to do something with family or friends on a whim should the opportunity arise. (And those opportunities did arise more times than I can count.) Now with two young kids, our sabbath is more about staying offline as much as we can manage; we really try to avoid checking email and Facebook so that we can be particularly present for our boys. We want them to know work can wait.

Through it all, though, two constants have remained: pancakes and Psalm 92.

I wrote that sentence expecting a better epiphany would follow, but now I really don’t know how else to elaborate other than the obvious: we always cook pancakes for breakfast, and before we eat said pancakes we read Psalm 92, the only psalm specifically designated as “for the sabbath.”

“It is a good thing to give thanks to the Lord…”

This sets us on the right path for a day of rest. Moreover, it seems this psalm is always releasing new truths to us, as biblical passages will often do on the hundredth-or-so reading of them.

Yesterday was no exception. We cooked our pancakes (A’s current preference: a pancake shaped like an owl, complete with some silver dollars for “owl eggs”) and sat around the table together. As we read Psalm 92, the word “just” popped out at me in a way I’d never noticed before:

92:13 — The just shall flourish like the palm tree

92:16 — The Lord is just

The Christian’s goal is to be just so that we may flourish, but we also recognize that the Lord alone is truly just. We emulate Him as we follow Him; we are to copy what we see our Father doing. He is just, and part of His justice is a desire to see us flourish. Wow.

After pancakes we drove down to St. Augustine and spent some time (and money) there. Then did a library run. Then helped out a new friend who needed some help with pet-sitting. Then went out to dinner. Plenty of time throughout the day, too, for reading with the boys and playing some music and making up silly games. I don’t think we ever turned the TV on, which was nice. Yesterday was fun and refreshing, which was exactly what we needed after a long, weird week (which included a hurricane warning, plus all the time and energy spent prepping for that).

There is so much more to say about sabbath, but this post is long enough and there will be other opportunities for unpacking more about it. What I hope emerges over these future posts, though, is the relative fluidity of sabbath observance (at least for our family). Resting with God and with one another can take many forms.

For us, sabbath isn’t so much about creating an ever-growing list of “do’s” and “do nots” for any given Saturday, but rather cultivating a mindset of asking, “What feels like work?” and then making the conscious effort to avoid those things… for at least one day.

Friday night lights

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It’s Friday night, which means we all gathered at the table and watched Courtney light the sabbath candles (the original Friday night lights!) prior to dinner. Then we all sang a version of “Shabbat Shalom” together. (Our boys love clapping along; it’s a catchy number, and it’s not uncommon for them to request this song regardless of what day of the week it is.) Then comes the best part– we eat! Together!

Courtney and I have always placed a high premium on eating dinner together as a family around the table, but we’re also pretty flexible… last night, for example, we all had an indoor picnic in our TV room and watched old episodes of Pee-Wee’s Playhouse while we sat on a giant blanket on the floor and ate burgers together. A. was thrilled, and Courtney and I enjoyed the change of pace, too. We were together, and that’s really the checkmark we were looking for.

But Friday nights are different. It’s a time to come to the table and shut off the noise and junk and burdens of the week. A time to listen to Courtney/Mama pray for us and speak words of thanksgiving and blessing over her 3 boys. A time to eat and chat and ask questions and listen and laugh and, best of all, linger.

We’ve found we have to be intentional about resting and relaxing. It can feel counterintuitive to approach sabbath as something you have to work at, but we’ve found you do have to work at resting because it’s not going to happen on its own. It can be hard work to shut off your brain from all the demands that keep echoing and clamoring for one more moment of your attention. It can be hard work to orient ourselves towards taking a day off. It can be really hard work. But it’s good work.

Zechariah talks about the primacy of “guiding our feet into the way of peace” (Luke 1:79) and in a way, this is what Friday nights are about: we work at pointing our feet in the direction of sabbath peace and rest, so that we’ll start walking in that direction once the sun comes up.

Tonight’s sabbath meal concluded with A. putting on a quasi-dinner theater performance for us, with some inspired renditions of such classics as “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” and the theme song from Gilligan’s Island. As he sang/shouted “Here on Gilligan’s I-i-i-isle!!” and then took a bow (or five), it finally sunk in that this week’s sabbath had arrived.

As much pressure as I place on myself to always be teaching my kids something about God, I know they’ve got me beat when it comes to sabbath. Sabbath is when I sit back and learn from them, because they are the masters of reveling in rest. They’ve got this thing figured out. Praise the Lord.

Lord, open my lips…

“It must be terribly difficult to establish rituals in your life. I know you don’t have an ‘average day,’ but what have you tried to ritualize in your work and home life?”

–Jonathan Safran Foer

Reading these words (above) has spurred me to write these words (below).

I’m new to the blogosphere… and I’ll admit I’m pretty dubious that it needs one more voice. Yet I’m nevertheless drawn here, as I want to consider and catalogue the ways my family is trying to ritualize our life. Some have worked. Some have failed. Most are still works in progress.

Is it indeed terribly difficult, as JSF muses, to establish rituals? Well… yes and no. This page will be my attempt to unpack that “yes” and “no” for myself and for anyone else who’s interested.

And so I guess to start off, I want to emphasize this isn’t about a new legalism or making up rules for the sake of having rules. Rather, my wife and I see value in the healthy routines that can bring some balance to the buzz of daily life. What grounds us? When we drift, what can re-ground us in the life the Lord has called us to? And most importantly, how can we help our two young sons ground their lives in the Way of Jesus?

Oftentimes it feels to us as if people are moving faster and faster but nobody’s really going anywhere (ourselves included). So we ask, what are some structures and rhythms that can help with this? How can we mark time better? How can we be more purposeful in the ways we approach our work and our rest? Or, to use some gardening imagery, what kinds of trellises will give our life’s roses the good and necessary support they need to grow stronger, to bloom brighter?

In these posts you’ll find reflections on my family’s way of life: daily prayer, Bible study, family communion, sabbath rest, community outreach, the Jewish festivals, the Christian seasons, etc.

We’re just one family and we’re modeling just one way of incorporating rituals into life together. Hence my title for this page: a liturgy of a life. Maybe the Lord has something different for your life. What’s your liturgy?

Whether you’re single, or married, or a young family, or an old family, I hope you’ll be encouraged to find freedom and growth in godly structures and healthy routines. God bless you, and thanks for joining us on this journey.

“Happiness is not a matter of intensity but of balance, order, rhythm, and harmony.”

–Thomas Merton