Monday, January 4, 2016

Some prayers at start of 2016

As the world welcomed in 2016 at the stroke of midnight on January 1, celebrations quickly gave way to the sobering realization that the problems the world faced in 2015 had not disappeared with the turning of the calendar. 

Overnight, the war in Syria had not ended, the Islamic State had not gone away, refugees continued to flock into Europe, not to mention the myriad other trouble spots around the globe that have not stopped festering. There is no part of the world that does not have problems.

Then there are the personal problems that everyone in the world is burdened with. Often these are unknown to others except for a few people who are close to them. These problems are just as real as the major problems of the world and may stem from them. Solving the world's major problems may also help to alleviate these more personal ones. 

Just as I concluded 2015 with some prayers, I think it appropriate to offer some prayers at the beginning of the new year as well. I am well aware that prayers by themselves will not make the world's problems disappear, but prayers are a crucial step to resolving every problem.

Unless we are willing to invoke divine help, no solution is possible. This is a statement of faith on my part, but this commitment to the necessity and power of prayer is shared not only by 2.2 billion Christians but also by 1.5 billion Muslims and the many billions of adherents of other religions.

Although the prayers I cite here are Christian prayers, they can be modified by those who are not Christians. The intent is clear; these prayers are cries of the heart for peace and justice in a world where both are a rare commodity. 

We live in a world where some leaders want to bomb IS out of existence, but that is a pipe dream, as anyone who is knowledgeable about the Middle East can verify. Justice is an equally elusive commodity as those who strive to correct such wrongs know only too well.

What then? Prayer is the answer, but not just prayer by itself. Prayer must be acoompanied by work. The powerful phrase, Ora et Labora, which translates into "prayer and work" in English, was used primarily in monastic life for centuries. But the phrase doesn’t just apply to monks. 

This phrase could be applied to anyone. As human beings, we are called to work just as we are called to pray. Work and prayer belong together. They are inseparable, in spite of the protests of secularists. If God is no longer part of the picture, what is the efficacy of prayer? 

Thus at the start of 2016, it is not only appropriate but also necessary that we offer our prayers to God. No matter what our conception of God is, through prayers we acknowledge that our problems are often intractable and that we need divine help to deal with them.

Prayer is an admission of helplessness when confronted by our many problems. Just as I concluded the past year with some prayers, I want to begin this year with some prayers as well. The challenge to pray without ceasing (1 Thess. 5:13) remains true throughout the year and not just at the beginning or the end, but these are markers, nevertheless, that urge us to pray. 

I urge you to also pray during the Week for Christian Unity which this year is from January 3-10. Then Christians can pray for greater unity so that they can witness more effectively in the world and pray more meaningfully for the world's problems.

Even if you ar not used to praying, I invite you to read the prayers carefully and reflect on them. But if you are a Christian and pray regularly, then pray them and share them with others so that they too can pray.

These prayers come from various traditions. I have selected them because they are contemporary and speak to the concerns I have as the world has entered a new year. Thus, I want to share with you now some prayers dealing with peace and justice, the war in Syria, refugees, indigenous people and the care of creation. Only space constrains me from adding to this list.

Don't forget, the focus of my blog is on the interface between the world and faith. These are not two poles, but they belong together. By separating them, even if only mentally, we make it even more difficult to solve the problems we are confronted with again this year.

If you have other prayers that you want to share, please send them to me and I will try to include them in a later posting.

Peace and Justice

Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
We come before you, Lord,
crying out in a violent land,
crying for peace.
Conflict is tearing people apart.
Our brothers and sisters suffer around the world.
We share their pain.
As refugees search for a home in foreign lands, guide them.
As world leaders try to dialogue peacefully, give them wisdom.
As strangers knock on our doors, help us to welcome them.
You are the Almighty, the Prince of Peace!
Give us hope for tomorrow.
May your peace flow like a river through a dry land.

Lord, you give us the unwavering call to do justice.
You tell us to defend the cause of the fatherless and the widow.
To love the foreigner residing among us.
To provide for the hungry, thirsty, and naked.
To love our enemy.
But Lord, it is overwhelming.
Do you not know that we are only human?
May your Spirit fill us with hope.
Remind us that we are good enough for you,
so that in all things, we will follow your will,
and take up the call to do justice, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with you.
—Erica VanEssendelft, Office of Social Justice, Christian Reformed Church

Prayers for Reconciliation and Peace in Syria

God of history,
witness of the struggles within families;
we pray for the divided family of Syria
as brother fights against brother,
and sister rejects sister.
We pray for those whose love of neighbour
has been destroyed in the bitterness of enmity.
May fear be submerged in compassion.
May distrust be diluted by hope,
as a vision of peace illuminates
darkened minds and hate-filled hearts.
We pray in the name of Christ,
our source of light and love. 

Spirit of wisdom and grace,
the power of truth and judgement;
we pray for all who are working for peace
in the tangled conflict of Syria today.
For international leaders holding a thread of control,
for the politicians holding a thread of power,
for the religious leaders holding a thread of authority,
for the fighters holding a thread of influence,
and the citizens clinging to a thread of hope.
Bring unity through the untangled order of justice.
Bring reconciliation through truthful dialogue.
Bring new life through patient diplomacy,
determined mediation and courageous peace-making.
We pray in the name of Christ,
our source of inspiration and confidence. 

A Prayer of Indigenous Peoples, Refugees, Immigrants, and Pilgrims

Triune God,
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,
we come before you as many parts of a single body.
people drawn from every tribe,
every nation, every language;
some indigenous—peoples of the land;
some refugees, immigrants, pilgrims—people on the move;
some hosts, some guests, some both hosts and guests;
all of us searching for an eternal place where we can belong.
Creator, forgive us.
The earth is yours and everything that is in it.
But we forget.
In our arrogance we think we own it.
In our greed we think we can steal it.
In our ignorance we worship it.
In our thoughtlessness we destroy it.
We forget that you created the earth to bring praise and joy to you.
That you gave it as a gift,
for us to steward,
for us to enjoy,
for us to see more clearly your beauty and your majesty.
Jesus, save us.
We wait for your kingdom.
We long for your throne.
We hunger for your reconciliation,
for that day where people from every tribe and every tongue
will gather around you and sing your praises.
Holy Spirit, teach us.
Help us to remember
that the body is made up of many parts,
each one unique and every one necessary.
Teach us to embrace the discomfort that comes from our diversity
and to celebrate the fact that we are unified, not through our sameness,
but through the blood of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
Triune God, we love you.
Your creation is beautiful.
Your salvation is merciful.
And your wisdom is beyond compare.
We pray all this in Jesus’ name.
—Mark Charles. This prayer appears in the hymnal Lift Up Your Hearts (#270), available at

Unity of All

Hanto Yo
(Hanto Yo means “clear the way” in the Lakota language of the North American Plains.)

God of surprises,
you call us
from the narrowness of our traditions
to new ways of being church,
from the captivities of our culture to
creative witness for justice,
from the smallness of our horizons
to the bigness of your vision.
Clear the way in us, your people,
that we might call others to freedom
and renewed faith.
Jesus, wounded healer,
you call us
from preoccupation with our own histories and hurts
to daily tasks of peacemaking,
from privilege and protocol
to partnership and pilgrimage,
from isolation and insularity
to inclusive community.
Clear the way in us, your people,
That we might call others to
wholeness and integrity.
Holy, transforming Spirit,
you call us
from fear to faithfulness,
from clutter to clarity,
from a desire to control to deeper trust,
from the refusal to love to a readiness to risk.
Clear the way in us, your people,
that we might all know the beauty and power
and danger of the gospel.
—Gwyn Cashmore and Joan Puls, From One Race the Human Race: Racial Justice Sunday 2003, published by Churches Together in Britain and Ireland: Churches Commission for Racial Justice, London.

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