Daily Office Lectionary

I have on and off found the reading schedule offered by the Daily Office Lectionary from the Book of Common Prayer to be a fruitful guide for daily Scripture intake (available here). Each day offers several Psalms, readings from both Old and New Testaments, and a passage from the Gospels. It is a two year cycle which begins on the first Sunday of Advent

One of the things I particularly enjoy is seeing links between the daily passages, though they were not really set together with such connections in mind.

Today is a good example. The readings were: Psalm 119:1-24; Psalm 12, 13, and 14; Isaiah 2:1-11; 1 Thessalonians 2:13-20; and Luke 20:19-26. I was struck by the following interconnections.

  • Psalm 119, of course, is an extended meditation on the Word of God, his law, statutes, testimonies, etc. Since the Word is such a central biblical theme, we probably shouldn’t be surprised that it is a significant feature in other of the passages.
    • And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God. (1 Thessalonians 2:13)
    • “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
      to the house of the God of Jacob,
      that he may teach us his ways
      and that we may walk in his paths.
      For out of Zion shall go forth the law,
      and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. (Isaiah 2:3)

    • In Luke 20:21 some of Jesus’ listeners say of him, “You speak and teach rightly, and show no partiality, but truly teach the way of God.”
  • Psalm 119:17 – Deal bountifully with your servant, that I may live and keep your word. ==> Psalm 13:6 – I will sing to the Lord, because he has dealt bountifully with me.
  • Psalm 14 speaks of the atheism and corruption of the nations. Isaiah 2 speaks of rich, godless nations.
  • Given that those quoted above were trying to catch Jesus out, Psalm 12:2 is apposite: “Everyone utters lies to his neighbor; with flattering lips and a double heart they speak.”
  • The following verse’s wish–“May the Lord cut off all flattering lips”–seems to be fulfilled in Luke 20:26 – “And they were not able in the presence of the people to catch him in what he said, but marveling at his answer they became silent.”
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Going up?

Perhaps no image captures the concept of impatience better than that of someone repeatedly and agitatedly assaulting an elevator button. The delay between pressing the button and the elevator’s arrival presses the limits of our patience. What is going ON up there?

We are used to there being a close relationship between our acts and their effects. We realize that they can’t all be instantaneous, of course, but our experience teaches us to expect something to happen when we press buttons, whether literal or figurative.

This expectation is confounded in the kingdom. Kingdom realities, spiritual realities, eternal realities do not operate on a simple cause and effect principle. Yet we often want them to and are frustrated when they don’t. We pray and want there to be some discernible outcome from the effort expended. We serve and want to experience a commensurate return. We ask God, “What is going ON up there?”

But the kingdom works on a “secret” principle (Mt. 6:4). John Yoder says it powerfully, “The relationship between the obedience of God’s people and the triumph of God’s cause is not a relationship between cause and effect but one of cross and resurrection.”

What does this mean? Kingdom causes like prayer, fasting, worship, etc. do not mechanistically trigger kingdom outcomes. We cannot bring the kingdom ourselves, even by dedicating ourselves to “kingdom” activities like prayer and fasting. Rather, prayer, fasting, giving, service, humility, etc. are each little “deaths”, little “crosses.” Deaths and crosses in and of themselves have no creative effect. They are dead ends. They rely upon the gracious resurrecting, life-giving act of God to become anything more. We must die to the idea that our actions in and of themselves bring good and in faith hope for the resurrection power of God to bring his kingdom.

This is a hard saying. It runs counter to our human expectations. It runs counter to the way we want the world to work. It even runs counter to the way many people preach about the gospel and the Christian life. But it is precisely that counter-intuitiveness that suggests to me that it is true.

“Thy kingdom come; Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

Praying the Kingdom

As if there aren’t enough other barriers to meaningful prayer, the question of how to pray ‘according to the will of God’ is a stumblingblock for many people. In one sense this is a good thing. It means that they have moved beyond thoughtlessly praying for the easiest things that come to mind. They genuinely want to pray, “Not my will but yours be done” but they get hung up on “What is God’s will in this situation?”

For example, they want to pray for someone who is suffering from some medical condition. It seems natural to pray, “Lord, please heal Jane.” So they start to pray that and then it occurs to them, “But what if it isn’t God’s will to heal Jane right now? Will I be praying against God’s will if I pray for healing?” Not surprisingly, this line of thinking often takes the life out of prayer.

Same Idea, Different Angle

Scripture certainly encourages us to pray in line with the will of God. The Disciples’ Prayer is representative: “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” But God did not intend this concept to paralyze our prayer life. In fact, a way forward may be found in the very context of those familiar words.

Directly preceding the call for God’s will to be done is the phrase, “Thy kingdom come…”. The concept of God’s “kingdom”, though not necessarily immediately clear to all of us, carries a bit less baggage than the idea of “the will of God.” While we may not be able to express exactly what the Kingdom of God is, we have at least a general sense of what it will include. At the very least we have some idea of what life will be like in the end when Christ’s kingdom comes in its fullness.

In fact, it is likely that these phrases are intended to interpret one another anyway in the prayer. What is God’s will? The coming of the kingdom? When will the kingdom come? When God’s ways are done on earth as they are in heaven.

Praying the Kingdom

So let’s return to ailing Jane. While we do not know what God may be intending for dear Jane in the near future, we are confident that when the kingdom comes in its fullness such things as physical illness will not be a part of it. Jane will not suffer in the kingdom. Accordingly, we can pray that God might make this aspect of the kingdom present now for Jane with confidence because we know that such things are in line with God’s ultimate plans. “May your Kingdom come upon Jane in physical healing.”

The careful prayer will also recognize that other, perhaps even more important aspects of the kingdom might be called for in the situation. We might pray that Jane perseveres or has peace in spite of her condition. These, too, are kingdom realities and ones that we can be more sure God intends for Jane in the present.

God’s kingdom WILL come. His will WILL be done in his timing. Don’t let fear of praying against God’s will keep you from praying earnestly for God’s vision of the future to become reality sooner rather than later.

The Gift of Prayer

I am slowly reading through Jacques Philippe’s small book on prayer: Time for God.* What I have read so far has been simple yet helpful, so I thought I would pass it along.

Philippe’s first declaration is that the life of prayer comes to us as a gift from God not as a result of our efforts nor the application of techniques. He contrasts Christian prayer with the meditative practices of other religions that seek to achieve mystical experience through the performance of specific practices. But these are based in the efforts of humans. Christian prayer is a gift from God. This does not completely remove a human part to play. He writes:

Although–as we shall see later–a certain human initiative and activity has its place, the entire edifice of the prayer life is founded on God’s initiative and on his grace. We must never lose sight of the fact that one of the constant and at times most subtle of temptations in the spiritual life is to base it on our own efforts and not on the free mercy of God.

I particularly appreciate that Philippe brings in the aspect of human personality. He notes that there are always some people who are much better at employing techniques, being disciplined, or forming ‘spiritual’ language (‘hermosos pensamientos’ in his phrase). But since the reality of a prayer life is a gift from God, these abilities are not the sum and substance of a good prayer life. “Each one, by cooperating faithfully with the divine grace according to their own personality, with all their gifts and weaknesses, is able to have a deep prayer life.” Each of us has a God-given personality that has features that both help and hinder our prayer life. We must learn to work patiently with our own graces and limitations to receive God’s gift of himself through prayer.

While there are not “tricks” or “techniques” for the Christian prayer life, Philippe suggests that there are attitudes, certain dispositions of heart that set us up to receive God’s gift of prayer more readily. About those anon.

*For the record, I am reading it in a Spanish translation of the original French. Therefore, any of the English quotes you read below are my clumsy translations. The book is available in English. Since I have not yet read the entire thing I cannot at this time make a blanket recommendation.

(This post was simultaneously posted on the website of Union Christian Church).