Let There Be Peace

Today is the first Sunday of Advent. In my branch of the Church, Methodists around the world are asked to pray for peace on this day (go to worldmethodist.org to find out more on the Pray for Peace emphasis). In light of all the turmoil in our world today, I have decided to say a prayer each day during Advent for Peace.

In praying for peace this morning, I turned to the words of the hymn, “Let There Be Peace On Earth.” That seems like a big prayer, let there be peace on earth. But the real challenge in the song is not world peace. No, it’s the words of the next line that are really challenging:  “Let it begin with me.”

See it’s one thing to pray for peace among nations and international leaders, but the real challenge is how will I behave myself in the encounters that fill my world today. Will I really take each moment and live each moment for peace?

Yes I pray for peace in Ferguson. I pray for peace in Jerusalem. I pray for peace between the countries of the world. But I pray especially for peace in my interactions with my wife, my son, members of the congregation where we worship, my neighbors along the street where we live.

If I think peace is worth it; if it’s worth all the talk we have about peace, all the prayers we offer; I need to be willing to start it in my own life, in the areas that I can actually help shape peaceful interactions.

So here is my prayer for peace this Advent,:

May the peace the angels sang about at Christmas

The peace that God offers through his Son

The peace that is graciously present in the Holy Spirt

May that peace fill our daily living.



Honest to God: The Heart of Prayer

In their book Primary Speech Ann and Barry Ulanov describe prayer as a world of honesty. Not a bad way to describe what we are about in prayer, honesty. Perhaps the one place we can be most truly honest is in our conversation with God. Yet honesty may be the very thing which makes prayer difficult for us at times.

Several years ago I served as a chaplain for a brain injury rehab program in a hospital. I was asked to lead a support group for a patients who expressed interest in religion as they were going through their rehab. As the patients were led through therapy each day, many would express questions about faith that arose because of their injuries and the changes this meant for their lives. Therapists would ask them if they would like to talk about these questions of faith, and, if the patients said yes, they would wind up in my support group. The success of that group grew out of the honesty that we found in prayer.

I confess, I did not really know what I was going to do when I was asked to start this group. I had met with patients going though rehab for brain injuries. I visited them, prayed with and for them, talked with their family members, but I had never actually led a group of patients like this before. So I did what preachers do in a panic, I opened my Bible and started reading from it.

I began reading for them from Psalm 2. After I had read a few verses and paused to take a breath, one of the patients spoke up and said, “are you sure this is in the Bible?”

Several others in the group expressed similar doubt. I assured them that the Psalm really came from the Bible by showing them the text I was reading from.

Then I asked them what was so shocking about the text that made them question whether or not it really came from the Bible. Most were shocked by the opening verse of the Psalm. You may remember the opening words of Psalm 22 are spoken by Jesus on the cross, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?”

We talked a lot about what it means to feel abandoned by God, to feel like God is not responding to our cries for help, to feel as if God is not defending you even against enemies. Most of them felt these or similar feelings but hearing these ideas expressed in the Psalm had opened up a new understanding for them. As one patient put it, “I never thought about saying that to God!” It was the dawning recognition that we can be honest to God in our prayers.

How often do we struggle in prayer because we think we have to approach God only with good thoughts or feelings and the right, proper words? Prayer is the one place we can be truly honest and lay our total being before God. Let’s be honest, if God is who we believe God is, doesn’t God already know what we are thinking and feeling?

Maybe it is not God we are trying to fool by only exposing the good thoughts, feelings, etc. in our prayers. Maybe the ones we are really trying to fool is ourselves. Maybe we are trying to convince ourselves that we really are so good that we never have doubts, unkind thoughts, fears, bad tempers.

By speaking to God honestly in prayer, we gain the ability to see ourselves for who we are. We can see that we are sometimes faithful, sometimes unfaithful. We learn that we have good thoughts and bad thoughts, helpful emotions and hurtful emotions. Honesty with God helps us view ourselves honestly.