Praying for Ukraine

Last Wednesday evening, the church gathered to pray. Not a specific congregation, but a good number of the people of God from the Rock Valley area. And we prayed for Ukraine and Russia. For me personally (and as was echoed in the prayer I offered on Wednesday), a psalm and a song give me words for the situation in eastern Europe. I’d like to share them with you here.

Psalm 54 (NIV)

Can you hear God’s people in Ukraine praying these words?
Can you pray these words in solidarity with them?

Save me, O God, by your name;
vindicate me by your might.
Hear my prayer, O God;
listen to the words of my mouth.
Arrogant foes are attacking me;
ruthless people are trying to kill me—
people without regard for God.
Surely God is my help;
the Lord is the one who sustains me.
Let evil recoil on those who slander me;
in your faithfulness destroy them.
I will sacrifice a freewill offering to you;
I will praise your name, Lord, for it is good.
You have delivered me from all my troubles,
and my eyes have looked in triumph on my foes.

Bring Peace to Earth Again

Where armies scourge the countryside,
and people flee in fear;
where sirens scream through flaming nights,
and death is ever near:
O God of mercy, hear our prayer:
bring peace to earth again!

O God, whose heart compassionate
bears every human pain,
redeem this violent, wounding world
till gentleness shall reign.
O God of mercy, hear our prayer:
bring peace to earth again!

written by Herman G. Stuempfle, Jr.
© 1996 World Library Publications
This hymn is included in Lift Up Your Hearts and at Hymnary.

Satisfied

A few weeks ago I spoke on Isaiah 55 about satisfaction and how we (myself included) are regularly tempted to look for satisfaction in things that ultimately don’t satisfy us. In my research, I found a poem and a prayer about inviting God to fill our deepest hunger.

:: :: ::

Feed Your Starving Soul

by Linda Siebenga
originally appeared in Christian Courier 2912 (9 May 2011)

Not just the nibble
we remember eating yesterday,
or that meal last Sunday
the pastor spoon fed us
as he waited for us
to want meat and potatoes.

We feed our bodies
more fuel than they can burn
but starve our souls
with skimpy feedings:
a little here
a little there
when a feast of wisdom and comfort
is in our grasp.

“Come and eat,” the prophet urges.
“Buy wine without money that your soul may live.”

Taste the honey of Psalm 139,
a platter of Isaiah 55,
the comfort food of Philippians 4,
the meat of Romans 8.
Chew the pithy parables.
Taste samples of the stories of those
who have wrestled with God.

Tomorrow dish it up again;
digest it so you may thrive,
grow strong,
mature and produce fruit.


:: :: ::


Prayer of Confession

by N. Graham Standish
originally appeared in Let Us Pray: Reformed Prayers
for Christian Worship
(Geneva Press, 2002)

There is a deep hunger within us, O Christ, for the food only you can give us: the bread of life found in you. We need you so desperately in our lives, and only you can satisfy our deep hunger. Yet we are such an impatient people. We want to be fed by you, but we don’t always want to sit at your table. We want fast spiritual food, not the nourishing food that comes through patient prayer, quiet reflection, service, thanksgiving, understanding, and virtue. We want your saving grace to work in a hurry so we can experience your blessings and peace now. We are not always willing to undergo the slow transformation that allows you to enter our very souls. Help us to [respond to your invitation and] come to you with repentant hearts so that in your grace we [will be filled and satisfied, going forth as] your disciples, your servants, your apostles. In Christ’s name we pray. Amen.

Isaiah 55 graphic found at TodayInTheWord.org

Garden my life

Koehn Garden at the Greater Des Moines Botanical Garden

God is a gardener. At the beginning of time He plants and walks around in the Garden of Eden. The risen Christ appears in a garden (and is mistaken for a gardener). And the end of time culminates in a beautiful garden-city called New Jerusalem.

God’s gardening work extends into my life as a prayer by Philip F. Reinders in Seeking God’s Face reminded me afresh. I invite you to make this prayer your own as I did.

Creator God, garden my life –
turn it over,
cultivate it,
and make it ready for gospel seeds to take root.
And in quiet darkness let the gospel do its work,
slow but powerful,
stirring up life in my heart,
increasing joy,
strengthening all your graces
until shoots of new life rise and good fruit
bursts forth on the branches of my life,
a life beautiful for you
and a blessing to others. Amen.

::– –::– –::

Here’s another prayer with a similar theme. It’s written by Handt Hanson and it’s one you can sing.

Prayers for the pandemic

Coronavirus graphic found with Google

It’s hard to find words to express what’s in my heart in light of the illness and anxiety caused by the coronavirus pandemic. I’ve come across numerous meaningful prayers offered by others. Here are two of the shortest and simplest and (in my opinion) profoundest.

Prayers with Children
God of love and hope,
you made the world and care for all creation,
but the world feels strange right now.
The news is full of stories about coronavirus.
Some people are worried that they might get ill.
Others are anxious for their family and friends.
Be with them and help them to find peace.
We pray for the doctors and nurses and scientists,
and all who are working to discover the right medicines
to help those who are ill.
Thank you that even in these anxious times, you are with us.
Help us to put our trust in you and keep us safe. Amen.
– from the Church of England


Prayer for the Christian Community
We are not people of fear:
we are people of courage.
We are not people who protect our own safety:
we are people who protect our neighbours’ safety.
We are not people of greed:
we are people of generosity.
We are your people God, giving and loving,
wherever we are, whatever it costs
for as long as it takes wherever you call us.
Barbara Glasson, Methodist Church (London)


More prayers:

:: Prayer for a Pandemic by Cameron Bellm

:: A Pray to God in Anxious Times by Cornelius Plantinga, Jr.

:: Prayers for People Affected by the New Coronavirus
:: by Kathryn Reid, World Vision

:: CRC Centre for Public Dialogue

Humility prayer

Last month I enjoyed attending a conference for pastors in Calgary (with a daytrip to Banff!) organized by the Pastor Church Resources office of the Christian Reformed Church. Our worship time included the prayer below, adapted from the Litany of Humility, a prayer attributed to Rafael Cardinal Merry del Val, who likely drew from earlier sources. The words are memorable and powerful; I’ve found myself returning to them numerous times since the conference.

From the desire of being praised,
deliver us, Jesus.
From the desire of being esteemed,
deliver us, Jesus.
From the desire of being honored,
deliver us, Jesus.
From the desire of being preferred to others,
deliver us, Jesus.
From the desire of being consulted,
deliver us, Jesus.
From the desire of being approved,
deliver us, Jesus.
From the desire of comfort and ease,
deliver us, Jesus.
From the fear of being humiliated,
deliver us, Jesus.
From the fear of being criticized,
deliver us, Jesus.
From the fear of being passed over,
deliver us, Jesus.
From the fear of being forgotten,
deliver us, Jesus.
From the fear of being lonely,
deliver us, Jesus.
From the fear of being hurt,
deliver us, Jesus.

That others may be loved more than ourselves,
Jesus, grant us the grace to desire it.
That others may be chosen and we ourselves set aside,
Jesus, grant us the grace to desire it.
That others may be praised and we ourselves go unnoticed,
Jesus, grant us the grace to desire it.

O Jesus, meek and humble of heart,
make our lives like Yours.
O Jesus, meek and humble of heart,
strengthen us with Your Spirit.
O Jesus, meek and humble of heart, Hands graphic found with Google
help us put our
self-importance aside
to learn the kind
of cooperation
with others
that make possible
the presence of Your
Abba’s household.

Calls to prayer

Retired CRC Pastor Dale Vander Veen graciously welcomed
me to share with you these reflections he wrote.

Adherents of Islam are required to pray five times daily—at dawn, noon, afternoon, evening, and nightfall. Muezzins (criers) announce the prayer times from the minaret or tower of the mosque.

Our community is a rather quiet one compared to the almost incessant noises of large cities. Arriving home last night we did hear an automobile alarm. Almost daily we hear the arrival of the mail with the telltale hum of the USPS truck. We enjoy the susurration of the automatic sprinkler system. Yesterday we heard a radio and teenage conversation as a quartet of high schoolers sealed our deck. Occasionally we hear the plop of the newspaper on the front porch. The squeaky brakes of the trash truck and the unmuffled roar of the lawnmowers remind us what day of the week it is.

Why not consider those noises as calls to prayer—God’s very earthly and earthy muezzins? When I hear the sirens of an emergency vehicle, why not pray for the first-responders and those they are rushing to assist? When I hear the squeak of the trash and recycling trucks, why not pray for the driver and his family? I have heard those drivers step on the brakes over a thousand times in the last sixteen years and never thought of praying for them. How many other calls to prayer have I missed in my preoccupation with myself?

The disciples saw the crowds as hungry people to send away. Jesus saw them as hungry people to feed. Are the city noises signs of people to ignore or calls from God to pray?

Graphic found with Google

“When [Jesus] saw the crowds, he had compassion on them,
because they were harassed and helpless,
like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples,
‘The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few.
Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore,
to send out workers into his harvest field.’”
~ Matthew 9:36-38 ~

Make me your manger

Christmas Manger

And she gave birth to her firstborn, a son.
She wrapped him in cloths and placed Him in a manger…
This will be a sign to you:
you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger…
So [the shepherds] hurried off and found Mary and Joseph,
and the baby, who was lying in the manger.

— Luke 2:7, 12, 16


Come, Lord Jesus, make me a place
where you can rest.

Make me a place where others will see you
and find peace and joy.

Make me a place where the empty
will be fed by your presence.

Make me a place where the unimportant
will find their significance as they gaze at you.

Make me a place where lost people
will see the light of your face.

Make me a place where the hardened
will be softened by your tenderness.

Make me a place where the helpless
will find help through your seeming helplessness.

Make me a place that people will forget when they leave,
caught up in the joy of the One who makes his residence in me.

Make me a manger—
of your grace,
your mercy,
and your life.


Thou didst leave thy throne and thy kingly crown
when thou camest to earth for me;
but in Bethlehem’s home was there found no room
for thy holy nativity.
O come to my heart, Lord Jesus—
there is room in my heart for thee.

Heaven’s arches rang when the angels sang,
proclaiming thy royal degree;
but of lowly birth didst thou come to earth,
and in great humility.
O come to my heart, Lord Jesus—
there is room in my heart for thee.
— from Emily E.S. Elliot’s hymn, “Thou Didst Leave Thy Throne”


This was Dale Vander Veen’s daily e-devotional for 21 Dec 2018
which he gracious welcomed me to share with you.
Email dalevanderveen@sbcglobal.net
to receive his daily e-devotions yourself.

Pointers for praying

Praying child graphic found via Google

I just read an article mentioning a Dordt College professor who was well known and loved for the way he opened each class with prayer. (The writer did not say who the professor was; I wonder if someone reading this knows.) He’d look at the students in the room with a big smile on his face, say “Let’s talk to God,” and then start praying a prayer like this:

Hi, God. What an awesome day you made today. The raindrops fed all the flowers, and the puddles are perfect for jumping in. Thanks for shady trees and yoyo strings. Thanks for giving us elbows so we could bend our arms in so many ways. How do you think of such cool things, Lord? Please watch over our friends who aren’t here today. The ones with runny noses, the ones who are feeling sad, and those who are far away. And, God, we’re sorry for hurting people’s feelings and not doing the stuff we’re supposed to do. Thanks for loving us even when we mess up. We love you, Lord. Amen.

What personal yet meaningful times of prayer for that college class! It turns out prayers do not have to be formal and loaded with thees and thous (though God certainly hears and answers those, too). Yes, knowing the person and work of the almighty God instills reverence within me, but reverence need not exclusively be expressed through formality. The God who created and rules the universe is the same God who wants to be friends with me.

Prayers do not need to be fancy. Just as I don’t always have to first rehearse and edit what I say to my loved ones (though that sometimes prevents me from blabbing something dumb!), God is happy when I stop what I’m doing, acknowledge his presence, and simply tell him about something great that’s happening or something that’s worrying me.

Prayers do not need to be perfect. God does not grade my prayers. All he asks is that they are heartfelt. And having an eye open to details and beauty around me doesn’t hurt either. Just as the Dordt professor thanked God for yoyos and elbows, I can thank God for everything from corn plants bursting through the soil and a friend’s last chemotherapy treatment to my favorite flavor of ice cream and for how I have opposable thumbs.

So please be careful with your comments when a person prays out loud. When you tell someone (a host at a meal, for example) they did a good job praying, you’re revealing that instead of praying with them in your heart, you were evaluating them. Or if you laugh when someone (a child, perhaps) prays for their sick cat, they may doubt the truth that God cares about every aspect of our lives, to say nothing about them becoming self-conscious and maybe refusing to pray aloud again. If you feel compelled to say something to the one who offered a prayer, a simple “Thank You” will suffice.

I wrote this column for this week’s Rock Valley Bee.
It was adapted from
a post on the CRC Network which also
lists several practical ways you can try praying.

Praying to our heavenly Father on Father’s Day

488443308

I’m leading the morning prayer at Trinity CRC this Sunday and wanted to ensure I prayed for fathers, it being Father’s Day. In looking for good wording, I came across a meaningful prayer by Rev. Chuck Currie which I adapted slightly and plan to include in my prayer.

You reveal yourself to us as Abba, Father. We are your children; you are the perfect parent.

On Father’s Day we pause to remember and thank the earthly fathers in our lives. Fatherhood does not come with a manual, and reality teaches us that some fathers excel while others fail. We ask for your blessings for them all and forgiveness where it is needed. We remember the many sacrifices fathers make for their children and families, and the ways – both big and small – they lift children to achieve dreams thought beyond reach. So too, we remember all those who have helped fill the void when fathers pass early or are absent; grandfathers and uncles, brothers and cousins, teachers, pastors and coaches and the women of our families, too.

For those who are fathers, we ask for wisdom and humility in the face of the task of parenting. Give them the strength to do well by their children and by you.

A prayer for the dignity of life

Fetal heartbeat graphic found via Google

Earlier this month the Iowa Legislature passed a bill banning abortions after a fetal heartbeat is detected. The Sunday after this was in the news, I included these lines in the prayer I offered during Trinity CRC’s morning service:


Thank you, God, for leaders in government who have been listening to those who advocate for the voiceless – the unborn. Use recent legislation to reduce the number of abortions in Iowa, the US, and even around the world. Transform the hearts of people – perhaps including us at times – who reduce sex to merely a pleasurable thing for selfish enjoyment with no intention of commitment toward the other person or possibly a child. Forgive us for any time we have thought of a child as a nuisance or a burden instead of as a blessing from you. Bring healing to those of us who have had an abortion or are close to someone who has. Increase in each of us here and in the leaders of this state and nation the realization that every life is a gift and has dignity, that every person – whether in the womb or approaching death’s door – bears your image.

Praying the psalms unselfishly

If the psalms cover all the different emotions I experience in life, chances are good that there’s at least one psalm that expresses what I’m presently feeling. But because there are so many different emotions and corresponding psalms, chances are also good that the particular psalm I read today will not directly connect with what I’m feeling. For example, today’s psalm in my daily psalm reading may be a psalm of lament which does not match my good mood and general optimism at present. Or today’s psalm may be filled with praise even though I may be nearly in tears with frustration.

There are at least two ways to deal with discrepancies between the tone of a particular psalm and how I am presently feeling. One way is to simply skip ahead to another psalm until I find and can pray one that more accurately expresses the state of my heart and mind. The despair in Psalm 22 is followed by the hope of Psalm 23. At least one line in one of those two psalms ought to resonate with me!

But a way to stick with a psalm that doesn’t happen to match my present mood is to consider how it does perfectly match the feelings of othersHolding hands graphic found via Google near or far in the faith community. I may not feel like lamenting at the moment, but I can still express the lament in solidarity with sisters and brothers in Christ who are presently experiencing pain. Or if today’s psalm in my daily psalm reading is one filled with praise despite me being in foul mood, I can still read and pray it thinking of others who are having a great day, learning to thank God (and not complain to him!) for their happy circumstances. A suitable prayer to accompany reading a psalm in this way goes something like this: “God, these words do not reflect my present experience or state of mind, but there are others in the world for whom these words fit perfectly. I lift them up before you and pray these words in solidarity with them knowing we are united in Christ.”

Moreover, reading and praying a psalm that doesn’t match how I’m presently feeling may help me better identify with someone who is feeling the emotions the psalm portrays. For example, reading a pain-filled psalm may help me better understand and relate with someone who is presently filled with anguish. When I skip over such a psalm to find a cheerier portion of Scripture, I deny myself the opportunity to grow in empathy by putting myself in someone else’s shoes.

Instead of finding a psalm I can more easily relate to, I hear the Holy Spirit inviting me to read each psalm unselfishly, praying for and identifying with those for whom the words may hit closer to home. The Spirit may even surprise me from time to time by showing me how the words are more applicable to me than I originally presumed.

This post is inspired in part by Martin Tel’s comments
in the webinar he led last month for CRC Worship Ministries
titled “Creative Use of the Psalms in Worship.”

Falling asleep while praying

Sleeping cat photo found via Google

From time to time, Monica or I (you’ll have to guess who) am asleep by the time the other is done praying at bedtime. Sometimes we chuckle about it. Sometimes it makes us feel guilty.

Then I read this in Kevin G. Harney’s book Seismic Shifts (it’s a long quote but worth reading)…

Seismic Shifts by Kevin G. Harney[This is] a picture that captures the heart of prayer. It comes from a confession I have heard many Christians make over the years: “I feel guilty because there are many evenings I try to pray but end up falling asleep right in the middle of my prayer time.” These people feel they let God down each time they doze off be­fore uttering their official Amen for the day.

This is what I tell them, and I hope it speaks to your heart.

Imagine a mother cradling her 5-year-old girl in her arms. It is the end of the day, and the two are talking. The mom is telling her about the plans for tomorrow. The little girl is talking about the fun she had that day. As the daughter talks, she yawns and rubs her eyes. They keep chatting, but the little girl is fading quickly. The mother looks down at the one she loves so tenderly. As they are talking, in midsentence, her little girl falls asleep, right in her arms.

How does the mother feel? Is she angry? Disappointed?

As the mother looks on her precious daughter, she smiles and rejoices. There is no other place she would rather have her little girl fall asleep.

When we end our day with God and we happen to doze off, he is not angry or disappointed. He holds us in his arms, embraces us, and gives us a kiss on the forehead. God loves to be with us, to speak to us, and hear what is on our hearts. And if we happen to fall asleep in his arms, it brings joy to his heart. There is no better place for us to end a busy day.
(pages 95-96)

Granted, if I consistently fall asleep while praying because talking with God has become boring or I consign him only the final few drowsy moments of a too-busy day, it might be a good idea to rethink my prayer habits. However, if I fall asleep in the loving and familiar embrace of our Father’s love, well, what father won’t be filled with deep satisfaction and joy?

I think also of how sleep (and sleeping securely in safety) is a gift for which the psalmist prays (here and here). I like imagining God answering that request even before the psalmist is finished asking for it!

I wrote this column for The Rock Valley Bee.
It combines a couple of popular blog posts I wrote
soon after I started blogging.