On Prayer: A Collect for Grace
By Taylor Burton-Edwards
O Lord, our heavenly Father,
almighty and everlasting God,
who has safely brought us to the beginning of this day:
Defend us in the same with thy mighty power;
and grant that this day we fall into no sin,
neither run into any kind of danger;
but that we, being ordered by thy governance,
may do always what is righteous in thy sight;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
For those Methodists who were using Mr. Wesley's Sunday Service in the late 18th century, the prayer above would likely have been offered at least every Sunday morning near the end of Morning Prayer, which would have immediately preceded the service of Word and Table. For Anglicans, it was (and remains) a prayer that may have been (and by many still is) offered every day at morning prayer. A number of United Methodists who are part of the Order of Saint Luke, the Order of St. Brigid or other religious orders who pray the daily office may pray it frequently, if not daily, as well.
The language of this collect is particularly evocative. It says exactly what we need to say as we begin the day. God has brought us through the night, and we are grateful. We have another day before us. But we confess here that we're poor stewards, bad managers of this gift.
And we confess why.
It seems to us that powers beyond our control try to push us and pull us in nearly every direction but that which reflects the good governance of God. We find ourselves often tossed to and fro, carried about by every passing breeze of doctrine, feeling, or demand. We are prone to fall into sin, not even meaning to. We live in a fog, in a sort of perpetual attention deficit disorder toward God. Our minds race, and in our anxious state we run into all sorts of danger. We need nothing less than the mighty power of God to defend us against this onslaught of distractions and traps-- some from within ourselves, others from outside sources, none under our command-- so that we may, indeed, be ordered by God's governance and always do what is righteous in God's sight.
We need grace that sustains us and defends us, grace that forgives us, and grace that reminds us to do one thing needful that can help re-center and maintain the centering of our lives in God-- prayer.
Sweet hour of prayer! sweet hour of prayer!
that calls me from a world of care,
and bids me at my Father's throne
make all my wants and wishes known.
In seasons of distress and grief,
my soul has often found relief,
and oft escaped the tempter's snare
by thy return, sweet hour of prayer!
(William Walford, 1772-1850. Public Domain)
While Walford's familiar text probably refers to time for personal prayer-- which, among early Methodists, was literally an hour every morning, starting at 4:30 a.m. if we're following John Wesley and Francis Asbury as guides -- prayer can also be a true source of relief from distress and deliverance from the tempter, individually and corporately, in services of public worship-- if we give time and attentiveness enough for it where we are.
And if we teach our worshiping communities both to expect and how to receive such relief and deliverance as we pray together in worship and in daily personal practices of prayer.
But relief and deliverance alone are not all the collect asks for. The purpose of prayer is not to make us feel better, but to enable us and our neighbors to live better. We ask that we may live "ordered by thy governance, that we may always do what is righteous in thy sight." God's governance not only rescues us from sin and error, but leads us into all righteousness and truth.
Living under God's governance isn't accomplished through prayer as a quick fix. It is only accomplished through regular, ongoing and attentive practice.
Considering that the majority of those you see in worship on Sunday morning may have no real practices of prayer in their daily lives, what do you do in worship-- and what will you do next -- to ensure that more of those who gather will have a genuine opportunity to experience relief and deliverance through prayer in worship?
And then, what do you do and what will you do to offer prayer and invite people into practices of prayer that enable their lives to be more ordered by God's governance so they may learn to "do always what is righteous in God's sight?"