A Guide to Daily Devotions for Members of Amelia Plantation Chapel
Approaches to prayer. . .
Beginning to Pray
We all come to prayer with a tangled mass of motives – altruistic and selfish, merciful and hateful, loving and bitter. Frankly, this side of eternity we will never unravel the good from the bad, the loving and the bitter. But what I have come to see is that God is big enough to receive us with all our mixture. We do not have to be bright, or pure, or filled with faith, or anything. That is what grace means, and not only are we saved by grace, we live by it as well. And we pray by it……..
We will never have pure enough motives, or be good enough, or know enough in order to pray rightly. We simply must set all these things aside and begin praying. In fact, it is in the very act of prayer itself – the intimate, ongoing interaction with God – that these matters are cared for in due time.
Richard Foster: Prayer, 1992
The crucial and liberating truth to grasp is that it is it is actually me-as-I-am that God is wanting to meet when I pray. The incredible fact is that GOD WANTS TO MEET ME! What a wonderful truth! But how rarely it sinks in. It is because of this that we may have the freedom in prayer to be just who we are, and how we are, with no super-spiritual act, no pretence.
It is because God has reconciled us to himself that we are able to meet him in prayer – not because of how we are or the way we feel. This means, then, that I don’t have to wait until I’m feeling ‘good enough’ or ‘spiritual enough’ to pray.
Paul Wallis: Rough Ways in Prayer, 1991
To Pray is To Live
Praying is no easy matter. It demands a relationship in which you allow the other to enter into the very center of your person, to speak there, to touch the sensitive core of your being, and allow the other to see so much that you would rather leave in darkness. And when do you really want to do that? Perhaps you would let the other come across the threshold to say something, to touch something, but to allow the other into that place where your life gets its form, that is dangerous and calls for defense.
The resistance to praying is like the resistance of tightly clenched fists. This image shows the tension, the desire to cling tightly to yourself, a greediness which betrays fear…. When you dare to let go and surrender one of those many fears, your hand relaxes and your palms spread out in a gesture of receiving. You must have patience, of course, before your hands are completely open and their muscles relaxed……
Then you feel a bit of new freedom, and praying becomes a joy, a spontaneous reaction to the world and the people around you. Praying becomes effortless, inspired, and lively or peaceful and quiet. Then you recognize the festive and the modest as moments of prayer. You begin to suspect that to pray is to live.
Henri Nouwen: Springs of Hope, 1989
Prayer Never Ends
Prayer is the sum of our relationship with God.
We are what we pray.
The degree of our faith is the degree of our prayer. The strength of our hope is the strength of our prayer. The warmth of our charity is the warmth of our prayer. No more nor less.
Our prayer has had a beginning because we have had a beginning. But it will have no end. It will accompany us into eternity and will be completed in our contemplation of God, when we join in the harmony of heaven and are ‘filled with the flood of God’s delights’. The story of our earthly-heavenly life will be the story of our prayer.
Carlo Caretto: Letter from the Desert, 1972
These selections have been taken from The Complete Book of Christian Prayer, Continuum, New York, 2000
Reasons daily devotions are necessary. . .
Christian disciples are called to follow Jesus, and to become like him. He found it necessary to pray: “Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed.” (Mark 1:35). He prayed before making important decisions (Luke 6:12). He prayed for Peter (Luke 22:32). He prayed for us and for our unity (John 17:20). He prayed when facing suffering (Matthew 26:39). He prayed before he died on the Cross (Luke 23:34). He expected his disciples (followers) to pray: “When you pray, say: Our Father…” (Luke 11:2-4)
The people of God prayed: Moses, Hannah, David, Solomon, Jeremiah, Daniel, Stephen, Paul. James said to pray for wisdom (James 1:5), and for the sick (James 5:13-18). Paul said to “pray all the time” (1 Thessalonians 5:17), and “pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests.” (Ephesians 6:18)
If we want to develop a close relationship with a friend we will need to communicate with one another. Friendship requires conversation. God speaks to us through the Scriptures, and we speak with him in prayer. Jesus said, “I have called you friends.” (John 15:15) Friendship with God is a tremendous privilege which needs to be maintained on a daily basis. Jesus came to share with us life in all its fullness (John 10:10). Communion with God is necessary for us to experience that fullness, wholeness and peace. “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6,7)
Excuses for not praying. . .
“I am too busy.”
Jesus said to Martha, “you are worried and upset about too many things, but only one thing is needed.” (Luke 10:42) So much of our busyness is a way of covering up for our lack of inner life. If we are too busy to pray, we are too busy to live.
“I am too depressed.”
We don’t wait until we feel good before we pray. Jesus said that “we should always pray and not give up.” (Luke 18:5) We cannot hide behind our feelings, our doubts, our discouragement. Instead we can learn to trust that God will hear us, and we can learn to persevere in prayer.
“I can take care of myself.”
This is a dangerous situation to be in because we may find ourselves having to be taught a lesson in humility. The people of Israel were deceived by the Gibeonites because they “did not inquire of the Lord.” (Joshua 9:14) We can make serious mistakes in our lives because we think that we do not need to seek the Lord’s will in the decisions we make.
“I am too bitter.”
Self-pity causes us to say, “How can I be expected to pray when I have suffered so much?” Jesus said, “If you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.” (Mark 11:25) Our tendency is to think that we deserve only the best from life and from God. When we realize that we are not perfect, and that we need to be forgiven, we will see that we need to forgive others. We damage only ourselves if we nurture bitterness in our hearts.
“I am satisfied with the present level of my faith.”
When we are comfortable with our life-style, our priorities and our opinions we are tempted to mediocrity in religion, and see our faith as merely a means to our ends. As a result we often major on minors, and become self-centered and self-righteous as well as self-satisfied. Prayer lets the light of Christ shine on our motives, and changes our attitudes. Jesus said, “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.” (Luke 11:9,10) When we pray we will discover that God wants to give us more than we ever dreamed possible.
“My praying won’t change anything.”
God is in the business of creation and salvation. He enlists us in this process. Just as the earth needs to be cultivated by farmers to bring forth crops, so our lives, and the lives of the people for whom we pray, are affected by prayer. The Butterfly Effect is the name given to the interaction of all created life: the action of wings of a butterfly in Africa affects the weather in North America. Quantum physics says that all matter is interconnected, even at the level of subatomic particles. Everything exists in relationship. A change or movement in one particle sets off a tremendous change in others – like the movement of a mobile. God uses our prayers to contribute to his work in the world. “I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything you ask for, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven.” (Matthew 18:19) “The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.” (James 5:16)
“I can’t sit still that long.”
There is no prescribed form or position for prayer. You can do it walking the dog or driving, just as well as sitting in your favorite chair. You don’t have to say certain words or follow a set format, or adopt ‘prayer behavior’.
“I can’t feel God’s presence.”
How you enter God’s presence is your own business. Sometimes we become aware of God and at other times there is a sense of absence of God. Your intention of being with God is more important than feeling that God has to make his presence known. Strokes may cause you to feel forsaken by God and faith seems less real. That is when you need just to ‘be’ in the presence of God “in whom we live and move and have our being.” (Acts 17:28)
Format for daily devotions. . .
This is one way you can develop a devotional life. Find a time you can be quiet and alone with God. Jesus said, “When you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” (Matthew 6:6) This can be in the morning, or lunchtime, or in the evening before you go to bed. There is no better way to begin the day than with God.
John Stott, under whom I began my ministry at All Souls Church, Langham Place in London, England begins each day with a prayer like this:
“Good morning, heavenly Father. Good morning, Lord Jesus. Good morning, Holy Spirit.”
John then went on to worship each member of the Trinity individually, acknowledging and praising them for their work in the lives of believers. He would pray,
“Father, I pray that I may live this day in Your Presence, and please You more and more. Lord, Jesus, I pray that this day I may take up my cross and follow You. Holy Spirit, I pray that this day You will fill me with Yourself and cause Your fruit to ripen in my life: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Holy, blessed, and glorious Trinity, three Persons in one God, have mercy upon me. Amen.”
Keep a daily journal by recalling the significant moments in your previous day. Writing down what happened in your life yesterday will enable you to evaluate the incidents and identify the patterns of your life to see what God is saying to you in them.
Read a portion of Scripture using some sort of method such as The Upper Room or Bible Reading Center, or Our Daily Bread. Reflect upon God’s Word and ask what he is saying to you in it. What lesson does he have for you? What promise can you claim? What encouragement does it contain? Acquire a good study Bible such as The NIV Study Bible, The Disciples’ Study Bible, The Application Bible, or The Inspirational Bible. They contain notes that can help you to apply what you read to your life. To enrich your meditations I also recommend using other devotional classics such as Max Lucado’s, Grace For The Moment, or Oswald Chambers’, My Utmost For His Highest. Remember the words of Psalm 119:105 “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path.” Paul writes, “There’s nothing like the written Word of God for showing you the way to salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. Every part of Scripture is God-breathed and useful one way or another – showing us truth, exposing our rebellion, correcting our mistakes, training us to live God’s way. Through the Word we are put together and shaped up for the tasks God has for us.” (2 Timothy 3:15-17)
Use an outline of prayer, such as the acrostic ACTS.
A Stands for Adoration
Begin by becoming aware of the presence of God. “Be still and know that I am God.” (Ps.46)
“The prior act of praying for the awareness of God’s presence accomplishes two things. It helps you to focus your attention on God, and it heightens your sensitivity to the things of the Spirit, opening up your consciousness to signs of God’s presence. You are on the alert, waiting expectantly, vigilant. So the next step on this journey is to assume an attitude of alert but relaxed attention. Mindfulness. You must cease your frenzied rush from one thing to another. Do one thing at a time, quietly, letting your mind and heart be filled with the gift of the present moment. And begin to be present to – look around for – signs and symptoms of God within and without.
“The signs of God’s presence are there. The awareness of presence will come. But you yourself cannot force it, nor can you create it. It can’t be imitated, faked. God acts in God’s own time. The gift of God’s Self is always present and constant within you if you are trying to love others and to be present to them as Jesus was to his friends. By your own efforts you can be present to others and experience their presence to you. But your conscious awareness of God’s own presence, this Gift of Gifts, is above and beyond your power to provide for yourself. It truly is the entrance into eternal life; it is the kingdom of Heaven on earth, experienced in time. And it is pure gift, a gift you will receive once you realize you desire it more than any other thing on earth. However, you can prepare for it by imagining this presence, visualizing God there, by your side, talking with you, just ‘being with’ you.”
Jane Marie Thibault, A Deepening Love Affair, The Gift of God in Later Life, 1993
Spend time praising God for his character and his works. Use a psalm such as Psalm 103, or a hymn. Time spent in such worship draws us to appreciate God’s love and goodness, fosters such qualities in us, and is a corrective to self-centeredness. Adoration nurtures reverence and humility in our souls.
C stands for confession.
“It requires that we take a totally honest look at who we are and what we have been and want to be. It involves placing what we find into the hands of God. …What does this mean for us? It means that we are products of violence in our families, even peaceful families. How were you hurt? How did you hurt back? How do you continue to hurt others because that is what you learned early in life? Many of us hurt back by turning inward against ourselves. Nearly all of us are hurt in some way, for in the ‘olden days’ violence in the family, in schools, and in society was not considered ‘abuse’ or even ‘violence’ because nearly everyone was engaged in it – it was the accepted mode of discipline. Now we are being called to look at it, to admit it, and to repent of it by learning new and loving behaviors.”
Jane Marie Thibault.
What patterns of behavior do you observe about yourself? Do you have the need to control your own life, and be independent of others? Are you guilty of being obsessive-compulsive? What is your addiction? Where do you get your value? Perhaps you are the product of emotional absence in your family of origin, and suffer from love deficits which make it difficult for you to affirm others, and be warm and loving in relationships. Know yourself so that you can work with Christ to develop into his image.
Admit your weaknesses, and sins of commission and omission: the things that you have done that you ought not to have done, and the things you have not done that you ought to have done.
It is valuable sometimes to examine your life by the ten commandments as interpreted by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7); or the Seven Deadly Sins: gluttony, lust, avarice, anger, envy, sloth and pride; or Paul’s Hymn of Love (1 Corinthians 13): “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast. It is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.”
“Who can discern his errors? Forgive my hidden faults.” (Psalm 19:12) Come to the Cross in repentance, and seek the cleansing of forgiveness based on the atoning sacrifice of Christ for your sins. Ask that the Holy Spirit would fill you so that you may produce in your life the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.
T stands for thanksgiving.
Review all of God’s blessings in your life and be grateful. We will never appreciate all that we enjoy unless we recall them to mind. Gratitude puts all our needs into perspective. We take so many things for granted in our lives for which we never give thanks. The ability to live and love, to walk and talk, to see and be seen, are gifts of God. Even when we are impaired or handicapped in any way we have so much. “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights.” (James 1:17)
S stands for supplication.
Pray for yourself, and your needs. Remember your family and friends, and others who have asked for your prayers. Pray for our nation, for the work of the Chapel, your Pastor, and other missionary work. Pray for your fellow-members in the Body of Christ. There are blank pages you can use at the back of this Manual to list your personal prayer requests, and the names of those you want to pray for. “With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all believers.” (Ephesians 6:18)
A prayer for healing:
Heavenly Father, the source of all health, uphold and fill …(name)… with grace, that he (or she) may know the healing power of your love. May they know your peace which passes all understanding. Give him (or her) courage and patience in their sickness. May they know that your loving arms surround them at all times. May he (or she) be released from suffering and become whole so that he (or she) can fulfill your purposes for his (or her) life. May his (or her) faith not fail him (or her) but be a constant source of strength. Deliver him (or her) from all evil, preserve him (or her) in all goodness, and bring him (or her) to everlasting life; through our Savior Jesus Christ our Lord, in whose name we pray. Amen.
Different kinds of prayers. . .
Sometimes it is a help to use books of prayers, the prayers of others, or hymns and songs. There are many books on the practice of prayer including contemplative and centering prayer. Some people find it helpful to write out their prayers each day. It serves to keep their minds from wandering and focuses them. Use the method that suits your personality and need. “The Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express.” (Romans 8:26)
Interceding for others. . .
I have always been impressed by the words of Samuel to the people of Israel: “As for me, far be it from me that I should sin against the Lord by failing to pray for you.” (1 Sam.12:23) Intercessory prayer is a ministry in itself. “Since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you.” (Colossians 1:9) Intercession is a test of our unselfishness in prayer. You don’t have to know someone personally to pray for them. What we do affects the lives of others.
What should we pray for others? Paul writes, “asking God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding. And we pray this in order that you might live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and joyfully giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light.” (Colossians 1:10-12)
Jesus prayed for the disciples that they would be protected from the evil one, “Holy Father protect them by the power of your name.” (John 17:11,15) As I pray for others I ask God to put it in their hearts to seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and that they may be guided in his Way.
Praying in these ways for others is a form of loving your neighbor as yourself. It is a means of proclaiming the Gospel. It is a form of serving. Make time in your prayers, for intercession. By so doing you will forward the work of the Gospel in the world, you will strengthen the community of the Chapel, and you will be effective in God’s service.
Pray for the people whose names are listed on the day of the month in which they recur.
Pray for the work of the Chapel that we may fulfill our mission statement and vision.
Pray for our leaders: the President, administration, members of Congress, the Courts, our armed forces, FBI, CIA, police, fire services, and all in public service.
“I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone – for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good and pleases God our Savior, who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.” (1 Timothy 2:1-4)
Almighty God, the ruler of the nations, we commend the United States of America to your merciful care, that we may be guided by you, and that we may dwell secure in your peace, protected from our enemies. Defend our police and armed forces with your heavenly grace; give them courage and a sense of your abiding presence wherever they may be. Give to the President, members of Congress, officers of our Courts, and all who are in positions of authority, wisdom and strength to do your will. Fill them with a love of truth and righteousness, and the desire to serve for the good of the people, so that there may be liberty and justice for all. Make us a force for peace in the world we pray, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.