An old musical and a much older prayer

If you are old enough, or interested enough in old Broadway musicals, to remember Godspell from 1971, then some of the words of this prayer will sound familiar. They are included in the song “Day by Day” in Act I.  They seem so much more meaningful to me now than they did as an adolescent when I first heard them, likely at Sunday mass, where guitars and songs like that were used on a limited basis.

The prayer that inspired the song is actually way older than I ever knew.  It is worth quoting and praying in its entirety.

Thanks be to Thee my Lord Jesus Christ
For all the benefits which Thou hast given me;
For all the pains and insults Thou hast borne for me. 
O most merciful Redeemer, Friend and Brother,
May I know Thee more clearly;
Love Thee more dearly;
And follow Thee more nearly. Amen.

– Richard of Chichester (1197-1253), who served as Bishop of Chichester from 1245 to 1253.

Luke 18 – Verse by Verse

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This week Jesus teaches us to be bold and persistent in prayer.  He talks about grace and about the attitude we should have as we approach God.  Finally, he will remind us that his earthly ministry was always meant to end at the cross.

Luke 18.pdf

Luke 18.mp3

Here is a link to the livestream video:

 

A Prayer Prompted by Luke 18

Heavenly Father,

As we approach you in prayer, we want to leave behind any thoughts of our own merit, wisdom – and all confidence that we even know how to pray.

Our confidence is nothing more than trust in you. Give us boldness to come before you on the basis of your faithful love. And help us to be persistent in prayer.

Help us to live our lives in such a way as to store up treasure in heaven.

Not that we deserve any such thing, but again, we trust you and remember our constant need for your great grace.

And finally thank you for the cross, through which your Son Jesus has brought us into a right standing before you, by atoning for our sins.

It is in his name that we pray,

Amen

 

Grace illustrated – Luke 18:9-14

Luke 18 is where we find Christ’s “Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector.”  It provides a number of lessons, namely on prayer, humility and grace.  Luke’s one-sentence introduction to the parable gives us a clear picture of what it is like when our understanding is devoid of the concept of grace.

He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: 

What are such people thinking?  And what corrective would Christ offer to their error?  We are now ready to understand the parable.

10 “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ 13 But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ 14 I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”

The Pharisee in the story does in fact think himself to be righteous.  He seems to be trusting in himself and, in his heart, treating the tax collector with contempt.  The man is convinced that God must be looking upon him favorably, since he is extra holy in all that he does.  No doubt the Pharisee really was more righteous than the tax collector in all of his outwardly visible behavior.

The tax collector comes to the temple with a sense of need.  We might add that there is no other way to come before God.  Neither gratitude nor worship make much sense if we are not needy at some deeply known level.  Prayers of petition express our need most directly.  A request for mercy from God is perhaps the ultimate petition, since our very lives and standing before God are hanging in the balance.  At the white throne of judgment we won’t be thinking of Aunt Betsy’s headaches.

Yet the tax collector is at least confident enough to go to the temple.  He is not so ashamed as to run and hide and refuse to pray.  He has a basic understanding of grace and his need for it.  This is the perfect place to begin.

Performance-based religion places numerous obstacles on the path to a reconciled and satisfied soul.  On our bad days, we can find ourselves striving in futility in an attempt to get right with God.  On our good days, we can feel confident, but deep down we are trusting in ourselves.  Neither end of that spectrum leads quickly to grace.

Grace reminds us that our best behavior is still somehow tainted by sin, even if only by a sliver of a wrong motive lurking in our heart.  Grace also give us confidence, when we know we have not measured up, to go into God’s presence and seek his mercy.  Like the tax collector who went down to his house justified.

Your worst days are never so bad that you’re beyond the reach of God’s grace.  And your best days are never so good that you’re beyond the need of God’s grace.*

– Jerry Bridges, author, Navigators staff member (1929 – 2016).

* from Bridges, 2008. Holiness Day by Day, Colorado Springs: NavPress, 19.  Originally in The Discipline of Grace

Luke 17 – Verse by Verse

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Jesus gives us a number of lessons in this chapter.  We need to be careful, be forgiving full of faith.  He tells us to be servants, be thankful and to be ready for his return.

Luke 17.pdf

Luke 17.mp3

Here is a link to the livestream video:

A Prayer Prompted by Luke 17

Father in heaven,

You have been more than generous, more than merciful and more than kind to us. We learn so many things from Jesus in this chapter, so we want to ask the help of your Holy Spirit as we make an effort to put all of these lessons into practice.

Help us to be careful, so that we do not lead others into sin. Help us to be forgiving, because we know that we sin ourselves. We also know that others will be certain to sin against us.

Help us to be full of faith because we know that you answer prayer. Help us to be servants so that we all become more like Jesus.

Help us to be thankful and focus on our blessings first. And finally, help us to be ready. The Bible tells us that Jesus is coming soon. 

Maranatha! Come Lord Jesus!

In Christ,

Amen

Giving thanks – Luke 17:11-19

11 On the way to Jerusalem he was passing along between Samaria and Galilee. 12 And as he entered a village, he was met by ten lepers, who stood at a distance 13 and lifted up their voices, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.” 14 When he saw them he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went they were cleansed. 15 Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice; 16 and he fell on his face at Jesus’ feet, giving him thanks. Now he was a Samaritan. 17 Then Jesus answered, “Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine? 18 Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” 19 And he said to him, “Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well.”

Stopping to give thanks for our blessings is a simple thing to do, but at the same time is such an important lesson.  In the story above, only one out of ten did so.  Presumably the other nine did go on to show themselves to the priests, thereby obeying the command of Jesus and fulfilling the letter of the law.  That’s not bad, but returning first while praising God with a loud voice was even better.  Jesus remarks how odd it is that they didn’t all return together.

But isn’t that just like us sometimes?  We perform our duties, we get the job done, but we fail to acknowledge the wonderful hand of God in the process.  God gives, we receive and then just go about our business.  Paul reminds us of the importance of thanking God in 1 Thessalonians 5:18, saying

Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.

How often have we wondered about God’s will for us?  There it is.

Now in my estimation, that verse from 1 Thessalonians is hard enough, though I admit that doing God’s will is essential and truly works for our eternal benefit.  But this one,  Ephesians 5:20, is harder yet.

Giving thanks always for all things to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

It’s one thing to give thanks in all circumstances, quite another to give thanks for the circumstances themselves.  And yet “giving thanks always for all things” sure seems to include not only difficult circumstances, but pretty much anything we can think of, good or bad.  The lesson here is that if God allows something into our lives, it is somehow intended for our good, though that good may not be easy to see at the time.  I think of the book of Job or any number of tragic stories that we are personally familiar with.

These lessons are the advanced class.  If you are like me, we need to go back to the story of the lepers and remember to thank God for our blessings,  That should be easy and yet I too often fail even there.  Let’s begin with the basics.