Dear Santa, I mean God, here is a long boring list of stuff I want.
Sometimes my prayers seem like the long lists I used to make for Santa after carefully studying the Sears and Roebuck catalog, the one that (fifty years ago) always arrived in the mail a month or so before Christmas. "Dear God, please give me this, this, and this." I have come to hate praying like that. Prayers like that are lists, not conversations. They lack any semblance of intimacy. To be intimate with God, I need to get past merely listing my wants, as important as some of them may be.
I grew up in a part of the church that regularly demonized my Catholic brothers and sisters in Christ. Looking back, it seems like nearly every message included a swipe at one or two of their so-called faults, sermons that were heavy on picking the specks out of their eyes, and light on dealing with sins and weaknesses of my own tradition. Recently I have begun to return to the practices of some of the Catholic saints to draw me closer to God. One such area is the practice of lectio divina, a way of prayerfully reflecting on scripture.
The practice centers on quietly reflecting on a brief passage four times, once to listen for key words and phrases, once to meditate on what the passage means to me, once to think about how I want it to affect me in the day to come, and once to shape a prayer.
Today my lectionary pointed me to Psalm 80. I start by asking God to speak to me through the passage and then taking the time to write it out word for word, noting words or phrases that caught my attention.
The phrases that stood out to me were "make your face shine upon us" and "Lord, God Almighty."
Next, I read it again, thinking more deeply about what Psalm 80 said. I made a list of the specific things that the psalmist asked of God, and I didn't see anything about healing for Aunt Betty's knee or "traveling mercies" for Uncle Bob. It's great to pray for things like these for people we love, but we need to go deeper. I went through the psalm again and listed the specific things that the writer asked of God.
Awaken your might and power on our behalf.
Come and save us.
Make your face shine upon us.
Return to us.
Look down from heaven and see us.
Watch over your people.
Let your right hand rest upon your people.
During my third reading of the psalm, I tried to turn each verse into a prayer, writing it down in my journal. Here is the prayer that resulted.
Lord God Almighty,
Hear my prayer, be aware of the words I amwriting.
Be my Shepherd and Lead me today.
I need you to protect me and to feed me.
Shine forth within family, within my church,and within me.
Shine your glory and your power.
Awaken all of your power and use it among us.
Do things that are beyond our comprehension.
Save us from dangers we know and from those wedon't.
Restore us, turn us back to you when we stray,and save us.
Do not let your anger smolder against us whenwe sin.
Rather, let your face shine upon us.
Give us the grace to repent when we need to.
When we turn or stray from you, we are broughtto tears.
We ruin our reputations and open ourselves upto mocking.
With your might, restore us.
May the glory and beauty of your name shine onus,
may it warm us and light a way before us.
Like the nation of Israel, you have planted usin a good spot and prospered.
In our weakness, we open ourselves up tothings that ravage us.
Come back to us, re-warm us, re-lead us, shineupon us once again.
Look down from heaven and see the dangers thatsurround us.
Don't merely look at us,
Watch us intently.
Watch my family.
Watch my church.
After watching us, place your right hand uponus.
Keep on raising us up so that we never turnaway from you.
Revive us, and we will call to you.
Make your face shine upon us,
So that we may continue to be saved.
This kind of prayer doesn't come naturally to me, but it comes easily when I allow scripture to prompt and shape it. And it is so much better than a boring list of stuff I want.