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Daily Prayer - 2013-12-19

Presence

Lord, help me to be fully alive to your Holy presence.
Enfold me in your love.
Let my heart become one with yours.

Freedom

Lord, you created me to live in freedom.
Mostly I take this gift for granted.
Inspire me to live in the freedom you intended,
with a heart untroubled and with complete trust in you.

Consciousness

Help me Lord to be more conscious of your presence.
Teach me to recognise your presence in others.
Fill my heart with gratitude for the times Your love has been shown to me through the care of others.

The Word of God

Luke 1:5-8,11-15,18-20,24-25

In the days of King Herod of Judea, there was a priest named Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly order of Abijah. His wife was a descendant of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. Both of them were righteous before God, living blamelessly according to all the commandments and regulations of the Lord. But they had no children, because Elizabeth was barren, and both were getting on in years. Once when he was serving as priest before God and his section was on duty. Then there appeared to him an angel of the Lord, standing at the right side of the altar of incense. When Zechariah saw him, he was terrified; and fear overwhelmed him. But the angel said to him, ‘Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will name him John. You will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He must never drink wine or strong drink; even before his birth he will be filled with the Holy Spirit. Zechariah said to the angel, ‘How will I know that this is so? For I am an old man, and my wife is getting on in years.’ The angel replied, ‘I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news. But now, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time, you will become mute, unable to speak, until the day these things occur.’

Some thoughts on today's scripture

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  • Zechariah, you lived a dedicated and blameless life. You served on that day as a priest before God, as on any other day. You attended scrupulously to the rites of purification. But nothing prepared you for a direct encounter with God. You never thought that your hope of a child would be answered. Am I a bit like you?’
  • How much do we live life by simply doing what needs to be done or what is expected of us? Can we own our lives more, claiming the grace of the moment? Can we address our God as if we know that God can hear us? Can we love our dear ones as if we might never see them again? Poor Zechariah, given a second chance, might have hugged the angel, because the encounter promised him ‘joy and gladness’.

Conversation

What is stirring in me as I pray?
Am I consoled, troubled, left cold?
I imagine Jesus himself standing or sitting at my side and share my feelings with him.

Conclusion

I thank God for these few moments we have spent alone together and for any insights I may have been given concerning the text.

Listening to the Word

Read over the passage, slowly, several times and see if any word or phrase stands out for you, and stay with that phrase for as long as you like before turning your attention to any other.

The process is a bit like sucking a boiled sweet (for US readers, hard candy). Do not try to analyse the phrase, just as you would not normally break up a boiled sweet and subject it to chemical analysis before tasting it.

Often a phrase will catch the attention of our subconscious mind's needs long before our conscious mind is aware of the reason for the attraction. That is why it is good to remain with the phrase for as long as possible without trying to analyse it.

I may find all sorts of distractions running through my mind, but some thoughts, far from being distractions, can become the substance of my prayer. It is as though the phrase of Scripture is a searchlight which plays upon my stream of consciousness, thoughts, memories, reflections, daydreams, hopes, ambitions, fears, and I pray out of the mixture of God's word and my inner thoughts and feelings.

Scripture as a Searchlight

The opening verse of the Bible, Now the earth was a formless void, there was darkness over the deep and God's spirit hovered over the water, is describing a present state of affairs, not a past event, and when I pray from the Scriptures I am letting the spirit of God hover over the chaos and darkness of my being.

When I allow the word of God to hover over my preoccupations, then anything can happen, for he is the God of surprises. It is important that I do not hide my inner chaos from the word of God or from myself. We are often so trained that we think it wrong to allow any negative feelings entry into our prayer, especially negative feelings about God. We have to learn to grow out of this training, expressing our feelings and thoughts freely before God and trusting that he is big enough to take our tantrums. There is no point in pretending before God, who knows us better than we know ourselves.

There is no thought, feeling or desire within you which cannot become the substance of your prayer in the light of God's word, when you know that God loves the chaos that is you and that his Spirit working in you can do infinitely more than you can think or imagine.

Dealing with Distractions

Trying to pray like this, it may well happen that the mind begins to fill with questions and apparent distractions. How do I know that I am not deceiving myself? How do I know these words are true, that God really does communicate himself through them? Do I really have faith in God? These are valid questions, but for now let them wait. When a child is frightened in the night, mother goes and lifts the child and says, 'It's all right,' and the child gradually quietens. But if she has a prodigy on her hands who replies, 'But mother, what epistemological and metaphysical assumptions are you making in that statement and what empirical evidence can you adduce in support of your contention?' then mother really has a problem in her arms. In prayer we are like that impossible child if we refuse to listen to God until he has measured up to whatever criteria we may care to lay down. We communicate with him first with our hearts. The heart is not mindless: it has reasons, deeper than we can see at first with our conscious minds.

Having left the questions aside for now, what do I do with all the other distractions which flood my mind? I may begin to wonder if I left the gas on, or remember an Email I forgot to send. If it is urgent, like the gas, the safest thing is to go and check. With matters that can wait, perhaps jot them down for later. Anything else which comes to mind, far from being a distraction, can become the substance of my prayer.

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