L is for Litany (an alphabet for penitents)

lit·a·ny [ˈlitnē]

NOUN
    1. a series of petitions for use in church services or processions, usually recited by the clergy and responded to in a recurring formula by the people.

    2. a tedious recital or repetitive series: “a litany of complaints” (Source- Oxford Living Dictionaries via Bing)

 And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people. (Ephesians 6:18)

‘Tis the season for a tedious recital of complaints. Like Advent, the season before Christmas, Lent is a preparatory season—a season of waiting. We are nearing the midpoint and dreaming of the comforts we cast aside for our lenten journies. We want chocolate, we want sweets, we need coffee and a nice cut of meat. We want to binge watch Netflix and drink red wine and post cat memes on our friend’s timelines. We complain, “How long O Lord?” as we look forward to Resurrection (or just a return to normal life).

But we don’t just complain about our own discomfort. As we have used this Lenten season to shake our souls out of complacency  and followed Jesus on the way of the cross, we are becoming sensitized to the suffering of the world: children with absent fathers, the single mom struggling to make ends meet, a global church being martyred for their belief, people of color enduring violence, discrimination and incarceration from unjust systems, the elderly neighbor living alone, our friends gripped by grief, those suffering pain of chronic illness, the anxious and depressed, and the hurting and the dying. We should have compassion at all times, but our Lenten practice allows us to stretch our empathy and see the world beyond the comforts we use to distract our souls.

Christian worship often includes litanies. Liturgical traditions (such as Roman Catholicism, Anglicanism, or the Orthodoxy) incorporate itemized prayer lists into their Sunday liturgies, often with congregational responses: Lord have mercy. Have mercy on us. Spare us, Good Lord. O Lord, deliver us. We beseech you O Lord.  Less “high church” churches, still have a place for a pastoral prayer, or ‘prayers of the people,’ which do in essence what these formal litanies do.

The line items of a litany get us to pray specifically about the needs around us in our struggle against the world, the flesh, and the devil. We pray for deliverance from personal sin and systemic evil. We pray for the poor, oppressed and marginalized, and for the success and wisdom of national leaders, we pray for the healing for the infirmed and the global church. We pray those who are serving Christ and that the world would long to know Him. We name every area of contemporary life in hopes of seeing God’s Kingdom break more fully into this present age.

I thought of posting a litany here, but there are tons of Lenten litanies online. For example, check out Christine Sine’s Morning Litany for Lent.  I will close this post by just saying don’t waste your seasonal discomfort and newfound empathy on personal complaints. Find some way to systematically pray for the needs of the world, preferably with a worshipping community. Keep on praying in the Spirit at all times with all kinds of prayers and requests. Certainly litanies can become dead rote, but with our hearts sensitized to the suffering of the world, it is a way to share both in the pain of others and in the Spirit’s life. Communal intercession reminds us that the Spiritual journey is not just a private affair. Always keep praying for all the Lord’s people. 

 

God Wants to Talk to You: a ★★★★★ book review.

His sheep know his voice. John 10:4 tells us that; yet many of us struggle to discern God’s voice in the midst of daily life. Samuel Williamson, founding director of Beliefs of the Heart, has written a helpful guide to hearing God’s voice everywhere.Hearing God in Conversation: How to Recognize His Voice Everywhere helps us cultivate our curiosity and attention to the ways in which God speaks to us.
Williamson begins with a story of hearing God’s voice when he was just a 9780825444241ten-year-old, newly minted atheist. When God didn’t strike down his girlfriend Diane for cussing, Williamson lost  his faith. So he started his own experiment with profanity and living like God wasn’t there. God simply said, “Sam, I’m real, and you don’t understand” (24). Williamson was brought back to faith.  While this experience is unique to him, Williamson believes we all have a capacity to hear God’s voice. He relates the various ways people hear God. In his second chapter Williamson argues that the point of God speaking is less about directions from on high (though He is still God) and more about conversation. God wants to connect and commune with us. Williamson uses the analogy of learning sailing from his dad and the casual conversations that would spring up organically as a result (35-36).

But Williamson is also an evangelical. He gives pride of place to the Bible. Williamson wants us to read our Bibles, but not as a maintenance manual or a rule book but as an opportunity to encounter the living God. We read to commune with the living God. So he offers scriptural meditation (focusing on the one book where God clearly spoke) as a way to train ourselves to hear God’s voice, “The best way to  become familar with God’s voice is to meditate on his Word, just as the best way to spot a counterfeit is to spend lots of time with the real thing” (61).

Along the way Williamson has lots of practical advice for listening prayer: how to recognize God, how to hear God’s voice for others,  hearing God’s voice in the silence, and detours of life, the place of emotions, etc. Williamson opens up about his own journey of God. He shares childhood stories of learning to hear God’s voice,  awkward words that God gave him for others (or about others),  and his process of discerning God’s call to leave a stable career with a software company to pursue full time ministry. He suggests brainstorming with God (journaling) and listening to ‘God’s questions’ in the Bible as ways to press into a deeper relationship with God.

What distinguishes Williamson’s book from some treatments of listening prayer is how down-to-earth he is. He shares stories and anecdotes with good humor (occasionally this is a bit distracting).  Two appendixes address the arguments against listening prayer by some conservative evangelicals and those ‘questionable and excessive practices.’ There are other good books on this theme (notably, Joyce Huggett’s Listening to God and Brad Jersak’s Can You Hear Me?, Dallas Willard’s Hearing God). Williamson own influences in writing include Oswald Chambers, C.S. Lewis, Dallas Willard and Tim Keller (22). He makes a strong and helpful contribution to the topic of hearing God. The best thing I can say about a book on prayer is that it makes me want to pray. This book certainly makes want to do that.

Five stars. ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Note: I received this book from Kregel Publications in exchange for my honest review

Prayer: Confession I

Bringing Confession Home

My life is displayed when You drop by:

our shoes piled haphazard at the door, kids’ toys

and clothes on the floor, the paper unread but

spread across the coffee table, the shelves teem with debris,

and countertops covered with dishes—my sink overflows.

 

We are past pretense, You and I;

You know who I am, not what I pretend.

My detritus divulges an inner chaos—

a cluttered heart, a spirit stifled by stuff.

Gather these fragments and see

all I love and I long to be.

 

Create in me a clean heart, renew a right spirit in me.

So when You come to my door and knock

I may welcome You in without shame.

 


 

*Dirty dish picture from Wikimedia Commons: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/2/2a/Dirty_dishes.jpg

 

Prayer: Adoration

My mother was the organist and choir director at our church, so I grew up somewhere near the third pew. During worship, my eyes followed my father’s finger through the hymnal. We sang: Crown Him with many crowns the Lamb upon the throne and Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty. I sat squirming through longwinded pastoral prayers. I stood for gospel readings, I endured the public shame of children’s sermons in the chancel. When the children were dismissed from the worship service, I went to children’s church where I sang songs, made crafts and listened to Bible stories. We learned about God, faith and prayer.

At some point I was taught to pray using the acronym ACTS: Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, Supplication. It was my formula for faithful discourse, and a way for checking off all the boxes so that I knew I was praying well.  Adoration meant praising God for who God is. When I felt I had sufficiently declared to God His own innate wonderfulness, then I could move onto the next item on the list. Adoration, Confession and Thanksgiving were all prerequisites to Supplication—when I finally got to bring my needs and the needs of others to God.

My childhood church taught that I ought to give glory to God and schooled me in the grammar of prayer. I doubt seriously that I was ever taught to go through the letters of ACTS, checking them off as boxes. But the order was held Sacred: Adoration was endued with significance, placed first, in emphasize that our adoration of God precedes all else in prayer.

Later, I discovered my prayers flowed in reverse. I knelt needy and thankful. I confessed. And then on some days, as I bowed my head in prayer, I caught a glimpse of God’s glory. Praise would pour out of me. Adoration for God was no longer something I conjured up to make sure I was performing rightly my religious duty. It was wonder—awe at God’s presence–calling my heart to worship. My own existential need would bring me to prayer, when I pressed upstream, Adoration is where my prayers led.


Bernard of Clairvaux’s On Loving God records a similar movement in the Christian life.  He identifies four degrees to our love for God: loving God selfishly; loving God mindful and thankful of His care for us, loving God for his own sake, and finally loving ourselves solely in God alone (chapters VIII through X, XV).  Human love begins naturally self-referential and self-centered. We love the benefits the Other brings to us. Like babies crying for mother’s milk, we love others because they do for us what we cannot do for ourselves. We approach God the same way, loving what we can get from God.

Then our heart enlarges. First we see our own persistent indebtedness, we love and trust God as our light and salvation (Ps. 27:1), and we are filled with joy because “the Lord has done great things for us” (Ps. 126:3) Then we start love God, not for his benefits but simply for who God is in Himself. I think it is significant that Bernard treats the second and third degrees of love together. The line between thankfulness and pure adoration is permeable. In our final phase, our love of self is transformed: we care for ourselves solely in God. Bernard notes our journey from needy supplicant, confessing and thankful to one adoring. Adoration may precede all true prayer, but this is not where we begin. In God, it is where we end.


I was twenty-three when I visited the People’s Republic of China.  It was my first trip out of North America. With typical nationalistic and ethnocentric blinders on, I regarded my hosts with suspicion, especially in the realm of spirituality. The official religion of the PRC is atheism. Temples and shrines still bear the scars of the Cultural revolution: broken statues, battered structures and bullet holes in the sculpted reliefs. I have heard of a growing and vibrant Christian presence in China, but at least on the face of things, the culture appeared thoroughly secular.

This bothered me.  Never before had I been jealous for the worship of God, but at every museum and historic site I was told the tale of the human triumph of Communism against the shallow religiosity of tradition. Of course there was plenty in my own culture that mitigated against the true worship of God, but I needed an outsider perspective to begin to see it.

I was musing on this while riding a bus through the grasslands of Inner Mongolia when I heard the bleat of sheep in the distance. The words of Jesus play in my mind, “I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would shout out” (Luke 19:40). I lifted my eyes to take in the great expanse of the rolling hills. I was given a beatific vision of our Creator. In a moment when all I could see was a culture trying to move past its gods, I was arrested by creation’s song of praise to its Creator. I was overcome, adoring, I worshipped.


Adoration is our appropriate response from us when we see God for who God is.  Prayer is where we meet God and our adoration bears witness to this encounter.  One who prays but doesn’t praise has yet to meet God. The worshipper enters the heart of true prayer.  My childhood lessons and my adult prayers are both right: Adoration precedes everything else; adoration is the culmination of our time in prayer.  Prayer was not a stream flowing one way or the other but meeting with God in a whirlwind where everything always circled back to praise.

I first learned to adore God somewhere near the third pew of my childhood church. I have grown since then and understand more what adoration means. I’ve been instructed by Scripture and the Christian tradition. I’ve met God in prayer and my heart has been drawn into praise. However, I have yet to mention my most important teachers: my children.

Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:3).  He praises a child for his humility and commends us to learn from children. In the Psalm 131 we are given a picture of what adoration looks like—a weaned child content to sit with her mother.

I am not a mother myself but I remember gathering each of my children as babies to comfort them from crying, only to be met with a look of disdain. I was the wrong one. I had no milk to offer.  I could change diapers, distract them with play and give them comfort, but I could not feed them.  There were moments when that was all that mattered.

But when my children were weaned and something different played in their eyes.  They no longer craved only mother’s milk. My daughters would look at me adoringly, smiles in their eyes.  They would come close and sit with me, just to enjoy being with me. My four-year-old son would interrupt stories, activities,  and even stern lectures just to say, “Dad. I really love you.” As I look in their eyes, enjoy their presence, and hear their wonderment in their voice., I understand more what adoration is, and what our adoration of God should look like.  

Of course this stage doesn’t last. My kids will soon see my faults and no longer be overawed by me. My eight-year-old daughter has now entered the stage where I begin to embarrass her in public (usually on purpose).  I am a poor substitute for God.  As they grow to adulthood, their wonder and sense of awe for me diminishes. Appropriately so. But I hope they grow as I am growing too, who sees God through the eyes of a child—in humility and wonder, in awe, adoring.

 


 

*painting above by  Albrecht DürerThe Adoration of the Trinity (or Landauer Altar), 1511.