Reflection 10th September 2023

Meditation on “Father hear the prayer we offer” for Choral Evensong

“Father, hear the prayer we offer; not for ease that prayer may be, but for strength that we may ever live our lives courageously.”

What I wonder do we all make most central to our prayers and hazarding a guess I would suggest it might be prayers for our loved ones. I know just recently I did pray hard for my Grandson as he awaited his GCSE results and that he would feel happy and pleased with them and be content that his results matched both his potential and the effort involved, which in all honesty probably wasn’t as diligent as it might have been, and I am sure many parents and grandparents did the same. 

With loved ones who are central to our lives it is I think natural that our prayers can so often concentrate on them, and I am sure God completely understands this as we seek the best for those we love. But this hymn does not mention praying for loved ones; nor for that matter does it mention prayer for any of our world’s troubles of which we cannot help but be aware. No, the words we have sung urge us to pray first and foremost not for our own ease or indeed that of others but for strength that we can live our lives courageously. 

What you may wonder is meant by such a request and thinking about this I believe we are called to live lives of true and faithful witness to the gospel of Christ, the gospel of salvation and to do this in today’s secular and often disbelieving world does require courage. Courage to speak out about our faith and how it shapes our life often it has to be said counter culturally. But the secular world and the spiritual world must exist together if we really mean it when we say the words ‘Thy kingdom come’ and when we hear the injunction ‘to love our neighbour as ourselves’ And we certainly need courage to do this remembering that the word ‘courage’ comes from the Latin word ‘cor’ meaning the heart. Thus, another understanding of this hymn’s words is that we are asking for the strength to live out our lives with a true heart for God; a true heart so that God is immovably central to all we do, all we strive to do in his name to his glory and never to our own.

Not for ever in green pastures do we ask our way to be; but the steep and rugged pathway may we tread rejoicingly.

Again, reading these words I am sure most of us would certainly at times long for our life to be always safely held within the peace, comfort and abundance of green pastures but we know that life is simply not like that and there will be steep and rugged pathways to climb. But climb them rejoicingly? Surely that’s a hard ask? But reflecting on this I think possibly our hymn writer Maria Willis wanted us first to recognize that we are called to climb such pathways with the sense of joy that surely Christ showed as he lived out his life, his death here on earth. The inner joy that came from knowing that he was both obedient to his Father’s will and always held, no matter what the circumstances, within his unfailing love. Can we do the same? Possibly not, but we can try and we can pray that we can. And secondly, I believe strongly that it is when we look back at some of the steep and rugged pathways which we have successfully climbed and surmounted that we can with joy recognize how they have altered and shaped us to the good and given us a greater understanding of that ever present divine love.

Not for ever by still waters would we idly rest and stay; but would smite the living fountains from the rocks along our way.

This verse is surely a reference to the time when the Israelites having escaped the Egyptians were now facing the privations of the wilderness including a severe lack of water. And it was then as their thirst intensified that they directed their anger and frustration at Moses for bringing them to this barren seemingly lifeless place. In desperation Moses cried to the Lord; ‘What shall I do with these people? They are almost ready to stone me.’ And it was then God instructed Moses to strike the rock and the longed -for water came gushing out and the Israelites thirst was assuaged. So too I believe that when we are made aware of other people’s thirst for the restorative and living waters of love, companionship, sympathy, comfort and so much more that we are called upon as Christ’s disciples to pray that in the power of the Holy Spirit we are enabled to strike the rock of our hearts and bring these life giving waters to those in need.

Be our strength in hours of weakness, on our wnd’rings be our guide, through endeavour, failure, danger, Father be thou at our side. This final verse is surely the key to the inner heart of all our prayers that come what may in our lives we may know the absolute certainty of that presence of God ever with us. When we are weak, he will be there to strengthen and uphold us. When our path of life becomes somewhat unsure, and we feel we may have lost our way he will be there to guide us back onto the true path of our life’s journey. When we set out on some great endeavour, or for that matter any endeavou, that requires courage and commitment, he is with us to encourage and inspire us. When, as we will do, we fail at different stages of our lives

and know disappointment, humiliation even, he will be there to dry the tears and soothe those hurt feelings and urge us to be brave and stand and face life again confident in his protective presence. When we are in any sort of danger, afraid, terrified even, the God who witnessed the danger, the terror of his own Son’s last mortal days on this earth will carry us through, holding us up within the scarred hands of his own Son.

So, whenever we pray may we recognise above all the need to ask for an awareness and a complete trust in God’s presence with us and in that awareness, in that trust do our very best to reflect that same presence to all whom we meet on our paths of life that they too may know themselves to be drawn into his loving, life giving care.

Rev’d Virginia Smith, 10th September 2023

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