A few months ago I was asked to do the Prayers of the People at my church, and I’m publishing them here, with a few tweaks. I am not often explicit about my faith in these essays, although my understanding of God’s movement toward us with sacrifice, redemption and hope informs all aspects of my engagement with the world. If you are not a fan of Christians, I pray these words will remind you that God is poorly reflected in the people who claim God (maybe don’t blame God because we are the worst?). If you are a person determined to follow Christ, I pray you will remember the way of Christ asks us to sacrifice our privilege, not to hoard it. In any case, these prayers remind me that my love for others is greatly enhanced by prayer. If you find yourself frequently rolling your eyes at humanity, consider beginning a practice of prayer (Perhaps this one can get you started).
Lord, you are the Creator of Life, the Sustainer of our communities, the One through whom we move and live and have our being. You are powerful and strong, and you are gentle and good. You are the God who shows us that strength takes us into vulnerability, for you did not grasp your power, but divested yourself of it by becoming a person. You are the God who shows us that independence serves the community, for you did not establish your kingdom alone, but you allowed a handful of friends to walk with you, imitating you and bearing witness to the salvation and restoration you brought them. I praise you for being a God who puts power aside, who invites us to approach you, who asks us to live lives that bear witness to your name. You are such a good God, and we praise you.
Lord, our world has learned to accept a status quo of war and fear. I pray that your kingdom would come on earth as it is in heaven. I pray that you would change the hearts of leaders who sow hatred instead of love, and fear instead of peace. We pray for the people of Syria, for those who live in the Korean peninsula and along the Israeli/Palestinian border, for those who fear kidnappings and violence. We pray for people who live in poverty across the world, who are oppressed by the greed of others. We pray that you would draw close to those with nothing, that you would teach those of us with global power to use our power to value the lives of others.
Lord, I pray for our nation as we struggle with gun violence and fear. I pray that you would whisper into our hearts your common refrain, “Do not fear,” that you would teach us to replace fear with trust, so that all communities know they are valuable to their elected officials and their police forces. I pray for the brave men and women who faithfully work to keep all of us safe. I pray that you would give those who serve in the Congress, Senate, White House, and Supreme Court a deep conviction that they have been given authority in order to serve all the people, including those with little. That our leaders would be like you, resisting power in order to become a servant. I pray for those on the Eastern seaboard who are fleeing the wind and rain of Hurricane Florence. Protect them and plant their feet and families on solid ground.
Lord, I pray for Nashville as we elect leaders and vote on our priorities. I pray that we could rally to care for each other the way we rallied to cheer on the Preds. We are blessed Lord by wealth and belonging, and it is so easy to forget those who live below the poverty line or who are marginalized by their race, nationality or gender. Lord, I pray that our local leaders in city hall, churches, neighborhoods and schools would begin to embody your command that we love others like ourselves. Teach us what it means to advocate for others, so that we would speak out for kids who are hungry, for families who are displaced by gentrification, for people who are treated as drains on society. Help us be imitators of you as we learn to build bigger tables with more seats around them. Help us learn to be inclusive in our schools and neighborhoods, so that every person is welcomed with your dignifying, eternal claim: that we all belong to you.
Lord I pray for churches all across Nashville who are teaching their people what it means to love others in the name of Jesus. For Corinthian Missionary Baptist Church, who is bringing resources and jobs to young people in North Nashville. For Tabernacle of Glory, who is teaching people in the 12th South area how to talk about our history and present tensions with race as we honor the image of God in every person. I pray for Strong Tower Bible Church, who is partnering with Salama Urban Ministries to bring resources to poor families in South Nashville. These partnerships imitate your partnership with our church, as you have called us to be people who honor the name of Christ by remembering and caring about all the communities of Nashville. I pray that you would continue to teach us how to serve our neighbors, that our name would remind people that you are a God who binds up the broken hearted and comforts those who hurt.
As we enter a time of corporate confession, Lord I confess that I am often selfish. We have built lives and communities of privilege, so that we don’t have to see brokenhearted people who struggle to make ends meet. Forgive us for forgetting about them. Forgive us for not believing a problem exists because it is not our problem. Forgive us for protecting a status quo that treats us well while oppressing people around us. Forgive us for believing the lie that there is an us and a them. Forgive us for getting defensive when we see the pain and marginalization of people different than us, and teach us to find compassion instead. Forgive us for being peacekeepers, who like things as they are, instead of peacemakers, who are willing to sacrifice our resources so that others can experience the dignity of jobs, affordable housing, engaging schools, and dependable healthcare. Forgive us for loving our surplus, for loving ourselves more than our neighbors.
You created all that there is, God, and you show your love for us by asking us to create beauty along with you. You are eternal, constantly renewing, and you show us your love by reminding us that we are also eternal beings, called to find sustainable ways to live, to keep talking and sharing, and to keep finding ways to live well with those around us. As your good friend and disciple John said, if we love you we ought to live and walk the way you did. Expose us, invite us, break us, transform us. Amen.