While many theologians over the centuries have written about this notion, mostly recently I have been reading about it in Evelyn Underhill’s Concerning the Inner Life, a book I would highly recommend.
Underhill wrote of the Lord’s Prayer as an example of one way to move in your prayers from one floor to the other and weld the whole thing together as a whole and complete house. This particular prayer “witnesses with a wonderful beauty and completeness to this two-story character of the soul’s house.” It is such a lovely and helpful way to think about this concept, so I thought I would share it with you here today.
We begin at the top of the house with the one relationship that rules all the rest:
Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name.
“Whatever the downstairs muddle and tension we have to deal with … all this rich and testing experience is enfolded and transfused by the cherishing, over-ruling life and power of God.”
Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
The prayer then brings us gradually downstairs allowing the sacred to fill every space, cleansing and sanctifying it all. Thy Kingdom come – hope and expectation. Thy will be done – the loving union of our will with His.
Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us. Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil.
Give us the “food from beyond ourselves which nourishes and sustains our life. Forgive all our little failures and excesses, neutralize the corroding power of our conflicts … we can’t deal with them alone … Lead us not into situations where we are tried beyond our strength; … and protect the weakness of the adolescent spirit against the downward pull of the inhabitants of the lower floor.”
And then? The reason for all of this.
For Thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever.
“… bringing together, in one supreme declaration of joy and confidence, the soul’s sense of that supporting, holy, and eternal Reality who is the Ruler and the Light … of every room in every little house.”
Right now, I believe, mine is to be still and listen.
I offer, instead, prayers from others in hopes that they will help you find words to lay before God when your own heart is too weighed down to find the words yourself.
Lord, have mercy.
Lord, help us assemble ourselves before you today through our acts of peace and reconciliation with neighbors near and far. Help us to teach the children in our communities what it means to be children of a God who loves us like a mother.
Give us discomfort at easy answers, half-truths, and superficial relationships, so that instead we may live deep within our hearts. Grant us anger at injustice, oppression, and exploitation of people, so that we may wish for justice, freedom, and peace. Bless us with enough foolishness to believe that we can make a difference in this world, so that we can do what others claim cannot be done. Amen. ~ Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals
O Father in heaven, who crafted my limbs to serve you and my soul to follow closely after you, with sorrow and repentance of heart I acknowledge before you the faults and failures of today. For too long I have tried your patience and too often I have betrayed your trust; yet you still want me to come to you with a humble heart, as I now do, imploring you to drown my sin in the sea of your infinite love.
O Lord, forgive me for:
My failure to apply to myself the standards I demand of others;
My blindness to the suffering of others, and the time it takes me to learn from my own:
My apathy toward wrongs that do not impact me, and my oversensitiveness to those that do.
Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me. Do not cast me away from your presence, and do not take your holy spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and sustain in me a willing spirit. Amen. ~ John Baillie
O God, who makest man to be of one mind in an house and hast called us into the fellowship of thy dear Son: draw into closer unity, we beseech thee, the people of all races in this and every land; that in fellowship with thee they may understand and help one another, and that, serving thee, they may find their perfect freedom; through the same thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord. ~ Joost de Blank, Archbishop of Cape Town
O Lord, forgive the cruelties of men in every age,
their insensibility to others’ pain,
the deliberation which gives pain
to satisfy and to express
the evil that rebels from love’s surrender to others’ needs
to exalt itself.
O Lord, forgive the carelessness that passes by,
the blunted consciences that will not see,
or fear to see,
the wrongs men do to other men.
Most merciful, most loving Judge, Redeemer of mankind,
thou dost restore the fallen,
thou dost seek out the scattered sheep. ~ Gilbert Shaw
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We are given a magnificent vision of being made priests and kings. We are told to go out into the world and live in a way that brings God’s rule to earth and creation’s praise to heaven.
So much of the time we wander around, having no earthly idea what to do.
Yet here we are.
This is our mission whether or not we understand it completely.
This is our goal whether or not we can perceive the next step.
This is our purpose and we may not set it aside every time we fail to discern the way forward.
Part of the answer to finding our way is in prayer.
Prayer itself is a mystery, however central to our lives as Christ followers. Perhaps it wouldn’t be prayer without also being a mystery.
Yet it is a mystery we can, in our own fumbling way, find the shape of. This mystery of prayer has the shape of heaven and earth joining together in Jesus and our sharing in that joining through the Spirit.
The very act of prayer says that we stand in the space between heaven and earth. Prayer says that, in some mysterious way, we are called to stand for God on earth and to stand for creation in heaven.
But again the very practice of prayer, before we even begin to think about the content, says in and of itself: we are people who live at the interface between God’s world and the life of this present world. We are people who belong in that uncomfortable borderland. We are called to stay at this post even when we have no idea what’s actually going on. ~ N.T. Wright, After You Believe
Remaining at our post even when we have no idea what’s actually going on takes humility and patience. It takes faith and hope. It takes the living out of virtue, as I discussed recently.
Yet doing this, remaining at our post, continuing to pray even when you don’t understand how any of it works or what on earth you are supposed to say, trains our hearts.
Even if we gain no clarity at all, our hearts are being trained in humility and patience, in faith and hope.
Prayer changes us. It is a piece of what transforms us into the people God created us to be.
Prayer is one of the disciplines which, when practiced regularly both in public and in private, builds our character, habit by habit and virtue by virtue, into the royal priesthood through which God will restore the world.
But it means that we come to prayer knowing that we’re to reinforce the heart habits that make us, by second nature, who we are. And we rise from prayer with the heart formed that bit more securely in its settled second nature of trust and obedience. ~ N.T. Wright, After You Believe
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We pray with expectation; we pray with hopelessness.
We pray in altruism; we pray in selfishness.
We pray boldly stepping up to the throne; we pray pessimistic, not expecting a favorable answer.
Regardless of how you view it, aside from what you expect from it, no matter how you approach it, the Bible is clear.
We must pray.
From seek and you will find to the story of the widow who bothered the judge enough that he finally gave her justice, we are told to take everything to God in prayer. Everything.
Whatever else prayer is, if we are praying without ceasing, the words we offer to God permeate everything we do, everything we are.
Whatever else prayer does, if we continually give our hearts to God, we end up also offering our selves to others.
If we offer our prayers to God while we offer ourselves to others, the power of God acts as a wireless network, acting for others to give rescue, healing, comfort, light.
As we offer our prayers to God, we become less ourselves and more a piece of a whole. A whole that covers the whole earth, bringing God’s love and kingdom to all.
We are woven into the fabric of God’s power and love, becoming a part of bringing His kingdom to earth, a part of His restoring of creation.
It (prayer) moves from God to others through us, because we have ceased to be self-centered units, but are woven into the great fabric of praying souls, the “mystical body” through which the work of Christ on earth goes on being done. ~ Evelyn Underhill (Christian philosopher and writer, early 1900’s)
They speak to me about cookies and caring, about flowers and family, about Legos and love in action.
They speak almost continually, telling stories and asking questions, needing to know and wanting me to know.
Their speaking to me is simplicity itself. They feel curious and they ask, they become excited and they tell, they are frightened and they listen. They speak what is in their hearts and minds, and they listen to my answers and my reassurances.
You have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!”
I do not speak to my Father with such simplicity.
I worry that I do not ask for the right things, I fear that my attitude is faulty, I think I know that I am not silent enough.
I know them. I know their hearts, and want them to know me. No anger or disappointment comes when error is made. I love for them to speak easily, not fearful over content or word choice, but simply speaking and listening, learning to know and to be known.