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Faith >

Prayer for the Week

Use this Lutheran prayer for courage, to put your hand
into the hand of God, suggests Jo Bailey Wells

Lord God,
you have called your servants
to ventures of which we cannot see the ending,
by paths as yet untrodden,
through perils unknown.
Give us faith to go out with good courage,
not knowing where we go,
but only that your hand is leading us
and your love supporting us;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

From The Lutheran Book of Worship
(Augsburg, 1978)

THIS PRAYER has guided me through the odd peril. It was said regularly by a Lutheran student with whom I said morning prayer for several years. Ellen’s fragile circumstances but steely commitment represented a vivid illustration of the theme. No doubt she repeated it to sustain her own faith and courage — little realising what inspiration it offered to those around her.

New resolutions abound at this time of year, but this prayer takes me back to some golden old ones, the very basics for living and loving, as I look ahead to a new year that I must greet as a stranger.

I’ve stepped out in faith before, and I’ve trusted the God who leads and loves before, but I need to be reminded to do so again; and again. Life is complicated, and I value Ellen’s prayer to bring me back to the simple truths, at least annually, preferably daily.

“You have called your servants to ventures”: I’m reminded, first that God’s call involves a journey. So this year will not be the same as the past one, and I must look to God afresh. We are “pilgrims”, called to “progress”. At times, the demands may feel excessive and the risks foolish, but God’s choice for us involves the excitement of adventure over the comfort of safety, any day.

“By paths as yet untrodden”: I’m reminded, secondly, that I am called to walk with God on my own path. Or, rather, on the path he gives to me. Others may offer advice from the perspective of their path — and there may be companions treading parallel paths — but my path will be different.

I am uniquely created and named by God. “He made you like this because he wanted one like you,” as a friend puts it. So I am uniquely called and equipped: how silly of me, then, to attempt walking along someone else’s way.

Such a calling is daunting — me, a pioneer? — but the third prompt, an acknowledgement of ignorance, helps (strangely) to quell my queasiness. “We cannot see the ending . . . perils unknown.” Christopher Columbus is reputed to have written again and again in his journal: “No land in sight. Kept sailing.” Our destination, in worldly terms, is unclear. The calling is to keep going; to keep setting out in faith. Here is relief.

I suspect Ellen would never have set out on her studies if she had known what pitfalls lay ahead: but, with hindsight, she is glad she did. Especially when the perils outnumber the joys, one day at a time is quite enough. Ignorance is bliss: when it comes to whether the doctoral research is eventually fruitful, or the medication effective, or the distant job possibility real.

Beyond such ephemeral concerns, of course, Christians are those who do know where they are going. Christians are those who see the wider canvas; those entrusted with the news of how God’s salvation story ends; those who look to the final act of the play, in which God sweeps up all the loose strands out of which the new heaven and new earth is revealed.

Against this backdrop, our individual journeys seem very minor — simply the weaving of individual strands — and their end-points seem almost irrelevant.

The final reminder involves an underlining of the certainties to which we can cling while en route: God’s guiding hand and his supporting love. These are not the far-distant “encouragements” of a deist God: they are the concrete realities of a God whose hands bear the scars of nails; whose love was demonstrated through infinitely greater peril than we can ever know. Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

The Revd Dr Jo Bailey Wells is Old Testament Tutor at Ridley Hall, which is part of the Cambridge Theological Federation.
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