Lord God, when thou
givest to thy servants to endeavour any great matter, grant us also
to know that it is not the beginning, but the continuing of the
same, until it be thoroughly finished, that yieldeth the true
glory; through him who, for the finishing of thy work, laid down
his life for us, our Redeemer, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Attributed to Sir Francis Drake
THIS classic prayer was printed for the second National Day of
Prayer during the Second World War, and ascribed to Sir Francis
Drake, the sailor, adventurer, and politician. Although the first
lines go back to a letter written by Drake in 1587, it seems that
the Dean of York, Eric Milner-White, was responsible for fashioning
them into a prayer in 1941. I first noticed this prayer when it was
included in the liturgy for admission to a religious Order.
It speaks of God's call to his servants, and of endeavour in
great matters. It raises the question what might be construed as
"any great matter", and how we might know that we are being
obedient to God's call. Before you make this prayer, reflect on
what constitutes a "great matter" for you personally.
Francis Drake is a figure who stands large in our history and
imagination, which may reinforce a sense of smallness in
comparison. Yet, in the Kingdom of God, small things can be
catalysts for transformation: think of Rosa Parks refusing to give
up her seat on that Alabama bus; Nelson Mandela putting on a
Springbok rugby shirt; or even Jesus washing the disciples'
You may be facing choices in your family or community, in the
workplace or church. Name what it is that makes this a "great
matter", and what "endeavour" it will demand from you or others.
Recognise what causes you to feel uncertain or fearful.
Turning to the call of God, ask yourself whether in this matter
you have sought the Lord's specific leading, and to what extent
this may be pleasing yourself or other people more than desiring to
serve Christ. Drake was engaged in many voyages that we would now
consider immoral, including slave-trading and plundering Spanish
colonies along the coast of the Americas. Discernment is required,
and in matters that require long-term commitment, it is essential
to have others with whom we can seek godly wisdom and find the
The second part of the prayer reminds us that what "yieldeth the
true glory" is "the continuing of the same, until it be thoroughly
finished". Perhaps the great matter is something you have already
embarked on - a career path, a position in the community, a
commitment to family, a vocation.
Reflect on this from your own perspective and, on another
occasion, from that of others involved with you. Is there still a
sense of God's call for today, or have you lost - perhaps for some
time - a sense of momentum or energy?
Ask what God may be showing you in the answer: we all need
refuelling and renewing, and it is important to reappraise what
being faithful means for a changing situation. Again, wise
Christian companions, with whom we can be honest and vulnerable,
can come alongside us in this process. They can share the
application of this prayer, in order that we might complete what
God intends, and taste what true glory might be.
Milner-White took Drake's words and framed them in the example
of Jesus. May the Holy Spirit "grant us to know", and through this
prayer to imitate, that persistencewhich characterised Jesus's life
- and so finish well all in which we have said "Yes" to God.
Dr Lee Rayfield is the Bishop of Swindon.