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Prayer for the week

21 February 2014

Lee Rayfield prays, with Sir Francis Drake, that he may complete what he has begun

Adventurer: Sir Francis Drake, in a miniature by Nicholas Hilliard from 1581

Adventurer: Sir Francis Drake, in a miniature by Nicholas Hilliard from 1581

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 (1540-96)


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' feet.

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 Spirit's leading.

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.

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