Prayer: freedom

Lord, teach us how to pray and help us to pray now.

It feels pointless standing here asking you to help to help when we stand on the precipice in Gaza, with one million people trapped and desperate in Rafah, waiting for the tanks to smash their city and their bodies. What good does it do praying to you? But what else can we do? We ask for peace, for acts of courage that break cycles of violence. We pray for freedom for the people of Israel and Palestine to live without violence. As humanity groans with agony at what is happening, make us the firstfruits of heaven, people who have caught on to the idea of living at peace with our enemies, despite the cost.

It’s hard even to think about the horrors happening as the fighting becomes ethnic cleansing in Sudan. We pray for protection for ordinary people trying to escape. We ask for effective intervention from the African Union or the UN, or whatever will work. We pray for freedom from the hatred driving these attacks, disarming it with courageous love. Teach us freedom from the same kinds of hatred in ourselves. Let heaven break through in us: let our friendships, our encounters with people around us, our social media posts, be places where we are learning to love people who are different, and people we disagree with.

We pray for everyone who is in prison in the UK, after the devastating report about conditions at Wandsworth. We pray for the right funding and leadership to protect people from sewage overflows, vermin, illegal drugs and lack of medical attention. We lift to you our friends and family members who are in prison: protect them and help them. Give us vision as a country of a justice system that we can be proud of, that reflects your character by valuing each person as a precious creation and carrier of your image. Give our prisoners freedom from torturous conditions that makes space for healing and reflection, and prepares them to make use of the new freedom they will receive when they are released.

We pray for ourselves: may we find freedom to be these precious creations, carrying your image. Even as the weight of all the suffering we have prayed about presses on us, give us freedom from expecting to fix the world: that’s on you. Even as we become more aware of the sin in ourselves and others that hurts and limits us, give us freedom from sin, and freedom to love other people and ourselves. Even as worries about exams or money or success or loneliness risk pulling us under, give us freedom to be generous and brave, taking chances, that were not necessarily offered, to give, to speak, to try an experiment in love.

Set us free Lord: as a world, as a people, as your children.

Amen

Prayer: good things can grow

Lord, teach us how to pray, and help us to pray now.

We thank you for the hope of new life. We see the natural world all around us bursting into life and it teaches us that good things can grow.

We see your life, how it was cut off in an attempt to erase you, and we see that you were not erased. We refuse to accept that the 13,000 children killed in Gaza since October are erased. We know that you know every single one of them, and love them. Their lives mattered, and they still matter.

We see the devastation of how you were tortured to death. How no revolution came, and the Roman empire continued to crush the people. How the religious authorities continued to condemn the people, dividing them into sinners and saints. And we see that despite appearances, their violence did not win. Love won.

We see the weaponised sexual violence in Sudan, horror in Palestine and Israel, devastation in Ukraine. We don’t see what’s happening in Yemen or Ethiopia or so many other places because we’ve forgotten or turned our faces away. We remind ourselves today that violence does not win. The story does not end with death. The story starts and ends with you, creating and loving us.

We pray for new hope, not just in our hearts, and not just here. We pray for new hope of peace in Israel and Palestine. For the “inevitable” slaughter to be stopped. We pray for a shared understanding that enough is enough. We pray for you to burst into life. We pray for good things to grow. Wherever this situation is discussed, we pray that love for our enemies will be on our lips.

For all the other violence in the world we pray the same. Rescue the survivors of sexual violence near and far. Make the awful things they have experienced not be the end. Our story starts and ends with you, creating and loving us.

When you were thrown away like your life was nothing, you refused. We refuse to throw people away. We take your perspective. When some people talk of people “poisoning the blood of our country”, we hear our siblings’ blood crying out from the soil.

Help us to see like this in our lives. We might be lonely, we might be considered a “sinner”, or be “damaged”. We might be sick. We might be far from home. We might be erased. Give us the love to see and to be friends with each other as we are.

I’ve just read a book by Julian of Norwich. She saw a vision of a little hazel nut-sized thing in the palm of her hand and understood that it was the whole universe. She asked how it could survive and was told that it lasts and it will last because God loves it.

God, if you really do hold our universe in this love, then, with you, we can face down evil. We ask you to change us. We ask to burst into new life, for good things to grow. We ask for the faith to say with Julian “all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well”

Amen

Prayer: the humility that comes from wisdom

Lord, teach us how to pray, and help us to pray now.

We pray for wisdom for our world. This year 40% of the world’s population will vote in elections. Some of them will be fairer than others, but in all cases, and in all countries, we pray for wise leaders, who are pure, peace-loving, and considerate. We pray for our own elections, and wisdom for those of us who are voting – let us choose leaders who are full of mercy and good fruit, and don’t harbour bitter envy. In the US we ask for leaders who are submissive, impartial and sincere. We pray against those who deny the truth; we pray against the disorder that comes with selfish ambition.

We pray for people who sow in peace as the world faces up to the awful suffering in Palestine, Yemen, Syria, Ukraine and so many other places, and the awful actions taken by people claiming to act on behalf of the downtrodden. Lord, we are impatient for this to change, for you to act, but where we need patience, we ask for patient and brave people. We pray for those seeds of peace to take root and grow. We ask that we can be those patient people – show us how.

For our country, we pray for deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom. We ask for an end to rough sleeping, with lessons learned from the 2020 Everyone In initiative, that roughly halved the number of people sleeping rough almost overnight. The numbers are shooting up again since the scheme was stopped: as a wealthy country that prides itself on protecting its people, we ask for that pride to be justified through the government’s Rough Sleeping Initiative, which aims to end rough sleeping for good.

In our community, we pray for our church members flying to Sri Lanka to work with Child Action Lanka. Please give them good health and safe travel. Please make them useful in the work they are doing. Please be with everyone at Child Action Lanka as they work for safety, education and health for the children in their care. Give them success and please show us how we can support them.

For ourselves, we ask that you would provide what we need. Have mercy on those of us who are unwell. Provide jobs for those of us needing them. Let us be a support to each other for whatever we need. Build us into a family that trusts each other and provides. We thank you for the ways we have to support each other, from services and small groups to evening courses and children’s groups, from prayer breakfasts to football, from debt support to community fridges. Most of all through our friendships – help us become friends across any supposed barriers of generation, of class, of culture. Help each of us find a place, and have a chance to be served by each other.

Let us sow in peace, be full of mercy, be considerate and submissive. Give us that kind of wisdom.

(Inspired by James 3:13-18)

Prayer: warm our hearts

Lord, teach us how to pray, and help us to pray now.

At this time of year we gather together for warmth.

We pray for the warmth of your presence. Some of us may sense you very close now, and others may sense nothing, but we trust that you are within us, and your love is what sustains the universe. We long for what happens when you live within us: for the ability to forgive, for healed relationships, for courage and new openness to those out in the cold.

We are here to thank you for bringing the warmth of heaven to our world in the form of a baby, who lived as a child and a teenager, and grew into the kind of adult who sat around the fire with the social rejects, inviting them in from the cold. He sat and listened to the people most of us would fear or scorn. One day he stood next to a woman being shamed and saw off her accusers, confronting violence with peaceful resistance. Another day he took the time to ask a disabled man what miracle he wanted, not assuming he already knew the answer. May we grow into such people!

We acknowledge that the physical warmth in this building right now is provided by burning fossil fuels, and we thank you for the incredible gift that these fuels have been to us, providing such warmth and freedom to so many of us. And as we finally start to admit that we have overdosed on this gift many times over, we pray for your help to break the addiction. We pray for the courage, and the global unity we will need.

We pray for those of us who are left out in the cold: for people without a decent, safe home here in our town, for people escaping to our country from wars or oppression. We ask that we would live up to our duty to protect each other. We pray for the people in Israel and Palestine who are wondering where the next bomb will land, the people who are held hostage, the 1.8 million people who have had to grab what they can and run away from their homes as winter sets in. We ask that we the human race would step up to the challenge of working out a peace. We pray for leaders who are prepared to look their enemies in the eye and find a way to follow your command to love them.

Lord, warm our hearts. Who do we need to forgive? Who are we leaving out in the cold? Which social rejects do we have the chance to get to know and learn from? What violence are we witnessing that we must resist, with courage given to us by you?

Lord, warm our hearts.

Prayer: hating our enemies

Lord, teach us how to pray, and help us to pray now.

We thank you for the chance today to honour the courage and sacrifice of the people who have given up their lives, their health, their comfort for our safety. We mourn everyone we have lost through war, and we pray for the survivors of wars past and present. We pray for healing, and for recovery after traumatic experiences.

We pray for Ukraine, for some path to peace. We pray for the Democratic Republic of the Congo where violence has increased this year. We pray for the faltering peace talks in Yemen. Please bring new hope.

We are appalled at what we see in Israel and Gaza over the last few weeks. We ask desperately for peace and justice – freedom for hostages and safety for ordinary people. For the freedom that comes through forgiveness. We feel hopeless: during my lifetime I’ve seen attempts to improve the situation but nothing has worked. Please, bring new ideas and people on both sides brave enough to stand up for peace and mercy.

Lord, why do we persist in hating our enemies? Why are we surprised when we find we just end up with more enemies?

Hearing about the destruction of families in Israel and Gaza it brought to mind the vision that Ezekiel had: he saw a valley full of the bones of people who had been killed. The bones were totally dry, which to me connects with the utter hopelessness of this situation – there was no life in them at all. But God, you showed this to Ezekiel for a reason: you told him to speak to them despite the hopelessness, and when he did, impossibly, life entered those bones and they re-formed into people, and breath came into them.

Lord, we beg you to bring new life in Israel and Palestine. We pray for people of peace, and public support for them. We pray for courage. We pray for international support. We pray for everything that is needed: from us, from our government, whatever it is, so that some new breath can be breathed into these dry bones. Lord, don’t let another lifetime go past with this insult to your character pouring out shame on us, the human race.

We acknowledge that we ourselves are part of this hatred for enemies. We are subject to a kind of dehumanising outrage, whether it’s about the COVID enquiry, or the timing of protests, or the latest newspaper article. We pray against outrage designed by algorithms to farm our attention. We pray for unity of purpose over our shared values, and for acknowledgement of the humanity of people we disagree with. Where we have been tricked into forgetting that people are people, and their stories inform their opinions, we are sorry.

Today, as we honour the people we have lost, make us those people of peace. And maybe some of us want to cry out with Noy Katsman, whose brother Hayim was killed last month, “Do not use our pain to bring death”.

Amen

Prayer: some whisper of truth

May we, somehow, in the midst of all this activity, rest in your presence and hear some whisper of truth: of your exuberant love for us, the people of your world, the creatures of your world, the trees, the rocks, the sea.

Lord we pray for everyone affected by the earthquake yesterday in Morocco. Please help people who are grieving for friends and family who have died, and people who have lost their homes, or are uncertain about whether they can go back. Thank you for the people the UK is sending to help with the rescue and recovery process. Please keep everyone helping with the aftermath safe, and give them success in helping people, finding shelter for everyone, and rebuilding and making buildings safe. We pray for improved relations between the Moroccan and Algerian governments, and that Algeria would be able to help with the rescue and repair work.

We pray for an end to the war in Ukraine. We ask that everyone would be able to return to their homes and their lives. We pray for an end to the killing. We pray that Russia would stop the attacks targeting civilians and critical infrastructure. We ask for wisdom for our leaders about how to help end this war with a just outcome.

We thank you for the possibility of a deal in Palestine/Israel that might bring more rights and freedom for Palestinian people. We pray that real, substantial progress would be made, leading to a safer and better life for everyone in this region.

As we continue to see the catastrophic effects of the climate crisis all over the world, we thank you for the enormous changes that are taking place, including in this country. The UK emits almost half as much CO2 as it did in 1990, and emissions due to imports from other countries have been falling since 2007. The total energy we use has been falling since 2005. Our emissions from transport are down 8% since before COVID. Emissions from buildings fell 13% in 2022. We know none of this is going to be anywhere near enough for us avoid devastating warming, or to meet the target the UK set ourselves of reaching net zero by 2050. The parliamentary climate change committee recommended some things to get progress back on track: phasing out hybrid cars, limiting aviation growth, and diet change. We don’t have all the answers, and we won’t all agree here what the right thing to do is, but we pray, together, for resolute action from our government to continue and accelerate the work.

We pray for everyone starting a new year at school or college or university. Thank you for new starts and exciting opportunities. We know how much all of us were affected by the lockdowns during the pandemic, and we pray that our young people would recover from the negative effects they experienced. Help them find friends, and discover good ways to relate to you.

We bring our work to you. May we be hope to someone this week. May each of us learn about life from someone unexpected. May we break down the borders of our worlds so we don’t think in those terms any more. May we share our resources. May we share our lives. May we learn humility.

May we, somehow, in the midst of all this activity, rest in your presence and hear some whisper of truth: of your exuberant love for us, the people of your world, the creatures of your world, the trees, the rocks, the sea.

Amen

References: https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/uks-carbon-footprint/carbon-footprint-for-the-uk-and-england-to-2019 and https://www.theccc.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2023/06/Progress-in-reducing-UK-emissions-2023-Report-to-Parliament-1.pdf

Prayer: safe to shore

Lord, teach us how to pray, and help us to pray now.

When we read the news it’s hard not to be worried about our world. It’s hard to hear about the pain our fellow people are going through.

I was really struck last week when we sang the song “My Lighthouse”:

I will trust the promise
You will carry me safe to shore

I found it comforting to sing those words, and then I was brought up short by them. Will you carry us safe to shore?

It’s too late for the hundreds of people who drowned off the coast of Greece in June. You didn’t bring them safe to shore: they drowned in the terrifying ocean. We didn’t bring them safe to shore: we were too busy building our Hostile Environment back at home.

I was also struck last week by these words in the song “So will I”:

I can see Your heart eight billion different ways
Every precious one a child You died to save

Can we trust you were with those children trapped deep in the hull of that boat? God, please can we? Is there some comfort in believing they might be with you now?

Is it too late for the next crowd of people huddling onto the next boat? Maybe they set off this morning, full of hope for a new life away from violence and war.

It’s too late to stop the world’s temperature rising one degree – it’s already happened, and pretty much everyone agrees it’s too late to stop it rising past one and half. We don’t really know whether it’s already too late to stop it rising four degrees, with the devastation that will involve. Will you carry us safe to shore?

It’s too late for Ate Gloria who was so concerned about the damage to her grandchildren’s health from an open coal storage facility joint-owned by a British company that she organised a petition and campaign, and was killed in front of her grandchildren by two unknown assassins. Too late for the four people a week who, like her, are killed for defending their land and their health against destruction by companies who supply food and energy to people like us.

It’s too late to prevent the damage to people’s health by smoke from the fires in Canada and Australia. It’s too late to rescue the people killed, or to save homes and businesses destroyed, by flooding in Bangladesh or Germany. Is it too late for people living in coastal cities like Bangkok, Amsterdam, Cardiff, London?

Lord, how can we respond? We have built a dazzling statue of wealth and power and its feet are clay because it is built on the suffering and oppression of our fellow people. We long for your triumph. We hope for rescue.

Maybe we can repent. If we, the people in this room, repent, would that mean anything? What would it look like for us to repent as a country, or as a world? Will you carry us safe to shore?

Many of us here have enough problems that the last thing we need is someone like me going on about stuff like this. We pray for those of us who are unwell – please give people to provide the care they need. We pray for those of us who are out of work, or working in bad conditions – please give good work, and courage to look for it. We pray for those of us trapped in hard relationships – give freedom to escape where needed; give courage to turn away from wrong behaviour; give reconciliation and forgiveness.

We are here because we believe, sometimes with confidence and sometimes with none, that you are here, and that you are good.

We will trust the promise
You will carry us safe to shore

Help us understand. Help us be part of what you are doing.

Amen

Prayer: May your mercy bring change in us

Lord, teach us how to pray, and help us to pray now.

We pray for peace in Ukraine, in Sudan, in Syria, in Yemen. It’s hard to keep asking, when from a human point of view there seems little hope for reconciliation or negotiation, but we remember again the ordinary people who are fighting, suffering and dying. Please give us miraculous hope and peace. Guide leaders towards decisions that are not about pride or revenge but guided by humility and love. Thank you for those working for peace in Sudan, and their success in arranging a 24-hour ceasefire yesterday. We pray that it would have been successful and lead to an end to the fighting.

We ask that your mercy will bring change in us.

As unprecedented wildfires burn in Canada we watch with fear for what is next from the climate crisis. We are sorry for the decades we have spent failing to face up to what is happening, and we ask that we can put this failure behind us. Give us courage to take radical action to reduce carbon emissions. Give us compassion for everyone who is suffering now from what is already happening. Prevent us from falling for the temptation to turn away from those in need. We will be next, and our only hope is to work together. We know that we only have hope if you decide to step in.

We ask that your mercy will bring change in us.

We pray for everyone suffering in the huge Dengue fever outbreak in Peru. Please protect people, especially health workers, and help decision-makers get help to where people are needed. We ask for the money, resources and organisation to get people treatment.
We pray for everyone affected by the knife attack in Annecy – please help the victims recover, and help the community respond in ways that reflect your character. We pray for the attacker too – that whatever led him to do such a terrible thing would change.

We ask that your mercy will bring change in us.

We pray for staff and patients of the NHS. The pressure seems to mount all the time, and we only hear stories of things getting worse. We thank you for the excellent treatment so many of us have received, and we ask that things would get better, and there would be even better treatment for everyone who needs it. We especially pray for people living with cancer after recent stories about staff shortages. We ask for more staff, and we also ask for peace for people already coping with overwhelming fear as they hear news like this.

We pray too for our police forces as they come to terms with criminal actions of some police officers, and strong criticism from the inspector of policing. We ask that the systemic failings he identified will be addressed, and the police will provide safety for everyone in our society. We especially pray for people who right now see police more as a threat than a help: let change happen so that trust is built up.

We ask that your mercy will bring change in us.

We pray for our church. We thank you for the wide range of different people we are. We ask that we would get better at stepping out into our community to embrace and learn from more people. Where our differences cause tensions we ask for acceptance and humility. We pray for your help to understand how to get involved: with our church and as a church, in our area. Help us to move on from things that are not right any more, and find new ways. Help us to buckle down when things you are asking us to do are hard, always receptive to where you are leading us, and especially to who you are putting in front of us. If we’re making each other uncomfortable that might be a good sign, but please show us how to work together with compassion.

We ask that your mercy will bring change in us.

We pray for all of us who are unwell and grieving, and our friends and family. Bring peace and comfort. Use us to help each other. Don’t let anyone in our town be isolated by suffering, but bring us together.

We ask that your mercy will bring change in us.

Prayer: we look to Jesus

Lord, teach us how to pray, and help us to pray now.

We pray for the people of Sudan as the bombing and fighting in Khartoum and elsewhere continue. We pray that there will be a ceasefire, and an end to violence. We pray for peace and a stable civilian government. We look to Jesus to understand how to resist violence. He chose not to lead an armed revolution against the empire oppressing his people but to remain non-violent in the face of oppression, torture and death. It’s hard to wrestle with what that means in every situation, and we ask for your help to understand. Please help everyone in Sudan who is resisting violence and killing. Please help us to support them.

We pray for the people of Northern Ireland. We thank you for the Good Friday agreement, and the peace it has brought us. We pray that our leaders and communities can find a way forward for power sharing, so we can continue the road to peace and safety for everyone. We look to Jesus to show us how to forgive. He prayed for forgiveness for the people mocking him even while we was being tortured to death. Let us learn what it means to forgive, and to love our enemies.

We pray for the church around the world. We look to Jesus for our example of how to live, and we see him having dinner with people rejected by society because of their moral corruption. Help us learn from him what this means for us. As the church takes positions on what is right and wrong help us see clearly the power structures at work, and side with the the poor, captives, the blind and the oppressed. Make us a voice for people considered unacceptable, corrupt or beneath contempt. Every time we’re tempted to throw the first stone, remind us of our own mistakes as a church. Free us from a false sense of moral superiority, so we are ready to get our hands dirty living in true friendship with the oppressed.

We pray for ourselves. We look to Jesus and see his trust in you: teach us to call you Abba when we are desperate, and know your gentle love. We see in Jesus an excitement that heaven is here now: help us to understand that this really is good news, and to share that excitement around. When it feels like our lives are not successful or meaningful, help us to know your acceptance as your children right now, and to trust, like Jesus did, that your Spirit in us can take care of the plan for our lives while we get on with acting with love to our fellow-people.

We pray for everyone among us who is unwell, and for all of us who are grieving for people we have lost. We pray for our world as it cries out in sickness because of the damage we are doing to it. We ask for a rescue, knowing that Jesus is with us, and rescuing is what he does, and we take hope from that.

Prayer: not joining the pile-ons

Lord, you are good. We resist any lie that tells us otherwise, or that tells us there is no way back to you. And because you are good, we are able to bring these prayers to you.

We pray for the survivors of the earthquake in Syria and Turkey. Please comfort everyone who is grieving and heal those who are injured. We pray for more help, in Northern Syria especially, and ask that the help that is available would be able to get through borders and be effective. We pray for justice over poor building construction, and for safer buildings to be built everywhere that is at risk. We pray for the Disasters Emergency Committee as they provide shelter and food – please help them get to where they need to, and give them the money and resources they need.

We ask for an end to the wars that are destroying so many lives. We pray for Ethiopia. We ask that the deal signed in November would lead to a fair and lasting peace. We ask that the Eritrean forces would withdraw, and that the Tigrayan people would be safe and free. We pray for justice, truth and reconciliation over the atrocities committed during the war. It’s impossible to imagine the grieving process for half a million people. We ask for your help, for healing.
We pray for an end to the war in Syria, which led to so much avoidable tragedy after the earthquake, and we continue to pray for peace in Ukraine. We don’t have any answers: we are just asking you for help.

Please help the Scottish National Party as it chooses a new leader. We thank you for Nicola Sturgeon’s service, and we pray for all of politics in the UK: please bring leaders with integrity and vision to help us deal with the huge challenges of our time: global inequality and climate emergency, medical and social care, borders and trade especially in Northern Ireland, and so many others.

Lord, help us to learn from Jesus how to live out morality: standing next to those considered beneath contempt by the respectable people, and asking who is without sin. Give us courage to resist the pile-ons of social media and newspapers, refusing to throw stones with the crowd. Give us compassion for the sinner, knowing we’re all in the same boat.

We want to learn how to be like you, but so often in the church a sense of setting ourselves apart has become distorted into bullying and rejection of others. Help us to welcome and love everyone, especially those who don’t fit our sense of proper behaviour. Give us the humility to learn with and from those people, never imposing a blinkered formula for right living, but listening to their story.