The PC(USA) General Assembly is about to start in Pittsburgh. This is our biennial national governing meeting, when hundreds of elders and ministers from around the country come together to make significant decisions about the future of the denomination. And those who commissioners and delegates need your prayers over the next week. Though our process of decision-making is intended to be a way for the Church to discern God’s will together, the way the assembly functions actually makes it very difficult to listen to God. Information comes at commissioners faster than they can process it. Decisions are made without people being fully informed. And though we purport to be open to prayer, the noise and busyness of the assembly tend to drown out the still, small voice of God. As Jack Haberer from the said in his latest editorial, “Listening to the voice of God won’t come easily amid the convention-style cacophony.”
Since I’ve been using the Prayer Book of Early Christians, I’ve come to appreciate the openness and humble submission to God’s will which characterize many of these prayers from the Eastern Church. Something about these prayers says, “Thy will be done,” with more confidence and trust than many prayers I’ve heard in our denominational meetings. So this prayer, used in several of the Orthodox liturgies for praying the hours, is going to become my regular prayer for the General Assembly:
Christ our God, who at all times and through every hour are worshiped and glorified both in heaven and on earth; you who are so patient, full of mercy and compassion; who love the just and show mercy to sinners; who summon all to salvation through the promise of good things to come: Lord now receive our prayers at this present hour and direct our lives in accordance with your commandments. Sanctify our souls, purify our bodies, clarify our intentions and deliver us from every calamity, evil, and distress. Stand your holy angels around us, that guided and protected by their ranks, we may come into the unity of faith and the knowledge of your unapproachable glory: for blessed are you to the ages of ages. Amen.
Two lines deserve special comment here: Sanctify our souls, purify our bodies, clarify our intentions and deliver us from every calamity, evil, and distress. Stand your holy angels around us, that guided and protected by their ranks, we may come into the unity of faith and the knowledge of your unapproachable glory. The prayer presumes, in line with the thinking of the Church Fathers, that unity of faith and knowledge of God’s glory come through God’s sanctifying work within us. In other words, only the Holy Spirit conforming us more and more to the likeness of Christ can overcome the divisiveness which plagues the Church. And that means such unity and knowledge require God’s sanctifying action in our individual lives. So we pray for God to sanctify our souls and clarify our intentions, to make us holy people with selfless intentions. Purifying our bodies matters, too. We’re holistic creatures, which means that what goes on in our bodies affects our minds and souls. If you’re a delegate or commissioner at the assembly, try thinking carefully about what you eat this week: fasting or eating lighter, simpler meals may make it easier to be attentive to God’s voice. Seriously. Lastly, we pray for the protection of God’s angels against our unseen enemies. Spiritual warfare is real, and meetings like this provide plenty of opportunities for the powers of darkness to attack. Again, seriously.
Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on your servants at this General Assembly. Amen.