Posted On June 8, 2022

How Long These Tragedies? A Pastoral Prayer

by | Jun 8, 2022 | Featured, The Gospel and the Christian Life

In centuries past, all the way through the middle of the twentieth century, a great number of ministers (from a broad spectrum of Protestant Christian communities) conducted divine services, including a pastoral petition that (understandably) came to be called “the Long Prayer.” The Long Prayer often appeared in the Order of Worship prior to the sermon. Other pastors found such liturgical proximity of the Long Prayer to the sermon to be nearly impossible.

The visceral effect of this singularly exhausting act of pastoral duty weakened even the strongest man that he had to define an adequate period of separation between the Long Prayer and the Sermon. The nature of this public devotion of the Christian shepherd required a protracted and reverent but unrestrained energy that drew on spiritual, intellectual, emotional, and physical faculties to the degree of near syncope. Ministers would often spend as much time in preparing this careful and comprehensive appeal to Almighty GOD as they would the sermon. I recall going into the archives of the 170-year-old church I served as senior pastor in my own ministry. I would read a layman’s handwritten transcript of the Long Prayer from a given Sunday and be surprised at the unbroken strength of the current of pastoral love, concern, urgency, and personal appeal that still seized me. So powerful were those unforgettable moments of reading the Long Prayer that, not infrequently, I was moved to spontaneous experiences of confession of my coldness of heart, cloudiness of mind, and shallowness of spirit. I felt as if I were sitting under the Gospel ministry of the minister, long ago called to glory. On more than one of these special occasions, I was stricken with the conviction that I was not caring for the flock of Christ with the passion and power that comes from uninterrupted time with God.

I thought about the Long Prayer as I was burdened with the state of our nation, our civilization, and, yes, the Church. So, I prayed—and used the Elizabethan English of my childhood Bible to express my prayers, as I often do. I pray that this usage is not distracting to you.

I prayed, and I wrote. I lay down, wept, and slept for many hours when I was finished. Yet, I awoke with a renewed faith in the God who hears and the certainty that where sin abounds, grace abounds more.

O MERCIFUL FATHER, who has taught us in Thy holy Word that our God does not willingly afflict or grieve the children of men, and is, yet, altogether Sovereign and close to the brokenhearted: Let the mourning mothers and fathers lay their grief before the cross where these divine mysteries mingle in salvation and hope; And, we know that Thou art with our fellow citizens in their quaint villages, urban apartments, and rural homes—is there any place not subject to the violence in our land—for the most bucolic borough, mighty metropolis, and calming countryside can become, in the sound of a shot, a place of unspeakable horror; So, from the deepest parts of our humanity and by faith in the risen Christ, we pray Thy comfort upon those who grieve when the killing is done (in small-town classrooms by light and big city streets by darkness); So, we plead for Thy Holy Spirit to speak Christ our Life, our Hope, to them with the deep healing that human words can never bring:

Those who are the dear sorrowing mothers and fathers that wail in indescribable pain over the slaughter of their children—the mothers with empty arms who could not hold their dying babies, fathers with unfathomable grief who were unable to protect their children from an inexplicable rage of unrestrained sin birthed by dark demonic minds (And, Lord, I remember there was a young lady, a teacher in the small town in Texas: she, also, a daughter, a sister, a wife, a mother, a friend—executed by one who became like a beast and not a man, acting on the dark impulses of a wicked spirit, a pitiless creature, tormented by the “father of lies,” beguiled by his own fallen heart, and groomed by a world in love with death);

And we pray for ourselves, those who call on Thy Name, not that we have borne the incalculable pain of those parents and those communities where such savagery has marked its presence with blood, but that in our misery over the loss of life, over the disappearance of innocence, over the godless, calculated changes in society that defy Thy Word and mock Thy Name, we will know Thy certain and indisputable will: that we who are called by Thy Name will seek Thy face—not the faceless, untethered governmental powers of accumulated taxes, nor the promises of legislation over meaningless matters—and in seeking we will see Thee in Thy holiness, and return to the faith of our Mothers and Fathers, the religious devotion of our Founders, and the Christian conviction of our Puritan and Pilgrim forefathers who made a covenant with Thee for this land—all of their spiritual descendants who would have come here in diverse ways— to be “a city on a hill;.”

For, O God our Father, we are like the Israelites dying in the unrelenting heat of dry desert sands with the mark of vipers on our flesh and the poison of serpents in our veins; We are like the captives of Babylon weeping in prayer by the banks of a river that runs through a country we do not recognize; How long, O Lord, how long, wilt Thou restrain Thine arm of justice from the righteous removal of such scarlet tides of violence that ebb and flow, violently crashing against the great stones, venerable rocks of righteousness, that heretofore guarded our blessed land; Yet, how this new raging tide appears to vomit its ferocity by unseen but energetic forces of unbelief;

So, O Lord God, we confess: How can we not expect the consequences of a whirlwind after we have sown such evil in days when fairer winds prevailed? According to Thy inerrant and infallible Word in Romans chapter one, the denial of plain truth and casting off of divinely-imparted instincts has bred insanity, a veritable avalanche of predicted madness from the weight of infidelities, and the height of defiance against Thy Divine Person? Are we, then, given over to our unbelief? Are we alone in the cosmos, reaping a more terrible pandemic that is even now injected into our collective and individual minds? For we see the foolish and wholesale acceptance of what is absurd; We watch in increasing apathy that the wicked denial of God is not only embraced by those entrapped by Satan but is forced upon all of us as the norm: in the public squares, the classrooms, and the radio waves and digital superhighways of our nation; And in our practical atheism, we are blind to the coming judgments already at our gates: As our poets have warned us, the Fall of Rome came with a distant moving of the herds, responding to a giant army on the move:

“Altogether elsewhere, vast
Herds of reindeer move across
Miles and miles of golden moss,
Silently and very fast.”

For there is ruthless and rampant killing in our deteriorating cities, the indecent and unnatural use of our bodies to satisfy the sinister voices from a lower world, thereby defying our humanity as the mob cries its approval, and like the ungodly multitudes at Lot’s door, demanding the gruesome abortionist’s bloody procedures, shredding children from the womb, the brutality of young men raging against each other in the streets of our cities, as the lifeless bodies of our youth are clinging with their death-frozen hands to the bags of poisonous magic, and the immodest and unrestrained lusts of men-turned-beasts are ravaging our precious girls and women;

O Lord, how can it not be? Is Alaric gathering his terrible confederacy of Vandals and Goths even now? Is creation, like Auden’s herds, warning us of an unconquerable troop that is on the move?

How long until the natural judicial consequences of our unbelief become the unimaginable divine justice that is warned? And shall it not be all the more terrible for the knowledge of Truth we have been given by godly fathers and mothers of prior generations? Their witness is everywhere around us in the steeples pointing us to heaven, in the sacred seals of our oldest educational institutions dedicated to a then-immovable precept that all pious teaching and learning must come from Thee; And are the articles of faith in Thy Son our Savior Jesus Christ not etched in the stone of our national monuments?

Indeed, for our sake tarriest Thou in love’s mercy; An amazing grace restrains the fierce storms of virtuous judgment, so that we who are Thy People may turn and collapse into Thy arms of forgiveness and remove ourselves from the wickedness of these days; O Lord answer our prayers for holiness in our land; For Thou art the loving God who saved sinful Nineveh; Therefore, wouldst Thou, O God, also withhold Thy hand of deserved justice and have compassion on us, who nevertheless live in the ruin and rubble from days of defiance; For we plead in the Name of Thy Son, heal our land;

Lord, we can pray no other way but this: O God, restore us to Thee from the inside-out so that we may be saved from ourselves.

We pray for the glory and the uplifting of the Name above all Names, even Jesus Christ our God and Savior, whoever lives with Thee, O Father, and the Holy Spirit, One God, now and forevermore. Amen.

Notes

The poem quoted is from W. H. Auden, “The Fall of Rome,” in Nones (New York: Random House, 1951), https://poets.org/poem/fall-rome.

‘Restore O Lord” by Graham Kendrick and Chris Rolinson. Performed by St. Michael’s Singers and Choir. Recorded in worship at Coventry Cathedral (Anglican), Great Britain.

Restore O Lord

Graham Kendrick & Chris Rolinson
Copyright © 1981 Thankyou Music

Restore, O Lord,
The honour of Your name,
In works of sovereign power
Come shake the earth again;
That all may see
And come with reverent fear
To the living God,
Whose kingdom shall outlast the years.

Restore, O Lord,
In all the earth Your fame,
And in our time revive
The church that bears Your name.
And in Your anger,
Lord, remember mercy,
O living God,
Whose mercy shall outlast the years.

Bend us, O Lord,
Where we are hard and cold,
In Your refiner’s fire
Come purify the gold.
Though suffering comes
And evil crouches near,
Still our living God
Is reigning, He is reigning here.

Restore, O Lord,
The honour of Your name,
In works of sovereign power
Come shake the earth again;
That all may see
And come with reverent fear
To the living God,
Whose kingdom shall outlast the years.

Scriptures:

Psalm 23, Psalm 80:14, Psalm 80:19, Psalm 85:4, Psalm 102:27, Psalm 136:1, Habakkuk 3:2, Habakkuk 3:6, Haggai 2:6-7.

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