A Prayer for My Feet

I sat on a flimsy plastic stool, the same sort I’d propped on to eat street noodles a few days before. My eyes were closed, elbows resting on knees as I sat in a small circle of praying Christians. It was a little oasis during my week, a moment when I could relax my guard and enjoy the presence of other believers. I was enveloped by the prayers spoken into the room. There was peace here.

The middle-aged man beside me was praying, asking for the Lord’s protection, for provision, for wisdom in our work. He stopped suddenly. A pause? A moment for thought? An abruptly ended prayer?

I was confused when I opened my eyes slightly to peek at his face. It was contorted with emotion, his mouth tight, brow furrowed. The corners of his eyes were wet. What had he said that evoked such overwhelming emotion?

He continued, his voice thick. Father, let your Kingdom come in this place.

I’d heard these words oft-repeated in the Lord’s Prayer but never with so much desperation. Never before had I seen this petition for the Kingdom to come “on earth as it is in heaven” to bring a grown man to tears. I’d never thought its implications could be so profound. I couldn’t shake it.

I took his prayer with me to the streets of that remote corner of Asia: Father, let your Kingdom come. When I returned home at the end of that summer, I took it to the halls of my small Christian college, where so many of us were plagued with depression and perfectionism: Father, let your Kingdom come. It followed me to Central America, to rooms filled with sleeping foster children: Father, let your Kingdom come. It came with me to New England, and I carried it with me as I walked down our tree spotted street into town: Father, let your Kingdom come in this place.

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Along the way, I’ve found this prayer shaping me, as our prayers so often do. It wasn’t merely a request thrown to the heavens. It became a moment in which I positioned myself for God to mold me. It was a moment in which He met me.

You can only pray that prayer so long until you start asking questions about what the Kingdom of God looks like or how we recognize its coming. When we pray “let your Kingdom come,” it’s only a matter of time until we start asking what role we play in that request.

I grew up in a tradition that largely understood the Kingdom of God as a future other-worldly reality. It was about the salvation of souls, and it was something to be escaped to when the Kingdom’s King returned (or when I went to heaven when I died).

But over the years, as this little prayer burrowed deeper into my soul, I began to meditate on what it meant for heaven to come to earth. The hope of New Creation captured my heart. I began to long for and keep my eyes open not only for the Kingdom that is not yet, but also the Kingdom that is already breaking into our world, the Kingdom I have been welcomed into, the Kingdom I am an ambassador for.

In his book Surprised by Hope, N.T. Wright describes our current actions as signs of the Kingdom that has arrived in Jesus and foretastes of all that is to come. We are to be “new-creation people here and now, bringing signs and symbols of the kingdom to birth on earth as in heaven. The resurrection of Jesus and the gift of the Spirit mean that we are called to bring real and effective signs of God’s renewed creation to birth even in the midst of the present age.”

We long for the day when the Kingdom comes fully and finally to earth. But until then, we embody the nature of the Kingdom and seek to bring its marks to our spheres of influence. We seek justice and reconciliation, truth and peace, freedom and wholeness, the restoration and healing of bodies and of souls. We work and “build for” (Wright’s language) the Kingdom precisely because of our deeply rooted hope that our prayers for the Kingdom to come will one day be answered completely.

I’ve learned that praying for the Kingdom of God to come to earth as it is in heaven is not a prayer that can remain in the seclusion of a prayer closet. We carry it with us when engage in the work of reconciliation or when we care for trafficking victims. It’s there when we care for the homeless and welcome the poor, when we fight to protect the dignity and life of all humankind. It surrounds us as we have spiritual conversations with a non-Christian friend or we disciple a fellow Christian into a deeper understanding of God’s love for them. It leads us as we seek the good and flourishing of our neighborhoods and cities. It’s a prayer we pray on our feet.

Practicing the Presence of God

This is an updated and edited version of a post that appeared originally in October 2015.


“We ought not to be weary of doing little things for the love of God, who regards not the greatness of the work, but the love with which it is performed.” - Brother Lawrence

I sometimes grow weary of the mundane. Dishes in need of washing appear day after day on my counter. The dirty laundry bin stays empty for only a few hours at most. There are bills to be paid, doctor appointments to keep, trash to be carried away week after week. No matter how hard I scrub, the shower will once again collect soap scum, the toilet bowl that mysterious water line. It’s easy to wish away the monotony of ever-accumulating chores. It’s easy to find them drudgery.

Then I remember our friend Brother Lawrence.

Brother Lawrence was a lay brother in a Carmelite monastary in 17th-century Paris. After his death, a fellow monk compiled a short book of Brother Lawrence’s letters and recorded conversations. If you have never read this delightful little book, The Practice of the Presence of God, you really must.

Brother Lawrence has been made famous by scrubbing greasy pots “for the love of God.” While serving as a lowly monastic kitchen aide, he “resolved to make the love of God the end of all his actions.” He developed a spiritual practice of remaining in constant communion with God through a continual conversation in prayer. Every act became a way to glorify God. Through his daily practice of “abiding” in God’s presence, the mundane became a place Brother Lawrence could serve God and experience His presence.

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He teaches me a simple lesson, one I need to remember when I bend over the kitchen sink or stand folding the laundry: what makes an action glorify God is not the nature of the action itself but the attitude with which we do it.

Brother Lawrence says to me, Go do life and recognize that every little piece of it is from the Lord. Everything you do can be for His glory and out of love for Him. He cares about the details and the daily menial tasks. He can meet with you in them.

In my work, my chores, my play—all those moments of normal life—God is there. Glorifying God does not require me to fill my time with a litany of explicitly “spiritual” activities. It simply requires an everyday life surrendered to Him. He is glorified in His children being fully alive. He is served as I live each moment to His glory, out of love and gratitude for Him.

There are times when a life of this continual surrender and constant attendance to God’s presence does result in a drastic life change. It may lead some of us to move somewhere we wouldn’t chose on our own. It may lead to a career change. It may lead to radical actions with our time or our money. But most often, it means “doing life” in a rather non-extraordinary way, but with the eyes of our heart on the Lord, seeking to serve Him in the everyday, seeking to walk continually in His presence, as if He were physically with us as we go through our daily tasks.

So how do we do this? How do we follow the lessons our friend Brother Lawrence taught centuries ago? What is the secret that brought Brother Lawrence to the point of meaningfully and worshipfully scrubbing pots for God?

“In order to form a habit of conversing with God continually, and referring all we do to Him; we must at first apply to Him with some diligence: but that after a little care we should find His love inwardly excite us to it without any difficulty.”

In other words—practice. We practice keeping up a constant conversation with God as we go through the day. We practice considering how we can do the simple work before us to His glory. According to our friend, Brother Lawrence, this practice eventually makes abiding in God’s presence our default mode.

So wherever you are today, friend, remember that God is there with you, no matter how trivial it might feel. Look for Him there, practice His presence, and do all for the love of God.


Praying Lament Psalms (and How to Write Your Own)

You’re sitting at Bible study. It’s time for prayer. The middle-aged woman beside you has been wrongfully let go from her job. She is the main source of income for the family and cares for her mother, who suffers from dementia. Her resume lends her few job prospects, and she doesn’t know how she’ll make ends meet. She was a hard worker and was pushed to the side—legally but wrongfully—in favor of a younger employee. She starts to pray: “Lord, they are so evil and think they can get away with this. Break their arms and chase them down until they are destroyed.”

You can hear the shuffling in the room. Someone delicately clears her throat. You shift uncomfortably in your seat and squint your eyes open to see if she’ll continue.

Does this woman have an anger problem? Does the Bible study group need to do a lesson on forgiveness or on joy in suffering?

Or has she been reading the Psalms?

Prayer For Pain: Rage Belongs Before God

At some point, many of us developed a “prayer voice.” In my experience this wasn’t the result of explicit instruction—though perhaps it was for you. I can remember times my pen would pause as I wrote in my prayer journal. My mind was blazing with what I felt. The words were there, banging against the door, waiting for the flow of ink to let them onto the page. But a sense of decorum made me reword my prayer into something more “proper.”

We feel we need to clean up our language and tidy our emotions. We stifle our grief, our rage, our questions to present composed prayers, polite prayers, dignified prayers. We do it in the name of respect, as if we will offend God’s sensibilities, as if He has not heard our thoughts already. We do it in the name of submission, as if our spirits will calm if we simply do not acknowledge the way our bruised and bloodied hearts wrestle for faith.

Where, then, are we to work through our outrage? Where do we take our smothering sorrow? Who will hear our doubts when we don’t know how to believe? What do we do with raw, open-wounded pain? If we cannot take these emotions, these moments to the God we call Father, where else will we go?

Thankfully, the Psalms give us permission to bring our fiercest, untamed thoughts and emotions to God. They teach us, as Miroslav Volf says, that our rage belongs before Him. They also offer us a model for how to do this.

Psalms of Lament: Patterns for Prayer

Psalms of Lament are the most common type of psalm in the Bible. (Just a side note: Rarely hearing these read in corporate worship is a part of our implicit “instruction” about how and what we pray.) Some of these lament psalms are shocking, particularly if you reword them into modern language.

The psalmists pray in vivid terms about their anger and grief. They bring complaints to God about their situation and freely say, “God, I don’t like this. Why aren’t you doing something?”

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But the lament psalms aren’t about letting emotions go wild. They are a means of bringing these wild emotions to God Himself.

When the psalmists voice their complaints, they aren’t grumbling about what God is doing “behind His back” (as if this were possible). They bring their complaints directly to Him. When they express anger, they aren’t plotting a time to break their enemies’ arms (think of the prayer above). They’re bringing these vindictive feelings to God and asking Him to intervene. When they question God’s actions and wonder if He’s abandoned them, they are still speaking to Him. The act of bringing these emotions, desires, or doubts to God is itself an act of faith.

This is where we see the true answer to the question of submission or reverence, when they stifle our prayers. Submission doesn’t come in not feeling. It comes in taking our natural feelings and reactions in faith to God. Reverence doesn’t come in treating God like an old Victorian aunt. It comes in recognizing Him as the source of justice, healing, and comfort. Submission and reverence come as we take our broken reality and place it with limping, dependent faith at God’s feet.

Lament Psalms follow a typical pattern that teaches us how to put this into practice:

  • Protest: Tell God what is wrong.

  • Petition: Tell God what you want Him to do about it.

  • Praise: Expression of trust in God today, based in His character and His action in the past, even if you can’t yet see the outcome.

(For some examples, take a look at Psalm 6, 10, 13, 17, 22, 25, 30, 31, 69, 73, 86, 88, 102.)

Lament psalms teach us to bring our raw emotion and desires to God—with no filter or polishing—and how to release those emotions and desires to His care. Even before our situation has resolved, we can find comfort. We come needy and desperate, and we sit expectantly with the solid truth of who He is.

The Practice of Lament: How to Write Your Own Lament Psalm

Using the pattern of the lament psalms and the freedom they offer in prayer, we can incorporate lament into our own spiritual disciplines practice. I have found this to be formative and a source of great comfort in painful seasons of life. It has provided me with words when I feel so overwhelmed that I don’t know what to pray.

You can incorporate the lament psalms in several ways. You can choose a lament psalm from the Bible and simply read it in prayer to the Lord. The book of Psalms is a prayer book, so we should feel free to use it in this way.

You could then take a lament psalm and reword it based on your current circumstances. Perhaps the “enemies” you’re crying out to God about aren’t human beings but are cancer or depression. Adapt the psalmist’s words to reflect your situation.

You could also write a lament psalm completely on your own. You don’t need to be a poet to do this. It’s for your own benefit. Simply follow the pattern. In your own words, tell God what is wrong. Then, in your own words, tell Him what you’d like Him to do about it. Then offer an expression of trust or a reminder of who He is. I have found it to be helpful to think of a character attribute of God or an example of how He has acted in the past, either in your own life or in the Bible, that applies to the situation.

For the woman in the prayer group above, a prayer of lament may read like this:

God, I don’t know what to do.
In spite of my hard work and diligence, I’ve been treated unjustly.
It’s not fair. Why did you let this happen?
I don’t know how I will make ends meet.
The rent check is due, and so is Mom’s medical bill. But there’s no money.
I don’t see any way out of this. It feels like my prayers are bouncing against a wall.

God, do something about this.
Bring me justice and punish the people who’ve done this to line their pockets with more money.
God, do something about this.
Provide for my family and be our helper.
Hear my prayers and make a way that I can’t yet see.

I will praise you, God, because you are a God of justice and you see right and wrong.
God, I won’t forget how you provided when my husband died.
I won’t forget how you gave me this job when I was unemployed.
I praise you because you are a Provider and a Helper and you see us.

The Fruit of Lament

We are formed as we pray using the Bible’s pattern of lament. We find a God who meets us in the lowest places. We enter into the sacred place where our emotions, pain, and circumstances collide with the character of God.

Sometimes we see answers to the prayers we’ve prayed. We see provision or healing or justice.

But often the “answers” we receive are surprising. They come to prayers we didn’t know to pray. Our lament bears fruit, and we see the change within our own hearts. As we bring our pain to God, we are slowly transformed.

We are reminded of His faithfulness, and we learn trust. We are reminded of His justice, and we release our desires for revenge. We are reminded of His grace towards us, and we learn to forgive. We are met with His comfort, and we learn a new shape of joy.

We find Him. Not in fancy words or composed phrases, but in the humble, simple faith of a child. And in His presence, our lament slowly becomes a place of hope.


Have you incorporated lament into your own spiritual life? How have you found it to be helpful or meaningful? I’d love to hear about it.


Let Me Die, Let Me Rise: A Prayer

A prayer centering on the crucifixion and resurrection realities in our lives. Leave it to the Puritans to write one like this. 

O Lord, 
I marvel that you would become incarnate, be crucified, dead and buried. 
The sepulcher calls forth my adoring wonder, for it is empty and you are risen; the four-fold
     gospel attests it, the living witnesses prove it, my heart's experience knows it.
Give me to die with you that I may rise to new life, for I wish to be as dead and buried to sin, to
     selfishness, to the world; that I might not hear the voice of the charmer, and might be
     delivered from his lusts.
O Lord, there is much ill about me - crucify it; much flesh within me - mortify it.
Purge me from selfishness, the fear of man, the love of approbation, the shame of being
     thought old-fashioned, the desire to be cultivated or modern. 
Let me reckon my old life dead because of crucifixion, and never feed it as a living thing.
Grant me to stand with my dying Savior, to be content to be rejected, to be willing to take up
     unpopular truths, and to hold fast despised teachings until death.
Help me to be resolute and Christ-contained.
Never let me wander from the path of obedience to your will.
Strengthen me for the battles ahead.
Give me courage for all the trials, and grace for all the joys.
Help me to be a holy, happy person, free from every wrong desire, from everything contrary to
     your mind.
Grant me more and more of the resurrection life: may it rule me, may I walk in its power, and be
     strengthened through its influence.

- A Puritan prayer, "Crucifixion and Resurrection," as quoted in The Valley of Vision

"Always Say Amen Firmly"

If there’s one thing I appreciate about Martin Luther (besides his sense of humor), it’s how practical he is. Few realize that his motivation for his famous Ninety-Five Theses, which could easily be called the spark of the Protestant Reformation, was not only a theological one but also a practical one. He was concerned about how the current selling of indulgences was harming lay Christians.

A delightful example of his practicality is in a little piece of his called “A Simple Way to Pray.” It is a short explanation of how Luther prays, written for the benefit of his barber, who apparently asked for his advice. Prayer is important to Luther, and he teaches barber Peter how to use Scripture (The Lord’s Prayer and the Ten Commandments) to shape his prayers. (If you’re interested in reading the entire thing, you can find it here.)

Praying Scripture offers Luther a sense of surety. He is simply praying back what God has already said.

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