A Sevenfold Prayer for Transformation David A.

deSilva This article is an abridgment of chapter 10 in Sacramental Life: Spiritual Formation Through the Book of Common Prayer (InterVarsity, 2008).

When Jesus’ disciples asked him to teach them how to pray, Jesus responded by giving them a fixed prayer to recite (Matt 6:9-13//Luke 11:1-4). In that prayer, he taught them what they most needed to ask of God. As they prayed it attentively, he knew that their hearts and wills would be changed and brought more and more in line with what they were asking of God. What they were seeking in prayer was fully attuned to the change that God wanted to bring about in them and the direction in which God wanted them to go. The danger of reciting prayer in a fixed form is that we will say the words we know so well without the full attention of our minds, hearts, and wills. The opportunity of such prayer is that we will move into places that God wants to take us, guided by the wisdom of the author of the prayer as by a spiritual director, into which we would not move on our own. In the baptismal liturgy of the Book of Common Prayer, the celebrant leads the congregation in an elegant, sevenfold prayer over those who are about to be baptized or who are renewing their commitment to their baptismal vows: Deliver them, Lord, from the way of sin and death. Open their hearts to your grace and truth. Fill them with your holy and life-giving Spirit. Keep them in the faith and communion of your holy Church. Teach them to love others in the power of the Spirit. Send them into the world in witness to your love. Bring them to the fullness of your peace and glory. (BCP, 305-6) These petitions give expression step-by-step to the process of transformation that baptism represents, but that occupies us for the remainder of our lives as we seek to live out our baptism. Baptism sets us on a path of ongoing transformation – dying more and more to the life of the old person entangled in the self-centered and death-bound ways of this world, and coming alive more and more to that “newness of life” that the Spirit empowers. As these prayers represent the church’s prayers on our behalf in our baptism, we are invited to continue to pray them over ourselves again and again until their substance is realized in us. As we do, the petitions invite us to become more and more open to these ongoing actions of God on our behalf, delivering, opening, filling, keeping, teaching, sending and, through all of these combined, bringing us ever closer to him. Deliver me, Lord, from the way of sin and death.

God has from the beginning urged his people to “choose life, . . . loving the Lord your God, obeying him, and holding fast to him” (Deut 30:19-20) rather than the way that leads to death and curse. Baptism means a constant dying to the way of death in which Satan, the domination systems of this world, and our own sinful desires entangle us. This petition calls us to open our inmost selves to God’s searching eye. We pray, “Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! See if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!” (Ps 139:23-24 ESV). Our desire must be to step out of the way of sin and death as the Holy Spirit convicts us, rather than trying to defend our involvement in that way. Such dying precedes newness of life. Open my heart to your grace and truth. The Exodus of the first petition is undertaken for the sake of entering the Promised Land of the second and following. The emptying is for the sake of finding the fullness of God's abundance, knowing that this will satisfy our core longings as the way of sin and death never could. We pray with Thomas á Kempis, “Let your love possess and raise me above myself, with a fervor and wonder beyond imagination” (Imitation of Christ 3.5). We also seek God’s truth—about our heart, our affections, inclinations, desires, speech, actions (all in the context of God’s gentleness and sustaining love, so that we can bear the truth and accept its implications), and about his good will for us in the context of what he wants to make of us, of his church, and of his world, so that we can direct all our energies toward his designs. Fill me with your holy and life-giving Spirit. God comes to make his home within us, fulfilling his promise to “dwell” with his people (Lev 26:11-12; Ezek 37:27; 2 Cor 6:16; Rev 21:3), through the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is God's presence and power within us to enable us to walk in newness of life. We confess the Spirit to have been imparted in baptism, but we pray daily to be refreshed in the Holy Spirit, even as Paul directed: “Keep being filled with the Spirit” (Eph 5:18), keep being immersed anew in the Spirit so as to be able to want what pleases God this day, to be empowered for the new life this day, to have God’s intimate companionship for the journey of this day, to experience the internal guidance of the Spirit this day and thereby to walk in the way of righteousness and life this day. Keep me in the faith and communion of your holy church. We need to keep talking to other Christians about our common faith and living it out in our shared circumstances. We ask God to keep us rooted in the praying, worshiping assembly, and to open our eyes to new venues for and levels of Christian intimacy and support. The new life depends on such “communion.” Other Christians reflect back to us the character of the new life. Their enthusiasm is contagious. Their ability to discern our need and offer edifying support can be timely and life giving. Their awareness of God can rekindle our own when our vision of God

has grown dim and our experience of his presence has grown cold. And, of course, it is the Christian community that keeps offering to us the means of grace to persevere. Teach me to love others in the power of the Spirit. As we consider the people whose paths we will cross this day, we pray that God would empower us to live out the mystery of “Christ in us,” to be empowered to love as Christ loved, to give ourselves as Christ gave himself, out of the fullness that we have received from God. Resting in God’s presence, we ask to have our hearts so transformed that we will love the person God puts before us or directs us to seek out as God would have us love that person—not as, in our flesh, we might otherwise wish to respond to him or her. In the power of the Spirit and under the Spirit’s guidance, we pray that we will seek the interests of others rather than our own (Phil 2:4), for “when a person is self-seeking he or she abandons love” (Thomas á Kempis, Imitation of Christ 3.5). Send me into the world in witness to your love. What is our purpose, our agenda, as we go out into the day ahead? Is it to get done the tasks we set for ourselves or that our job or situation imposes on us? Or is it, in the midst of all these and above all these, to connect people with the love of God by loving them in the power of the Spirit and inviting them to encounter God in the midst of their situation? It reminds us of our primary role as ambassadors for Christ, taking the message of his self-giving for the life of the world out into our world by word and example. Bring me to the fullness of your peace and glory. The final petition keeps before our eyes the “imperishable, undefiled, and unfading” inheritance that is ours in Christ (1 Pet 1:4), where the light of God and the Lamb illumines our whole existence and the just reign of God makes perfect community possible. It reminds us where we are headed and thereby keeps our desires focused on God’s promises, so that we will in fact arrive at our eternal destiny. It invites the Spirit to give us foretastes of that fullness, to whet our appetites and center our desires on God. The more that this petition reflects the undivided desires of our hearts, the more we will find integrity of faith and life. Spiritual Practices 1. Set aside some time each morning to clothe yourself afresh each day with the “new person” that you first put on in baptism, by praying through these petitions (substituting “me” for “them,” “my” for “their”). Pause after each petition. Allow God to direct your thoughts and to lead you into further contemplation and prayer as God brings specific impressions or words or people or situations before you. You may wish to write down in a journal what you are shown and your prayers in response. Don’t move on to the next petition until you are ready—or until the Spirit is ready! Continue this exercise each morning, as long as you find it useful.

2. Write these petitions on a small card that you can carry with you. Keep your baptism before you by praying these petitions at various times throughout the day, pausing perhaps only a few seconds after each. Be attentive to and expectant of the impressions and leading that the Spirit gives. 3. Use this prayer as a guide to meditating on a passage from Scripture each day for a season, reflecting on any insights that arise from the Scripture text in regard to each petition, as the Spirit leads. For example, what does the passage say about “the way of sin and death”? What does it say about what it looks like to “love . . . in the power of the Spirit?” How does the passage challenge or equip you to go “out into the world in witness to [God’s] love?” Pray over these insights, and ask God how to apply them.

Sign up to vote on this title
UsefulNot useful