‘Grant that I may never murmur at your appointments’

As part of our daily devotions my husband, Ed, and I use a small book called Prayers Ancient and Modern. Published in 1897 and again in 1928, it was compiled by one Mary Wilder Tileston, who also wrote her own devotionals. The book is of a size that nestles nicely in one’s hands (6” x 4”). For each day of the year there are one or two prayers from sources across the centuries: individual Christians, several ancient liturgies and the earliest version of the Book of Common Prayer.  

When I worked at a theological library some years ago this little prayerbook was part of a purge to make room for new works. It was my prerogative to take home discards. Having long had an interest in prayerbooks, I took it. I couldn’t have known then what significant role this little volume would play in our devotions, and thus in our lives. Ed and I have since prayed through the book quite a few times.

Though these prayers were set down 90 years ago, and they came from the hearts of the faithful who prayed them far longer ago than that, it is uncanny how often the utterances for a specific day closely relate to things we feel the need to pray for and about. That’s the Spirit at work! These prayers from saints over the centuries also give us a palpable sense of connection to the church triumphant. That’s also the Spirit at work.

It’s evident that specific prayers came from specific centuries or eras. Part of that is merely style differences. The 19th century prayers, for example, tend to contain more effusive language and longer clauses than do prayers by, say, Augustine or Thomas à Kempis. But some of the differences also involve changing worldviews and theological emphases as time has marched on.    

We are often struck as we pray these prayers by the steadfast belief that God controls all things and doesn’t simply allow good or ill, but sends it to us – for his glory and our good. That important biblical teaching has long been codified in Calvinism but it’s unpopular today. One reason numerous modern Christians reject this teaching may be because it seems impossible to intellectually reconcile God’s sovereign control of all things with the reality of evil, especially when it strikes us. (Doesn’t that make God cruel and sadistic?)

For God’s purpose
But this truth – “We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Rom. 8:28) – has always, first, been a matter of faith, not one of intellectual reconciliation of what seems contradictory. (When Paul says we know this he’s talking about knowledge that faith brings, just as we know that Christ is raised.) The last phrase in that verse, often not quoted, ties the fact that we Christ-believers are called according to God’s purpose to the truth that God is working all things for our good. Paul states this while also assuring us that the Spirit helps us in our weakness and intercedes for us according to God’s will; and that God foreknew and predestined us to be conformed to Christ’s image, assuring that nothing can separate us from his love. To conclude, Paul asks this immensely comforting rhetorical question: “If God be for us, who can be against us?”

O God, who sees all our weaknesses, and the troubles we labour under, have regard unto the prayers of your servant, who stands in need of your comfort, your direction and your help. Lord, so prepare my heart that no affliction may ever so surprise as to overbear me. Grant that I may never murmur at your appointments, nor be exasperated at the ministers of your Providence. Amen      (Thomas Wilson, 1663-1755)

O Lord, whose way is perfect, help us, I pray you, always to trust in your goodness; that, walking with you and following you in all simplicity, we may possess quiet and contented minds; and may cast all our care on you, for you care for us. Amen      
(Christina G. Rosetti, 1830-1894)     

 

 

 

  • Marian Van Til is a former CC editor who lived in Canada from 1975-2000. She now freelances for journals and writes books. Marian is also a classical musician and the music director at a Lutheran Church. She and her husband, Ed Cassidy, live in Youngstown, NY.

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