How Ancient Prayers Bring Us Stability for Uncertain Times 


For all its conveniences and wonders, modern life can be deeply unstable. Technology has both accelerated and unsettled human civilization. Novel ideologies leave many questioning what it means to be a human being or an authentic follower of Jesus. Families are breaking up while tribes are forming. More than ever before we seem to have more stuff but less peace, more knowledge but less truth, and more connection but less unity.

I feel the instability in my own life. As a pastor in the city of Chicago, I am concerned about the loss of sacred spaces where Christians can worship on Sundays. Walking around Chicago in recent years, I have sometimes caught sight of a beautiful church. Often there will be a cornerstone with the year of consecration, like 1871 or 1922. But when I look toward the entrance, I see a row of apartment buzzers right where the church name should be. What used to be a living, breathing gospel community for the city I love is now gone. The building was sold for its parts to the highest bidder.

This impacts me practically.

Our church needs a space to worship on Sundays. After the recent pandemic hit, we lost access to the school where we met. The Lord provided a new space, and the building we worship in is now under contract with a developer. I recently got troubling news that the sale may be completed within weeks or months, and we may need to find a new space. I can still remember feeling the anxiety in my body at the breakfast table: Where will we meet? What will this instability do to our church that has already endured so much upheaval?

After breakfast, I did what I have learned to do on good days and bad: draw upon old prayers from the suffering saints of the past. I drove to the building where we currently worship, took out my Anglican Book of Common Prayer, and prayed the Morning Prayer liturgy as I walked around the church. Sure, I was praying that the doors of this building would remain open to us indefinitely. But the Scriptures assigned for morning prayer that day helped root me in something more solid: “O God, my heart is fixed, my heart is firmly fixed; I will sing and give praise with the best that I have.”

There’s just something about those old prayers, isn’t there?

The prayers with the longest shelf life seem to come from the saints who suffer the most. The texture of their faith is etched into their songs and laments, their supplications and poems. They stand like war monuments in a park, ignored when we are young and carefree, yet treasured once we have personally suffered loss.

Prayer books such as The Valley of Vision, The Lutheran Book of Prayer, and A Prayer Book for Orthodox Christians all take great pains to weave Scripture and sturdy-making supplications into everyday life. We Anglicans use the Book of Common Prayer, which contains prayers for morning, noonday, evening, and bedtime (compline). One of my favorite prayers from compline was discovered in a bundle of prayers from the early seventh century: “Be present, O merciful God, and protect us through the hours of this night, so that we who are wearied by the changes and chances of this life may rest in your eternal changelessness; through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.”

I don’t know what challenges the author of that prayer faced in his or her life. But when I hear that prayer, I hear the heart-cry of someone who just needed to sleep in peace after a harrowing and anxious day. Like the person who wrote this prayer, most nights I find myself wearied by the changes and chances of this life, needing to rest in the eternal changelessness of Jesus, who is the same yesterday, today, and forever. Upheaval isn’t going anywhere, and neither is Jesus.

Adapted from Earth Filled with Heaven: Finding Life in Liturgy, Sacraments, and Other Ancient Practices of the Church by Aaron Damiani (© 2022). Published by Moody Publishers. Used by permission.

AARON DAMIANI serves as the lead pastor of Immanuel Anglican Church in Chicago and writes and speaks regularly about spiritual formation, leadership, and recovering the gifts of the ancient church for today’s challenges.

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