As I have written in prior posts, I have been working my way through William Barclay’s 1965 Prayers for the Christian Year which follows the traditional church liturgical calendar and provides a prayer for each Sunday of the church year and for church holy days. The subject of the prayer for the First Sunday after Epiphany included at the conclusion of this post, is the problem of right conduct in light of human faults which are distributed to all with our fallen natures.
For the Christian, spiritual conversion is only the beginning of a lifetime process of sanctification, to approach a holy life in this life. We must be humble and honest with ourselves, intermittently at best, to be able to recognize our sins and the accompanying habits that exhibit our faults. Prayer is a communication with God, and is surely a means to grace in the communion with God alone. Petition, however, seems to be more specific: a request for specific help from God. In the Scriptures, the authors occasionally use the words prayer and petition together in the same verse, which implies a distinction in meaning. For example, the prophet Daniel uses the words together here:
Now, our God, hear the prayers and petitions of your servant. For your sake, O Lord, look with favor on your desolate sanctuary.
and Paul does so as well:
Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.
And the author of Hebrews:
During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission.
A prayer as a communication with God may lack petition as in the case of a prayer of worship and praise. For example, Psalm 72 contains petitions for God’s blessing on the King, but the concluding verses of Psalm 72, verses 18-20, are words of praise which are not directed at God, but are acts of praise and worship manifesting the awareness of the greatness of God in the prayer induced consciousness of the presence of God:
Praise be to the LORD God, the God of Israel,
who alone does marvelous deeds.
Praise be to his glorious name forever;
may the whole earth be filled with his glory.
Amen and Amen.
This concludes the prayers of David son of Jesse.
Also, a prayer of thanksgiving does not petition for favor, but thanks God for his provision, and should follow answers to prayer.
Nevertheless, in practice, prayer and petition are more synonymous than not: whether by weakness or design, we pray for action from God — on our behalf for ourselves or for others, or for God’s will to “be done on earth as it is in heaven.”
William Barclay’s prayer in this case, the First Sunday after Epiphany, is fully a petition to God for our own needs, in particular, the wisdom to know what we ought to do and the power to do what we ought to do. In order to act as we should, we need to be saved from the faults and habits that obstruct our ability to discern the right path and to follow it. In this prayer, Barclay includes a comprehensive laundry list of universal human faults that interfere with our ability to act rightly and with love of God and neighbor. Honest review of the list of faults is humbling, at least it is for me. This is a prayer for deliverance from domination by evil. As Jesus taught us to pray: “Deliver us from evil.” While the habits on their face seem natural, commonplace, the fact that we are commanded to pray for deliverance reveals the supernatural source of the commonplace banal faults of humankind:
O God, our Father, give us wisdom to know what we ought
Save us from
The cowardice which will not face the truth;
The laziness which will not learn the truth;
The prejudice which cannot see the truth;
The stubbornness which will not accept the truth;
The pride which will not seek the truth.
Save us from
The folly that is deaf to conscience;
The arrogance which will not accept advice;
The self-conceit which resents all rebuke;
The shut mind that bars the door to the entry of the
Holy Spirit, who is the Spirit of truth.
O God, our Father, give us grace and power to do what we
ought to do.
Save us from
The weakness of will which is too easily deflected from
The lack of resistance which too easily yields to temptation;
The procrastination which puts things off until it is too
late to do them:
The want of perseverance which begins a task but cannot
Save us from
The love of ease which chooses the comfortable way;
The fear of men which cannot stand alone;
The faint heart which will not venture for your name.
So grant us wisdom clearly to know and power faithfully to
fulfil your commands; through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Prior posts with William Barclay prayers: