— By JOHN PAUL CARTER
Peter Marshall, chaplain to the United States Senate from 1947 until his untimely death in 1949, was much loved for his sermons, and especially for his prayers.
His wife later compiled his prayers, most of which were unwritten, from notes made by listeners. The “Man Called Peter” was noted in the Senate for his brief petitions that cut straight to the heart of the issues of the day. He once prayed, “We know, our Father, that we are praying most when we are saying least.”
In one of his short Senate prayers, Marshall asked: “Save us from hotheads that would lead us to act foolishly, and from cold feet that would keep us from acting at all.” One of my favorites is: “Where we are wrong, make us willing to change, and where we are right, make us easy to live with.”
If prayer is still practiced after crossing the Great River, I hope Marshall is continuing to pray for Washington and all of us in these contentious times.
Others have prayed brief but powerful prayers from the heart. One of my favorites, when faced with a day that promises more than I can say grace over, was voiced by Baron Jacob Astley before the Battle of Edgehill in 1642: “Lord, Thou knowest I shall be very busie this day; I may forget Thee but do not Thou forget me.”
Faced with change and those unavoidable endings and beginnings, our struggle to adapt can find direction and encouragement in this prayer of Dag Hammarskjold: “For all that has been – Thanks! To all that shall be – Yes!”
Children, with their simplicity and directness, can teach us much about prayer that cuts to the chase. In the book “Children’s Letters to God,” a boy writes, “Dear God, count me in. Your friend, Herbie.” Amen!
When a distraught father complained to Jesus that his disciples had failed to heal his son, Jesus countered that all things are possible to those who believe. The father then begged, “Lord, I believe – help thou my unbelief.” Jesus’ gracious response to this man’s candidness invites us to pray truthfully even when we’re confused and our faith flickers.
Jesus once told a parable about two men who went up to the temple to pray. The Pharisee prayed a long prayer in which he favorably compared himself to the tax collector next to him. On the other hand, the Publican simply pled, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner.” That’s the prayer I most need to pray every day – without reference to the Pharisees and “those other people.”
But, thank the Lord, our prayers are not limited by our spontaneous verbal skills. Paul says in Romans that when “we do not know how we ought to pray; the Spirit himself pleads with God for us, in groans that words cannot express” (8:26).
By God’s grace, sometimes we are praying most when we are saying nothing. Lord, in the words of Jesus, “not my will, but Thine be done.” Amen.
John Paul Carter’s “Notes From the Journey” is a regular feature of Viewpoints.