Monday Matters (February 13, 2023)


The Collect for the Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany

O God, the strength of all who put their trust in you: Mercifully accept our prayers; and because in our weakness we can do nothing good without you, give us the help of your grace, that in keeping your commandments we may please you both in will and deed; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in thy sight, O Lord, my strength and my redeemer. -Psalm 19:14

God is our refuge and our strength, a very present help in times of trouble. -Psalm 46:1

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the power of his might.  -Ephesians 6:10

In coming days, Monday Matters will offer reflections on the prayers we say in church on Sunday, the collect of the day. We do this based on the conviction that praying shapes our believing, that what we pray forms us. We do this hoping that the prayers we say on Sunday will carry us through the week.

Be Strong in the Lord

When I first showed up at an Episcopal Church as a young adult, there was a lot that was mystifying. I’m okay with mystery, but some things were just confusing. For instance, I noticed in the bulletin that in addition to the offertory, there was this thing called a collect. I thought: Well, that’s cheeky. And entrepreneurial. Two opportunities to take in cash. It was only after a while that I learned that a collect is really a prayer that collects thoughts reflecting the theme of that day in worship.

Where am I going with this? One of our readers recently asked: “What’s a collect?” Each Monday, we’re looking at the collect for the Sunday that begins the week, reflecting on themes in those prayers, in the confidence that praying shapes our believing, in the hopes that readers will carry the collect with them throughout the week. This week, the theme I want to explore from yesterday’s collect has to do with strength and where it comes from.

In that collect, we pray for strength because we recognize that strength comes as a gift from God. It’s a matter of grace. We count on that holy help, strength from a power greater than ourselves. I can think of people, some famous, some that I’ve run across in congregations where I’ve served, some whose lives unfold outside of the church, who show a supernatural strength of spirit which I can only describe as a gift. I’ve encountered people who in life’s darkest moments and deepest challenges show a resilience that goes well beyond what human beings can muster on their own. Have you run across folks like that?

And as yesterday’s collect indicates, we’re not passive objects in the process. The mystery of grace in our lives suggests a synergy by which we participate in the strengthening, as we look for help to keep God’s commandments.

Which brings to mind a parish priest I admire a great deal. The Rev. Doyt Conn leads a great church in Seattle. In a part of the world that has been characterized as “unchurched,” Doyt leads a vital and growing congregation. He talks about his church as a spiritual gym, a place people go to gain spiritual strength. A lot of that strengthening process has to do with spiritual practices. He notes, by way of analogy, that if you spend time each day at Equinox, lifting weights with your right arm, your right arm is going to get stronger. It simply will happen, whether you believe it or understand the process. He thinks that spiritual practices (like prayer, scripture reading, regular attendance at worship, commitment to service in Jesus’ name) will offer the strength we need, as long as we practice them.

I’m wondering where you experience spiritual strengthening. One of the places where I experience spiritual strengthening comes in the eucharist. As my friend Doyt indicates, I don’t need to understand or explain how that strengthening happens. But the grace of strengthening is suggested in the prayer we say after communion. In that prayer, having been fed with bread and wine, we ask for strength and courage to love and serve God with gladness and singleness of heart.

We could talk at length about each of those words: strength, courage, gladness, singleness of heart. Today, we focus on strength. Pray this week for strength. Where do you need that holy strength?

And let your spiritual practices, whatever they may be, be part of this prayer. Here’s a thought: Use the upcoming season of Lent as a chance to begin to make those strengthening practices part of your life. As the psalmist encourages: Be strong in the Lord.

-Jay Sidebotham

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