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The 2011 National Day of Prayer

Today marks the 60th Annual Observance of the National Day of Prayer, with prayer gatherings in communities across the nation.

Although particular days of national prayer have been observed since America’s earliest history, a formal a nationwide annual observance began only in 1952, following the passage of a law signed by President Harry S. Truman that called for an annual National Day of Prayer.

More than three decades later, Congress and President Ronald Reagan, designated the first Thursday in May as the uniform date of that annual observance.

The theme for this year’s National Day of Prayer is “A Mighty Fortress is Our God.”

This year’s 2011 National Prayer —  used this morning at a prayer gathering at the Cannon House Office Building (to be rebroadcast here from 10 p.m.-1 a.m. ET tonight), as well as at many local gatherings around the nation— was written by current NDP honorary chairman, Joni Eareckson Tada:

Almighty God, you are our Mighty Fortress, our refuge and the God in whom we place our trust. As our nation faces great distress and uncertainty, we ask your Holy Spirit to fall afresh upon your people — convict us of sin and inflame within us a passion to pray for our land and its people. Grant the leaders of our country an awareness of their desperate need of wisdom and salvation in You until sin becomes a reproach to all and righteousness exalts this nation.

Protect and defend us against our enemies and may the cause of Christ always prevail in our schools, courts, homes, and churches. Lord God, send a spirit of revival and may it begin in our own hearts.

Remember America, we pray. Remember the foundations on which this country was built. Remember the prayers of our nation’s fathers and mothers, and do not forget us in our time of need.

In the name of our Savior, Jesus Christ, Amen.

In a presidential proclamation marking this year’s National Day of Prayer, President Barack Obama noted that prayer has played a key and decisive role in the history of the United States. “It is thus fitting that…Congress and Presidents have set aside days to recognize the role prayer has played in so many definitive moments in our history…. [L]et us be thankful for the many other freedoms and blessings that we often take for granted.”

Last month, a federal court rejected (PDF) an attempt — in Freedom From Religion Foundation Inc. v. Barack Obama — to have the National Day of Prayer declared unconstitutional.

To find a National Day of Prayer gathering in your area, go here. (Note: Not all local events are listed.)

Many United Methodist churches are hosting NDP events. For a sampling, see this Google search.

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This post is part of a monthly series that presents selections from the writings of John Wesley, co-founder (with his brother Charles) of the Methodist movement.

Below is an excerpt from Mr. Wesley’s pamphlet, Thoughts on a Single Life, first published in 1743 and reissued with minor changes in 1784. As presented here, two paragraphs — identified by brackets — have been added from his comments on Matthew 16:24 in Explanatory Notes on the New Testament.

For easier reading, the wording has been slightly updated to conform to modern usage. (Links to the full text of the pamphlet and to the Matthew 16 section of the Notes are included in the links area below.)


Persons may be as holy in a married as in a single state. Indeed, the Holy Ghost says, “Marriage is honorable among all, and the bed undefiled” (Heb. 13:4).

And yet we must not forget what the apostle Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 7:

I say to the unmarried and to the widows: It is good for them if they remain even as I am…. But even if you do marry, you have not sinned…. Nevertheless such will have trouble in the flesh….

I want you to be without care. He who is unmarried cares for the things of the Lord — how he may please the Lord. But he who is married cares about the things of the world — how he may please his wife…. The unmarried woman cares about the things of the Lord, that she may be holy both in body and in spirit. But she who is married cares about the things of the world — how she may please her husband.

And this I say for your own profit…that you may serve the Lord without distraction. (1 Corinthians 7:8, 28, 32-35)

Though “it is good for a man not to touch a woman,” (1 Cor. 7:1), this is not a universal rule. “I wish,” says the apostle, “that all men were even as I myself.” But that cannot be; for “each one has his own gift from God, one in this manner and another in that” (1 Cor. 7:7).

This is exactly agreeable to this are the words of our Lord. When the disciples said to him (after he taught on marriage and divorce), “If the case be so, it is good not to marry,” he said to them:

All cannot receive this saying, but those to whom it is given. For there are eunuchs who were born thus from their mother’s womb and there are who were made eunuchs by men, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven’s sake.

He who is able to receive it, let him receive it. (Matthew 19:10-12)

Focused on God

To those able to “receive this saying,” I say: Know the advantages you enjoy — many of which are pointed out by the apostle above.

You may be without care. You are under no necessity of “caring for the things of the world.” You have only to “care for the things of the Lord, how you may please the Lord.” One care alone lies upon you, how you “may be holy both in body and spirit.”

You enjoy a blessed liberty from the “trouble in the flesh,” which must more or less attend a married state, from a thousand nameless domestic trials which are found, sooner or later, in every family.

Above all, you are at liberty from the greatest of all entanglements: the loving of one creature above all others. It is possible to do this without any impeachment of our love to God, but how inconceivably difficult it is to give one’s whole heart to God while another has so large a share of it!

Whereas those who are married are necessarily taken up with the things of the world, you may give your time to God without interruption, and need ask leave of none but yourself so to do.

You may give all your worldly substance to God — nothing need hinder. You have no increasing family to provide for, which might occasion a thousand doubts whether you had done either too much or too little for them. You may lay out all your talents of every kind entirely for the glory of God, as you have none else to please, none to regard, but Him that lived and died for you.


Take up your cross daily

If you know and duly prize these advantages you enjoy, be careful to keep them. But know that this is impossible to do by your own strength. You have need to use every help.

The first of these is earnest prayer. Let no day pass without this, without praying for this very thing — that God would work what with men is impossible.

A second help may be frequent and free conversation with those of your own sex who are like-minded. By this means a thousand devices of Satan will be brought to nought.

From the 1954 film ‘John Wesley’

Above all, “keep your heart with all diligence.” Check the first risings of desire. Let no “vain thought lodge within you.” Cry out, “My God and my all, I am alone! Bring my ‘every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ.'”

How shall you preserve this strength and firmness of spirit? Avoid with the utmost care all softness and effeminacy, remembering the express denunciation of an inspired writer that the soft or effeminate “shall not inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Cor. 6:9-10).

Avoid all sloth, inactivity, indolence. Be never idle. Keep at the utmost distance from foolish desires, from desiring any happiness but in God.

It is not possible to avoid all pleasure, and God does not require this. On the contrary, he “giveth us all things to enjoy” (1 Tim. 6:17), so we enjoy them to his glory. But I say avoid all pleasure that in anyway hinders you from enjoying him — yea, all such pleasure as does not prepare you for taking pleasure in God.

Add to this constant and continued course of universal self-denial the taking up your cross daily, the enduring “hardship as a good soldier of Jesus Christ” (2 Tim. 2:3). The Lord will uphold you with his hand.

[Indeed, if any will follow Christ, the very first step is to deny himself — to substitute the will of God in the place of his own will as his overriding principle of action.

Let him in all things deny his own will, however pleasing, and do the will of God, however painful. Should we not consider all crosses, all things grievous to flesh and blood, as what they really are — as opportunities of embracing God’s will at the expense of our own? We should approve and choose what his choice warrants as best for us.]

Upon the whole, without disputing whether the married or single life be the more perfect state — an idle dispute, since perfection does not consist in any outward state whatever, but in an absolute devotion of all our heart and all our life to God — we may safely say, “Blessed are ‘those who have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven’s sake.'”


Related posts
A word from Mr. Wesley: The sure cornerstone of our faith
A word from Mr. Wesley: ‘The way to the kingdom’
A word from Mr. Wesley: ‘Salvation by faith’
A word from Mr. Wesley: ‘The first doctrine’
Podcast: John Wesley on ‘The New Birth’
Podcast: Donald English — Aldersgate Day address, 1988
Podcast: Bishop Gerald Kennedy on ‘The Marks of a Methodist’
Judicial Council asked to revisit Decision 1032, allow homosexual clergy to marry
In embracing homosexual marriage, Foundry UMC rejects UM boundaries, breaks with 2 millennia of church teaching
In GBCS article, UM elder argues against celibacy for single clergy
Board of Church and Society sex-ed writer: Sex outside of marriage can be ‘moral, ethical’

Related information
Thoughts on a Single Life (full text) | From The Works of the Reverend John Wesley, A. M. (1835) (via Google Books)
Notes on Matthew 16 (full text) | John Wesley’s Notes on the Bible, Wesley Center Online

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St. Patrick’s Day is widely observed, but in our time few people know anything about Patrick himself.

A statue of St. Patrick in County Down

A statue of Patrick in County Down

Patrick was not born in Ireland, as is widely supposed, but in what is now England.

As a teenager, in about the year 430, he was captured by Irish soldiers and sold into slavery.

While enslaved, he became a zealous follower of Jesus Christ. Eventually, he escaped slavery and responded God’s call to become a missionary — to the Irish.

Later, in Ireland, he wrote this in his journal:

“Daily I expect murder, fraud or captivity, but I fear none of these things because…I have cast myself into the hands of God almighty who rules everywhere.”

A prayer by St. Patrick:

I sing as I arise today.
I call upon the Father’s might,
The will of God to be my guide,
The eye of God to be my sight.
The Word of God to be my speech,
The hand of God to be my stay,
The shield of God to be my strength
The path of God to be my way.

Amen.

Related articles
Patrick the Saint | Mary Cagney, Christian History
What St. Patrick can teach United Methodists | Heather Hahn, United Methodist News Service (March 17, 2011)
Patrick the Saint | Bill Potter, Circa History Guild

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Beginning tomorrow and continuing through Palm Sunday on April 17, many Christians throughout the U.S. and around the world will be observing a 40-day season of prayer, roughly coinciding with the season of Lent.

Here are the areas of prayer focus over the next several weeks, as described in the prayer guide, Seek God for the City.

  • March 9-19: Seeking God’s face
  • March 20-26: Seeking God to spread the gospel of Christ’s kingdom
  • March 27-April 2: Seeking God to bring the righteousness of Christ’s kingdom
  • April 3-9: Seeking God to bring the peace of Christ’s kingdom
  • April 10-16: Seeking God to bring the joy of Christ’s kingdom
  • April 17 (Palm Sunday): Welcoming Jesus Christ our King

The Seek God for the City prayer guide — available in both English and Spanish editions — can be ordered from Waymakers, a Texas-based ministry (copies are $3 each). A sample page is shown here.

children’s version is available free via PDF download.

An Ash Wednesday prayer for revival

Living God, we cry out for the renewal of life in your Church. Cause your Church to become everything Jesus died and rose again to make her.

We appeal to your never-failing love. Empower us to turn us from folly and toward the way of salvation.

Take us from dryness to a time of refreshing. Take us from ashes to fire.

And through a revived and Christ-focused Church, may your glory dwell in our cities and throughout our land.

In Jesus we pray. Amen.


Related posts
A Lenten focus: ‘Prayers of biblical hope’ (2009)
Podcast: Terry Teykl on ‘Praying for the Lost’

Related article
Why you should start a prayer room in your church | Terry Teykl, Renewal Ministries

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This Saturday (Jan. 22) marks the 38th anniversary of the United States Supreme Court’s decisions in the cases of Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton. Taken together, the two rulings (authored by Justice Harry Blackmun, a United Methodist) effectively voided dozens of state laws aimed at protecting unborn children from abortion.

Since then, abortion providers have performed 50 million abortions in the U.S. — primarily for purposes of birth control rather than for medical reasons. On average, five abortions occur in America every minute of every hour of every day.

Many churches will observe this Sunday as Sanctity of Human Life Sunday.

The pro-life prayer guide below, designed for use as a church-bulletin insert, is adapted from material prepared by Lifewatch, also known as the Taskforce of United Methodists on Abortion and Sexuality. A PDF copy of the prayer guide is here. (UM pastor Chris Roberts has prepared additional material that can be used as bulletin insert.)


On Monday (Jan. 24), Lifewatch will host its annual worship service at the United Methodist Building, next door to the U.S. Supreme Court. The Rev. Dr. Edwin King, a Methodist clergyman instrumental in the civil rights movement in Mississippi, is scheduled to deliver the message.

Ed King in 2009

In the early 1960s, King — then a chaplain at Tougaloo College near Jackson, Miss. — worked (unsuccessfully) to convince white pastors in the area to issue a statement against racial segregation.

He then helped students to stage a series of sit-ins and other protests in Jackson, according to the 1998 book, Lift Up Your Voice Like a Trumpet: White Clergy and the Civil Rights and Antiwar Movements, 1954-1973 (UNC Press).

Denied membership in the white Mississippi Methodist Conference because of his racial views and civil rights activism, King joined the conference of black Mississippi Methodists, part of The Methodist Church’s Central Jurisdiction.

In a 2002 address (PDF) in Charlottesville, Va., King — now a professor of Sociology and Medical Ethics at the University of Mississippi Medical Center — spoke about legalized abortion’s negative impact on black Americans.

Today in Mississippi, two-thirds to 75 percent of the abortions are done for black children in the womb…. [Across America,] the majority of the children whose [lives are] snuffed out in the womb [are] black or Hispanic…. Is that freedom for somebody — or is something else going on?

Fannie Lou Hamer was the first person to talk to me after Roe vs. Wade came down and she said, “Rev. King, this is another racial thing — this is the answer to the civil rights movement, they are going to get rid of black babies.”

Previous speakers at the annual Lifewatch gathering have included Bishop Scott Jones (Kansas Area), Bishop Will Willimon (North Alabama), and Bishop Timothy Whitaker (Florida).

At the 2004 service, Bishop Whitaker said a church that supports abortion undermines its proclamation of the gospel.

“[W]e who are United Methodists…have a responsibility to live according to our first rule [of the Methodist General Rules], which is to do no harm,” he declared. “Do no harm to the unborn! Do no harm to the witness of the Church as a peaceable people! Do no harm to the Gospel of peace!”

(UMNS photo)

Shortly after Monday’s Lifewatch service, the annual March for Life begins on the Mall in Washington, D.C. (map showing route).

The event, which draws tens of thousands of pro-lifers each year, will be aired live (beginning at 11 a.m. ET) on EWTN, the Roman Catholic cable/satellite TV channel. (EWTN’s coverage will be repeated at 11 p.m. ET.)

Go here for live audio and video online.

The March for Life has been held annually since 1974.

In 2008, the United Methodist General Conference passed legislation acknowledging “the sanctity of unborn human life” and noting that United Methodists are bound to “respect the sacredness of life and well-being of [both] the mother and the unborn child.”

The United Methodist Book of Discipline also states that the UMC “cannot affirm abortion as an acceptable means of birth control” (¶161J).


Related posts
Bishop Timothy Whitaker: Abortion and the gospel of peace
‘Church and Society’ decries pro-life amendment to health bill
Party platforms and the UMC
Bishop Mike Watson: ‘The Methodist Christian Way’

Related articles
How a pastor might first broach the abortion issue with his congregation | UM pastor Paul T. Stallsworth, Remarks at the 2010 Convention of National Right to Life, Pittsburgh, Pa. (June 2010)
United Methodist Bishop Scott Jones addresses pro-life event | Connor Ewing, IRD (Jan. 22, 2010)
United Methodists and abortion today | Bishop Timothy Whitaker (Feb. 9, 2009)
United Methodism on abortion | Paul T. Stallsworth, On the Square—First Things (May 29, 2008)
United Methodist Church continues decades-long crawl to pro-life direction | John Lomperis, LifeNews.com (May 23, 2008)
Abortion opponents speak out during national rally | United Methodist News Service (Jan. 24, 2008)
Pro-choice? Pro-life? | A sermon (text and audio) by UM Lay Speaker Joseph Slife, Gateway Church (UMC), Athens, Ga. (Jan. 22, 2006)
Dr. Billy Abraham tells abortion opponents not to give up | Mark Schoeff Jr., United Methodist News Service (Jan. 24, 2007)
Mainline churches participate in abortion rights march | John Lomperis, Good News (July/August 2004)
UMC holds ambiguous stand on abortion, speakers say | Melissa Lauber, United Methodist News Service (Jan. 24, 2002)
Roe ruling: More than its author intended | David G. Savage, Los Angeles Times—via HispanicPundit.com (Sept. 14, 2005)
Justice Harry Blackmun was active United Methodist | United Methodist News Service (March 4, 1999)
Justice Blackmun and the little people | Mary Meehan (originally published in Human Life Review, Summer 2004)
The sanctification of human life (a historical overview of the Christian church’s position on abortion and other issues related to the sanctity of human life) — Chapter 2 of How Christianity Changed the World | Alvin Schmidt (Zondervan, 2004 — via Google Books)
Why is the New Testament silent about abortion? | Michael J. Gorman, Good News (May/June 1993)
‘Durham Declaration’ asks for ‘Scriptural approach’ to abortion in the UMC; Signatories include Bishops Ole E. Borgen and William R. Cannon | United Methodist News Service (March 12, 1991)
Text of the Durham Declaration (January 1991)
42 years later, clergy who fought racism to reunite | Associated Press (June 6, 2005) — Related: The “Born of Conviction” statement, published in the Mississippi Methodist Advocate, Jan. 2, 1963 (PDF)
Religion and the Civil Rights Movement (PDF) | An address by the Rev. Edwin King (Feb. 22, 2002)

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An Advent prayer

Originally written as an opening prayer for an Advent season worship service:

Father God, since childhood Christmas has evoked in us all manner of feelings: joy, excitement, anticipation.

But as our understanding of Christmas has grown, what happened at that first Christmas now causes us to stand amazed — that you, the sovereign Lord of all the universe would come in search of us, to relieve us of our burden of sin, to rescue us from hopelessness, and to offer us entrance into your presence and a role to play in the unfolding of your purposes.

Father, thank you that Christmas tells us just how much you have set your affection on us.

May we never take lightly what you have done on our behalf through the life, the death, and the resurrection of Him who became as we are that we might become as He is.

We offer our thanks to you in the name of Jesus the Christ, the visible expression of the invisible God.

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Friday (Jan. 22) marks the 37th anniversary of the United States Supreme Court’s decisions in the cases of Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton. Taken together, the two rulings (authored by Justice Harry Blackmun, a United Methodist) effectively voided dozens of state laws aimed at protecting unborn children from abortion.

Since then, abortion doctors have performed 50 million abortions in the U.S. — primarily for purposes of birth control rather than for medical reasons. On average, five abortions occur in America every minute of every hour of every day.

The pro-life prayer guide below is adapted from material prepared by Lifewatch, also known as the Taskforce of United Methodists on Abortion and Sexuality. A PDF copy of the prayer guide, designed for use as a church-bulletin insert, is here. (UM pastor Chris Roberts has prepared additional material that can be used as bulletin insert.)

Lifewatch will host its annual worship service Friday at the United Methodist Building, next door to the U.S. Supreme Court. Bishop Scott Jones, who presides over the Kansas Area of the UMC, is scheduled to deliver the message.

In previous years, Bishop Will Willimon (North Alabama) and Bishop Timothy Whitaker (Florida) have addressed the Lifewatch gathering.

The UM Building in Washington, D.C.

At the 2004 service, Bishop Whitaker said a church that supports abortion undermines its proclamation of the gospel.

“[W]e who are United Methodists…have a responsibility to live according to our first rule [of the Methodist General Rules], which is to do no harm,” he declared. “Do no harm to the unborn! Do no harm to the witness of the Church as a peaceable people! Do no harm to the Gospel of peace!”

In 2008, the United Methodist General Conference passed legislation acknowledging “the sanctity of unborn human life” and noting that United Methodists are bound to “respect the sacredness of life and well-being of [both] the mother and the unborn child.”

The United Methodist Book of Discipline also states that the UMC “cannot affirm abortion as an acceptable means of birth control” (¶161J).

Shortly after Friday’s Lifewatch service, the annual March for Life begins on the Mall in Washington, D.C.

(UMNS photo)

The event, which draws tens of thousands of pro-lifers each year, will be aired live (beginning at 11 a.m. ET) on EWTN, the Roman Catholic cable/satellite TV channel. (EWTN’s coverage will be repeated at 10 p.m. ET.)

Go here for live audio and video online.

The March for Life has been held annually since 1974.

Many churches will observe this Sunday as Sanctity of Human Life Sunday.


Related posts
Bishop Timothy Whitaker: Abortion and the gospel of peace
‘Church and Society’ decries pro-life amendment to health bill
Bill Bouknight: The good news from General Conference ’08
Party platforms and the UMC
Democrats, Methodists, and abortion policy
Bishop Mike Watson: ‘The Methodist Christian Way’

Related articles
United Methodists and abortion today | Bishop Timothy Whitaker (Feb. 9, 2009)
United Methodism on abortion | Paul T. Stallsworth, On the Square—First Things (May 29, 2008)
Abortion opponents speak out during national rally | United Methodist News Service (Jan. 24, 2008)
Mainline churches participate in abortion rights march | John Lomperis, Good News (July/August 2004)
UMC holds ambiguous stand on abortion, speakers say | Melissa Lauber, United Methodist News Service (Jan. 24, 2002)
Roe ruling: More than its author intended | David G. Savage, Los Angeles Times—via HispanicPundit.com (Sept. 14, 2005)
Justice Harry Blackmun was active United Methodist | United Methodist News Service (March 4, 1999)
Justice Blackmun and the little people | Mary Meehan (originally published in Human Life Review, Summer 2004)
The sanctification of human life (a historical overview of the Christian church’s position on abortion and other issues related to the sanctity of human life) — Chapter 2 of How Christianity Changed the World | Alvin Schmidt (Zondervan, 2004 — via Google Books)
Why is the New Testament silent about abortion? | Michael J. Gorman, Good News (May/June 1993)
‘Durham Declaration’ asks for ‘Scriptural approach’ to abortion in the UMC; Signatories include Bishops Ole E. Borgen and William R. Cannon | United Methodist News Service (March 12, 1991)
Text of the Durham Declaration (January 1991)

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