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Draw near: A favorite prayer about peace, freedom, and much more

Lynne Baab • Tuesday August 23 2022

Draw near: A favorite prayer about peace, freedom, and much more

“O God, the author of peace and lover of concord, to know you is eternal life and to serve you is perfect freedom: Defend us, your humble servants, in all assaults of our enemies; that we, surely trusting in your defense, may not fear the power of any adversaries; through the might of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”
The Book of Common Prayer

This is my second favorite prayer from my childhood. (My favorite is described here.The Book of Common Prayer laid such a profound foundation for me on Sunday mornings in Episcopal churches with my family. I believed in God until I was about 15, and so much of what I knew about God came from the beautiful prayers I heard in church. For many reasons, from 15 to 19, I tried to live as a non-believer. At 19, when I became a committed Christian, I knew that following Christ meant following, serving and obeying, not just getting what I needed from God. Some of that perspective came from this prayer.

I have done a lot of pondering of the term “moralistic therapeutic deism” (MTD), introduced by sociologist Christian Smith in the 2009 Oxford University Press book Soul Searching. The term emerged from hundreds of interviews with American Christian teenagers. Smith argues that the most prevalent form Christianity takes in American teenagers is moralistic (be a “good person”), therapeutic (God meets my needs and wants), and deistic (God is there, but doesn’t really get involved in our lives very much). An example of a prayer influenced by this kind of thinking would be asking God to help me meet my goals, without ever asking what goals God might have for me. Christian Smith found a lot of prayers like that among his interviewees. “God, I want to be a lawyer. Help me get a good grade on my next exam so I can get into law school.”

Wikipedia has a helpful entry on moralistic therapeutic deism if you’re interested in learning more.  The Wikipedia entry notes that people influenced by MTD view God as "something like a combination Divine Butler and Cosmic Therapist: he's always on call, takes care of any problems that arise, professionally helps his people to feel better about themselves, and does not become too personally involved in the process." After Smith’s book, some other authors have argued that teenagers are simply taught what the adults in their churches believe, a very sad observation.

“To serve you is perfect freedom.” This sentence from The Book of Common Prayer is pretty much the opposite of MTD. This notion of the freedom that comes from submitting to God’s values, priorities and goals was hovering in the back of my mind as I became a committed Christian at 19. I will always be grateful I didn’t become a Christian who expected God to be a combination divine butler and cosmic therapist.

From the beginning of my journey as a Christian, I knew God was calling me to something better than a simple focus on my own desires, wants, and needs. What a gift to know that truth. I do believe my relationship with God has been enormously therapeutic. God has healed me from so much. But the Holy Spirit is working in all of us to call us to more than being healed or “being good.” We are called to enter into the communal life of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit and to care about the things the Triune God cares about.

Some of the other highlights of the prayer include these words: “To know you is eternal life.” In addition to our call to listen to the Holy Spirit and follow in Jesus’ footsteps, knowing God is eternal life. This sentence comes from Jesus’ high priestly prayer in John 17, and the focus isn’t on our future in a restored heaven and earth, but the eternal life that begins now. The prayer I’ve quoted from The Book of Common Prayer opens by identifying God as the “author of peace,” a significant gift in these turbulent times, and the prayer asks for defense against our enemies, which has to include the demonic voices that whisper so may lies to us, including that we aren’t measuring up and also that our own personal comfort is paramount. May we know glimmers of the many truths in this beautiful prayer, and may we know how to pray in ways that please the God who gives us so much.

O God, the author of peace and lover of concord, to know you is eternal life and to serve you is perfect freedom: Defend us, your humble servants, in all assaults of our enemies; that we, surely trusting in your defense, may not fear the power of any adversaries; through the might of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

(Next week – Praying with Desmond Tutu: God’s love and human relationships. Illustration by Dave Baab: Japanese anemones from our back yard, blooming right now. If you’d like to receive an email when I post on this blog, sign up below under “subscribe.”)

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Two articles and a post on Christian freedom:



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