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Drawing near with Desmond Tutu: God’s love is the foundation for prayer

Lynne Baab • Tuesday August 30 2022

Drawing near with Desmond Tutu: God’s love is the foundation for prayer

You have probably heard of South African archbishop Desmond Tutu, and you may know he died last December. In the 1980s he was the Anglican bishop of Johannesburg and then served as the archbishop of Capetown for a decade, in both cases being the first Black African to hold the position. He was also an antiapartheid and human rights activist and an eloquent speaker and writer. He won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1984 for his non-violent opposition to apartheid.

I am most familiar with Archbishop Tutu from his collection of prayers from all over Africa, An African Prayer Book. I’ve been using prayers from that book in worship leadership for more than two decades. In this blog post and the next three, I’ll focus on prayers from his book, as well as his thoughts about prayer in the introductions to the various sections of the book.

In the introduction to his collection of prayers from Africa, he writes that knowing we are loved by God is the foundation for prayer:

“Wonderfully, God created us because God wanted to, not because God needed us. . . . We were created by love, for love and so that we should love. ‘Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you,’ is what God said to Jeremiah. Those are words that apply to each one of us. We were planned for from all eternity. None of us is a mere divine afterthought. None of us is an accident. Before the foundation of the world God chose us to be his children in Jesus Christ. We were loved, that’s why we were created. God created you because God loved you. You do not therefore need to do anything to earn or deserve God’s love. You do not need impress God so that God will love you. God already loves you and God will love you forever and ever. There is nothing you can do that will make God love you less. There is nothing you can do that will make God love you more. God’s love for you is infinite, perfect and eternal. Tremendous stuff.”

I invite you to ponder with me why Archbishop Tutu put these words in an introduction to a collection of prayers. I wonder if he saw, as I have so often seen, Christian who beat themselves up for not praying enough — whatever "enough" is — or who wonder if God loves them less when they pray less. I wonder if he rejoiced when he saw Christians luxuriate in the joy of being with the God who loves them, and he wanted that joy for everyone.

For Archbishop Tutu, the love of God was always inextricably linked to human relationships. The significance of human love is visible in the two prayers below from An African Prayer Book. The first prayer comes from West Africa. In the second prayer, from the Bantu people, the praying person is identified as underprivileged, which doesn’t apply to most of us. When we pray that part of the prayer, we can put ourselves in the shoes of people who are underprivileged in Africa or in our town, city, country, or elsewhere in the world, and pray on their behalf. I invite you to pray these prayers below with our brothers and sisters in Africa.

Our Churches are Like Big Families

Lord, we thank you that our churches are like big families.
Lord, let your spirit of reconciliation blow over all the earth.
Let Christians live your love.
Lord, we praise you in Europe’s cathedrals, in America’s offerings,
And in our African songs of praise.
Lord we thank you that we have brothers and sisters all the world.
Be with them that make peace. Amen.

One Family

We offer our thanks to thee
for sending thy only Son to die for us all.
In a world divided by color bars,
how sweet a thing it is to know
that in thee we all belong to one family.
There are times when we,
underprivileged people,
weep tears that are not loud but deep,
when we think of the suffering we experience.
We come to thee, our only hope and refuge.
Help us, O God, to refuse to be embittered
against those who handle us with harshness.
We are grateful to thee
for the gift of laughter at all times.
Save us from hatred of those who oppress us.
May we follow the spirit of thy Son Jesus Christ. Amen.

(Next week: Rejoicing with Desmond Tutu. Illustration by Dave Baab: Ely Cathedral, England. If you’d like to receive an email when I post on this blog, sign up below under “subscribe.”)

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Previous posts about being God’s beloved:

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