A Simple First Place Prayer secpnd

A Simple First Place Prayer

Your pain is legitimate, and second-place prayers reveal the need, but first-place prayers must always come first, so we pray a simple prayer. 

 

Simple sounds easy. Requiring little effort.

First place. It’s where we put the best, second-place things go behind first-place things. There is an order—first place, then second place.

What if I said that most of us focus on second-place things?

I pray, and I get asked to pray for many, many things. The needs are real and obvious.

Healing of relationships. Work issues. Health. Pain, lots and lots of pain. Whether physical or emotional pain, it makes no difference; it’s still hurt.

Sentences are said. ‘I’m lost and need direction. I need help with my depression. Anxiety grips me every day.’

This child has been hurt in the schoolyard of life, and they are crying for relief. ‘Please take the hurt away.’

I pray and hope something good happens.

What I often hear are what I would call ‘Second place’ prayers.

Don’t get me wrong; these are legitimate needs of broken people living in a broken world where broken-world decisions and choices have been made. But underneath it all are prayers and requests to return us to Eden’s perfection, peace, being held, known, and loved.

Are your prayers like that? Mine so often are?

First place, second place

It’s a placing of importance. A prioritization. This has more significance to me than this.

It’s not a dismissal or a choice to ignore the second things in life; it’s more a conscious choice about where you will worship and place your focus.

C.S. Lewis wrote these words.

The woman who makes a dog the centre of her life loses, in the end, not only her human usefulness and dignity but even the proper pleasure of dog-keeping.

The man who makes alcohol his chief good loses not only his job but his palate and all power of enjoying the earlier (and only pleasurable) levels of intoxication.

It is a glorious thing to feel for a moment or two that the whole meaning of the universe is summed up in one woman—glorious so long as other duties and pleasures keep tearing you away from her. But clear the decks and so arrange your life (it is sometimes feasible) that you will have nothing to do but contemplate her, and what happens?

Of course this law has been discovered before, but it will stand re-discovery. It may be stated as follows: every preference of a small good to a great, or partial good to a total good, involves the loss of the small or partial good for which the sacrifice is made.

. . . You can’t get second things by putting them first. You get second things only by putting first things first. C.S. Lewis,  God in the Dock: Essays on Theology and Ethics

He puts it this way in writing to his friend Dom Bede Griffiths.

“Put first things first and we get second things thrown in: put second things first and we lose both first and second things. We never get, say, even the sensual pleasure of food at its best when we are being greedy.” C.S. Lewis

Lewis uses wonderful imagery to help us delineate between the first and second.

The worship of the dog rather than the joy of caring for the dog.

The consuming worship of alcohol rather than simple pleasure of a little.

The worship of a woman – glorious and beautiful like her creator rather than worshipping of the creator.

Being greedy and gluttonous with our food rather than slowly and mindfully savoring the tastes and textures of what passes our lips.

First place prayers

I once had the opportunity to visit the Italian town of Assisi. Up in the hills lies the town known for its famous son Francis.

It was a pilgrimage for me. I boarded the train in Florence and went for a beautiful trip through the Italian countryside.

The train stops in the valley below the town, so you must get a bus from the train up to the town. But now I was in the place of someone that had grabbed my attention when I was sixteen.

I believe foundation stones are being laid down in your thinking when you’re sixteen. Beliefs are being formed and cemented into your deepest places.

I remember coming across the prayer of St. Francis, cutting it out of a magazine, and then gluing it into the back of my Bible.

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace:
where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy.

O divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console,
to be understood as to understand,
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.

Every day for a year, I prayed that prayer out loud.

When you do something like that repeatedly over and over again, something happens, guaranteed. Some deep thinking tracks get laid down in the brain, but also something happens in your relationship with God. Commitments and vows become solid.

It’s a first-place prayer. It’s declaring to yourself and God what truly matters.

I wonder if you would like to pray it with me for the next 60 days? Pray the prayer out loud, and see what might happen. See if there might be a subtle shift in your focus.

Tangible Assisi

I have a tangible reminder of my trip to Assisi.

After visiting the town, I returned to the railway station, and there in the gift shop was a tiny print of the Prayer of St. Francis.

It now hangs on a wall and is a tangible reminder to me every day of what is first place.

Prayer of St. Francis

 

Two more First place prayers

You may also like to pray these even older first-place prayers.

 

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures;
he leads me beside still waters;
he restores my soul.
He leads me in right paths
for his name’s sake.

Even though I walk through the darkest valley,
I fear no evil;
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff—
they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me
 in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
 my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
    all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord
    my whole life long. Psalm 23

 

 ‘Pray then in this way:

Our Father in heaven,
    hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come.
    Your will be done,
        on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts,
        as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And do not bring us to the time of trial,
        but rescue us from the evil one. Matthew 6:9-13

As you pray these daily, note how your second-place prayers change. Maybe they become subordinate to something greater. Perhaps a deeper relationship and understanding forms in your soul.

Maybe those second-place prayers, that are truly legitimate, might get met but in ways unexpected.

Your pain is legitimate, and second-place prayers reveal the need, but first-place prayers must always come first, so we pray a simple prayer. 

Quotes to consider

  • Our “spiritual life” is not limited to a set time and place of prayer. Rather, it involves all of our life, every moment of our existence. Joyce Rupp
  • One can no more pray too much than one can love too much; Victor Hugo Les Misérables
  • We are unfinished creatures– longing, reaching, stretching towards fulfillment.  We express these desires for completion in prayer. Eugene Peterson 
  • Prayer is openness to God in faith. It is allowing the life of God to flow into and through us. This is the faith that we receive as a gift when we turn in openness and trust to God. David Benner
  • Prayer tills the soil of the soul and unearths the clods of stories that lie beneath the surface. Dan Allender

Questions to consider

  1. First place, second place. What in your life grabs your attention first?
  2. What line in the simple prayer of St. Francis speaks to you the most? Why?
  3. What do you think would happen if everyday you would stop for one minute and pray the simple prayer of St Francis out loud?

Further reading

A Dangerous Prayer to Pray – Franciscan Benediction

Three Ways God Answers Prayer

How is it With Your Soul?

Barry Pearman

Photo by Jelle de Gier on Unsplash

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