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Original Photo by DiEtte Henderson on Unsplash

December prayer prompt 2021 from Christian Churches Network of London (CCNL)

Remember when you were a little kid and people asked what you wanted for Christmas. Maybe you went through the Eatons’ or Sears’ Christmas catalogue again and again, cutting out pictures of numerous toys. Maybe it was the ads on Saturday morning cartoons or the multiple flyers that came with the daily newspapers (remember those?) that influenced your wish list as a child. Maybe you now simply scroll thru Amazon to find out what you want. But no matter how you formulated your list, the excitement grew - hoping your dreams would come true. A wish list.

Many, many years ago, Israel had a profound and desperate wish list. Freedom from captivity. A messiah - someone to save them from being displaced, forgotten, broken again and again. And they cried these desires out to God. God heard them and answered their prayers, but not quite in the way they imagined... nor who, where, how or when they imagined. He sent a Saviour for the whole world, for all times, to continually restore His Kingdom in ways that the ancient people then, and us today cannot even fully comprehend. He gave the gift of Himself, expressed in Jesus, the Christ - fully human, fully God, as a sacrifice to reconcile the gap between His holiness and our sinfulness. Mysterious. Magnificent. Absolutely mindboggling. Like Israel, we do not always get what we ask for on our wish lists in the way in which we ask for it from God. Yet God desires to be powerfully at work in us and in our world... we wait expectantly for the fullness of His Kingdom to come, here on earth as it is in heaven.

What's on your gift wish list from God this year at Christmastime? We imagine that trending #1 on many lists is the hope that COVID would just go away, followed quickly by healing of cancers and so many other diseases. For people to know and fall in love with Jesus. For wars to cease and peace to reign. For rescue for those suffering everywhere from poverty, homelessness, and corruption. And of course personally, many of us yearn for healing for loved ones, resolution of conflicts, and restoration of broken relationships. May we suggest four gifts we know are desperately needed in our daily lives. Let's take them together in prayer to our loving God throughout December.

The gift of grace... grace is the freely given, unmerited favor and love of God, the spirit of God operating in us to regenerate and strengthen us. "Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through Him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God." (Romans 5:1-2) We need to live in this grace that Jesus gave so generously to us, without any shadows of shame or guilt. God loved us so much and His acceptance of us does not waver based our actions, our successes or our failures, our doubts or our fears. That is why we celebrate Christmas. Be grateful for this generous gift of grace. Please Lord, may it wash over us daily. It is a gift that keeps on giving.

We also have the great privilege of showing more grace to those around us. When we give grace freely to others, it's not just being kind to someone who we have determined doesn't really deserve it or hasn't earned it. Please God, keep us from watering down your grace into just "niceness" or "politeness". Grace is going out of our way to demonstrate sincerely, in both big ways and small everyday ways, your tender compassion, thoughtful love, generous desire to bless those who might not appreciate it, or ever return the favour. May our actions to others be so abundantly full of your grace in thought, in words, and in actions that it is your great Name that is honored. May we desire to understand that each person, even the “worst” person we can think of, may be doing the best they are capable of at the moment with the resources available to them. We rarely know the whole story of someone's day or life - the grumpy sales clerk, the overly authoritative manager, the bossy friend, the annoying neighbour, the frustrating co-worker, the aloof spouse, the opinionated family member, the politician we don't agree with. Or maybe we are the one who needs a little more grace too! We want to reflect you, our Lord and Christ who pours your grace daily over us to offer it to others. It can change our viewpoints, our conversations, our city. Teach us in new ways this Christmas what an amazing gift grace actually is - both to receive, and to give!

The gift of courage...courage is the ability to face, danger, uncertainty, difficulty without being overcome by fear or by running away from hard issues or actions. God, we confess we have wanted to escape often this past year. Our world has seemed full to overflowing with seemingly unrelenting threats, sorrows, injustices and disasters over the last year. We have come to shudder when we hear the word "unprecedented" even in recent weeks with severe weather events in British Columbia. Many have been challenged physically outwardly, and inwardly in our spirits and mental well-being with an uneasy sense of fear, anxiety or hopelessness...and reasonably so! And we have been impressed with the courageous responses of communities. The world seems to be changing exponentially - or maybe we see so much more of it due to technology. Our super connectedness can overwhelm our ability to filter what is true or not true, helpful or not helpful, constructive or destructive. At times God, it feels a little out of control or we feel helpless - there is a subtle temptation to tune it out or become numb to difficult circumstances or suffering.

Yet we know this is not new in human history - that "fight or flight" response. Thank you God for the many, many times in the Bible that you acknowledged fears and also reminded people to be courageous in spite of the present or anticipated circumstances. Joshua 1:9 says "This is my command—be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid or discouraged. For the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” The angel told Mary not to be afraid of the news of Jesus' birth. The angels sang out to the shepherds "Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared among them, and the radiance of the Lord’s glory surrounded them. They were terrified, but the angel reassured them. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people." Jesus, you urged the disciples so many times to have courage, to not be afraid because of your truly "unprecedented" arrival and actions in their world. You knew it would not be easy or comfortable to follow you.

Thank you God that you are with us, you see us, you are ahead of us and behind us. We pray for courage for the many who had a difficult year and have suffered great losses - by death, by broken relationships, by loss of job or income or home. It is especially hard during this Christmas season for many who know great loneliness and grief when their courage can falter. Prod each of us to consider how we encourage others this Christmas, and by so doing, we can even lend some of our courage to them - with presence with physical, emotional or financial help, with care and gentleness, even with a simple phone call or note. Keep us God from focusing on the things we cannot do right now to help - but instead to focus on what we can possibly do safely and wisely. Keep fear away when it crowds in. Let's pray together for greater courage not only in our own lives, but also in our faith communities, for our families, for our leaders in business, in government, in churches and in ministry. Hear Jesus words tenderly whisper to us "Do not be afraid, for I am with you".

The gift of faith... faith is a complete devotion, a trust or confidence, a belief in things seen and things unseen. We pray that our faith will grow daily in you God.

For many of us during this difficult season of life, not just because of pandemic isolation but also with many cultural shifts, our habits of faith have been waning, the past pillars of faith maybe strained or shattered, and many questions of doubt arise. We confess some of us may have trust issues with you God at times - not because of you but because of us. Like Israel of old, we want answers that we like when we want them! Cause us to turn to you at these times, pull us close to you - humbled, maybe a little shaky, uncertain. Sean Curran captures that in the worship lyrics of "Bigger than I thought You were" ... "Speak to me when the silence steals my voice, You understand me.... Come to me in the valley of unknowns, You understand me, God... So I throw all my cares before You, my doubts and fears don't scare You, You're bigger than I thought You were, bigger than I thought You were...". You alone God can take the broken bits and pieces of our lives and still make beautiful things out of us if we let you.

May we remember the opening lines in Hebrews 11, a chapter filled with examples of people living by faith: " The fundamental fact of existence is that this trust in God, this faith, is the firm foundation under everything that makes life worth living. It’s our handle on what we can’t see. The act of faith is what distinguished our ancestors, set them above the crowd." Bring to mind examples in our present lives of people who have "lived by faith", in good and hard times, and try to learn from them too.

Grow our faith even in suffering God - a risky plea for sure. Great is your faithfulness to us. When with troubled hearts we turn to you, fill us with your peace, a calm reassurance that you hear us, you love us even when we are hurting or exhausted, angry or afraid. When we reflect on our lives, help us to know your loving presence at work in us and through us and through others.

God, may we also share our faith in you with those around us this Christmas. Help us grow more and more sensitive to your Spirit working in people, drawing them to yourself. Make us aware of the many questions and concerns people have about faith in you, yet often are more focused on religion - may we listen with your ears. This advent, as we remember once again the coming of the Saviour, the Messiah, the long awaited one, we pray you will be evident in our lives and shine like a brilliant light as week to live out our faith.

And most of all, woven through gifts of grace, courage, and faith, there is the gift of joy... joy is a sense of delight, a feeling of great happiness beyond mere pleasure. May we rejoice freely throughout this advent season because you God reached out to us with such great love.1 Peter 1:6-9 (NLT) says "So be truly glad. There is wonderful joy ahead, even though you must endure many trials for a little while. These trials will show that your faith is genuine. It is being tested as fire tests and purifies gold—though your faith is far more precious than mere gold. So when your faith remains strong through many trials, it will bring you much praise and glory and honor on the day when Jesus Christ is revealed to the whole world. You love him even though you have never seen him. Though you do not see him now, you trust him; and you rejoice with a glorious, inexpressible joy. The reward for trusting him will be the salvation of your souls. "

Help us to seek to live our lives full of integrity, generosity, compassion, honesty that stimulate curiosity about who you are. There are so many convicting cautions in scripture about how we should behave as people who claim faith. Eugene Peterson calls it "seeking to live with robust sanity". Throughout the book of 2 Timothy, chapter 2 (MSG), it says tough stuff like this: "Warn them before God against pious nitpicking, which chips away at the faith. It just wears everyone out. Concentrate on doing your best for God, work you won’t be ashamed of, laying out the truth plain and simple. Stay clear of pious talk that is only talk. Words are not mere words, you know. If they’re not backed by a godly life, they accumulate as poison in the soul... Run after mature righteousness - faith, love, peace - joining those who are in honest and serious prayer before God. Refuse to get involved in inane discussions; they always end up in fights. God’s servant must not be argumentative, but a gentle listener and a teacher who keeps cool, working firmly but patiently with those who refuse to obey."

Holy Father, help us all every day throughout this advent, to pause and make space of five or ten minutes for stillness and silence with you - to be grateful, to invite you into your dailies to direct our steps and our attention, and allow you our God to quiet our hearts and minds.... and fill us such with glorious, inexpressible joy that it spills out of us on the city of London! Joy to the world.

Merry Christmas from CCNL