In all our distress You too are distressed, Lord, and the angel of Your presence saves us. In Your love and mercy You redeem us; you lift us up and carry us all our days . . . Shout for joy, you heavens; rejoice, you Earth; burst into song, you mountains! For the Lord comforts His people and will have compassion on His afflicted ones – especially when he sees that their strength is gone. (From Is. 63:9, 49:13 and Deut. 32:36)
This presentation is an invitation to join in spirit in praying for and on behalf of people who are in great distress, whether in body, mind or spirit. But first, if I may, a word about the main music that you will hear here. Some years ago, I heard an intriguing musical theme in my spirit. I jotted the notes down and wrote it up as a piece for piano, before passing it on to James Horsfall, who, with great skill and creativity, shaped it into the powerful piece of music that we were able to record.(*) Recently I have been feeling the pain of those in great distress, and in need of both hope and help, and so I wrote an in-depth prayer to set to it.
Because the prayer was longer than the music that James and I had written, we brought in a short but lovely movement from a concerto by the English composer John Baston, which Thomas Herzog plays for us on the oboe. The presentation starts with a most unusual rendering of the hymn, ‘O come, O come, Emmanuel’ .
The tune for this hymn originated in Old French funeral processions – something that this largely improvised recording of it reflects, starting as it does in a very dark place, in keeping with the sense of souls in the utmost distress and in need of Christ’s help.
Occasional echoes of that hymn recur further on in the words of the prayer – along with nine precious words from Elizabeth Goudge, that together form three short prayers: Into Your hands. Thee we adore. Lord, have mercy.
Other sources that I drew on in writing these words include the 19th century hymn writer, William Cowper, a genius who suffered from bouts of recurring mental illness, and King David, who knew from only too much experience what it was to be in deep distress.
The brief extracts from Psalm 22 anticipate Jesus Himself crying out from the Cross, “My God, my God, why have You forsaken Me?” In his cry of distress to the Lord to be close in times of trouble, the psalmist was unknowingly making highly prophetic allusions to the far-off events on Calvary, and speaking reassuringly of the Lord neither ‘scorning nor despising the suffering of His afflicted ones;’ not hiding His face from them but listening to their cry for help.
Into Your hands Praying for people in distress.
In these prayers, we are asking the Lord God to come to people in need of His presence and deliverance. It is so precious to ‘earth’ and apply the prayers we share, so may we suggest you ask the Lord to bring people to mind to name before His throne – either as you begin to listen to it, or after you have listened to the piece for the first time so that you can play the it again and lift them into the Lord’s hands at the same time.
Who knows what people or situations may come to mind as you get to know this piece?
The distress, perhaps, that tens of thousands of prisoners held in solitary confinement and strait jackets experience, and the huge strain this causes both them and their families.
Or think of those hooked by addictions, ranging from alcohol to gambling, and from food cravings to social media.
Or the millions now suffering from long Covid, and all the misery that involves for the individuals, families and workplaces concerned.
Most of all, however, I had in mind those who truly do love the Lord but are under immense pressure, whether as the result of outwardly crimping and challenging circumstances, inward imbalances physically or psychologically or, above all, by the spiritual pressure that is brought to bear against the Lord’s frontline troops.
The powers of darkness may not be omniscient, but they know well enough those who pose a serious threat to their prince’s princedom, and are both deliberate and ruthless in their pursuit and targeting of them, ever seeking to cramp and negate their impact for Christ’s kingdom.
But God . . . !
[Epaphroditus] was ill, and almost died. But God had mercy on him. (Php. 2:27)
[Joseph was sold] as a slave into Egypt. But God was with him. (Acts 7:9)
When they had carried out all that was written about [Jesus], they took Him down from the cross and laid Him in a tomb. But God raised Him from the dead. (Acts 13:29)
In these prayers, we are asking the Lord God to come to people in need of His presence and deliverance. It is so precious to ‘earth’ and apply the prayers we share, so may we suggest you ask the Lord to bring people to mind by name who He would have you bring to Him – perhaps before you begin to listen, or after you have listened to it through for the first time.
May the Lord minister deeply to many in distress and send help from Heaven as you embark on this journey.
(*) For the original recording, James Horsfall suggested that I set the music to a reading from John Milton’s poem, Lycidas, which I did a few years ago, inviting Dad to read it. He did that brilliantly, and to hear his well-modulated tones, you would never have known that he was 86 at the time!
Lycidas was an interesting choice, because it contained not only detailed references to a friend who had been drowned at sea, but also to a number of dangers that England was facing at the time, firstly from an overly narrow and restrictive Established Church, and then from Spain-on-the-warpath-and-poised-to-invade.
By God’s mercy neither of those institutions pose any great danger to us these days, but there are plenty of others dangers around that we need to be alert to.