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.(*)
I have set it to a prayer for those who are great distress of body mind and spirit, and in need of both hope and help. 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 an unusual rendering of the wonderful Advent hymn, ‘O come, O come, Emmanuel’.
The tune for this hymn originated in Old French funeral processions – something that this largely improvised recording reflects, starting in a very dark place. Occasional echoes of that hymn recur further on in the words of the prayer – along with three prayers and nine precious words Elizabeth Goudge penned that we can use as a prayer rhythm of the heart: Into Your hands. Thee we adore. Lord, have mercy.
Other sources that I drew on in composing the words of this prayer include the 19th century hymn writer, William Cowper, a genius who suffered from bouts of recurring mental illness, as well as King David, who knew from only too much experience what it was to be in deep distress.
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.
As we pray for the Lord to come to people in great distress and in need of His presence and deliverance, it is precious to ‘earth’ and apply these prayers by bringing specific people before His throne – either when you first hear it, or when you have had time to assimilate it and play it again. How much better is that to lift these people to the Lord than just to feel overwhelmed by the state of the world? Who knows what people or situations may come to mind as we get to know this piece, and so swell the volume of prayer that is ascending before the throne of God?
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.
Or the billions who are suffering from the ravages of the ever rising cost of living.
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 challenging circumstances, or by the spiritual pressure that demonic forces are quick to direct against the Lord’s front-line troops.
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)
(*) For the original recording, James Horsfall suggested that I set the music to a reading from John Milton’s poem, Lycidas. I did indeed do that and invited Dad to read it a couple of years before he died. 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 contains detailed references to a friend who had been drowned at sea, as well as to a number of dangers that England was facing at the time, both from the overly narrow and restrictive demands of the Established Church, (which treated Non conformists cruelly) and from Spain, who was on the warpath at that time and poised to invade England.
The Anglican communion certainly remains in need of prayer to this day, as does Spain itself, but by God’s mercy neither of those institutions pose the same immediate danger to us these days that they did then – but there are any number of others dangers around the world that we need to be alert to, and people in great distress for whom we can pray.