St. Patrick’s Breastplate

I bind unto myself today
the virtues of the starlit heaven
the glorious sun’s life-giving ray,
the whiteness of the moon at even,
the flashing of the lightning free,
the whirling wind’s tempestuous shocks,
the stable earth, the deep salt sea,
around the old eternal rocks.

I bind unto myself today
the power of God to hold and lead,
his eye to watch, his might to stay,
his ear to hearken to my need;
the wisdom of my God to teach,
his hand to guide, his shield to ward;
the word of God to give me speech,
his heavenly host to be my guard.

Christ be with me,
Christ within me,
Christ behind me,
Christ before me,
Christ beside me,
Christ to win me,
Christ to comfort
and restore me.
Christ beneath me,
Christ above me,
Christ in quiet,
Christ in danger,
Christ in hearts of
all that love me,
Christ in mouth of
friend and stranger.

I bind unto myself today
the strong Name of the Trinity,
by invocation of the same,
the Three in One, and One in Three.
Of whom all nature hath creation,
eternal Father, Spirit, Word:
Praise to the Lord of my salvation.
Salvation is of Christ the Lord.






Words: attributed to St. Patrick (372-466);
trans. Cecil Frances Alexander (1818-1895)

Prayer of Confession

God wants us to confess, to forgive, and to receive forgiveness. However, many of us are reluctant to repent, fail to forgive, and are woefully inexperienced with confession to another human or to God. For those who don’t yet know the living Jesus, being convinced they’ve even done “wrong” may be a stretch. For those of us who follow Christ, admitting our continuing sins feels shameful and discouraging. Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote of this latter dilemma—“Many Christians are unthinkably horrified when a real sinner is suddenly discovered among the righteous. So we remain alone with our sin, living in lies and hypocrisy.”

Instead of living isolated in blindness and hypocrisy, we can recognize that we are all “real sinners” and  live together in authenticity. Though confession is tough and receiving forgiveness sometimes seems impossible, our triune God, in infinite kindness and tender mercy, wants us to receive His forgiveness.

Repentance, which is a change of heart, is the first step. Next comes confession, then receiving forgiveness, which will increase our love for God and others. Jesus told Simon the Pharisee, “Whoever is forgiven little loves little” (Luke 7:47b). The message is clear: Receive forgiveness from God and others, and your love for God and others will be greater. Might this principle be exponential, not just linear, like an ever-expanding spiral of forgiveness and love? We repent and confess, and as we receive forgiveness, our love increases; so we repent and confess more and are willing to receive more unearned forgiveness and love; and so forth…

What about forgiveness in the Lord’s Prayer—“Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors”? Are our debts (sins, trespasses, what we owe) forgiven only in direct proportion to how well we forgive others? Martin Luther thought so. He believed in a one-to-one correspondence between the two. However, British theologian John Stott approaches the question a bit differently. He said, “God forgives the penitent, and one of the chief evidences of true penitence is a forgiving spirit.”

Confession is a practice well-known to Catholics and is also an integral part of the popular A.C.T.S. prayer (Adoration of God, Confession, Thanksgiving, and Supplication). In James 5:16a, we are instructed, “Confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed.” In The Life You’ve Always Wanted, John Ortberg writes, “God is not clutching tightly to his mercy, as if we have to pry it from his fingers like a child’s last cookie. We need to confess in order to heal and be changed. Nor is confession…mechanical. It is a practice that, done wisely, will help us become transformed.”

In Liturgy of the Ordinary, Tish Harrison Warren notes, “Repentance is not usually a moment wrought in high drama. It is the steady drumbeat of a life in Christ and, therefore, a day in Christ…Our failures or successes in the Christian life are not what define us or determine our worth before God or God’s people. Instead, we are defined by Christ’s life and work on our behalf. We kneel. We humble ourselves together. We admit the truth. We confess and repent. Together, we practice the posture that we embrace each day – that of a broken and needy people who receive abundant mercy.”

How do we practice confession?

1) Ask the Holy Spirit to highlight areas (actions, motives) that need to be confessed as you examine your conscience. Some review the 10 commandments. Others the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:1-12) or the “seven deadly sins”—pride, envy, anger, lust, greed, sloth and gluttony. Always remember the example and teaching of Jesus as you examine yourself. Consider also sins of omission.

Be specific. Don’t excuse yourself—your genes, your upbringing, what others said or did to you. However, keep in mind that the Holy Spirit tends to be quite gentle with believers, whom He indwells. If you are getting pounded with “You’re a mess, a mess, a big hopeless mess! You will never change!” that is NOT the Holy Spirit but the enemy, who is our accuser.

Also, remember that as a human being, you will make mistakes. God did not choose to make us perfect “mini-gods.” Mistakes are accidents or errors in judgment. These are unfortunate and may necessitate apologizing to another person, but mistakes such as these do not involve choosing against God (which is the nature of sin). Scripture tells us that even Jesus “grew in wisdom,” but he never sinned.

2) Decide you do not want to turn away from God again. Tell God you are sorry. Ask for His forgiveness.

3) Deliberately receive the forgiveness of God. 1 John 1:9 promises us, “If we are faithful and just to confess our sins, he will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” This is true. Choose to believe God.

4) Ask the Holy Spirit to help you know how to respond to anyone else your sin has harmed. How can you apologize in a way that accepts blame for your part without blaming others or excessively blaming yourself? Should you offer restitution or not?

Armor of God Prayer

Based on Ephesians 6:10-18:

[Lord, I realize that I am going on to the front lines of spiritual warfare today. I understand that I am not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places. I thank you that in your mercy, you have provided everything that I need for protection in this struggle.]

“I’m putting on the belt of truth. I ask you to make it very clear to me what I am to accept into my life and what I am to reject. Help me to see clearly the motives of others as they deal with me and converse with me. Help me to think and speak clearly, truthfully, and without deceit today. Let me walk in your truth, making decisions and choices according to your plans and purposes for my life…

I am putting on the breastplate of righteousness. Guard my emotions today. Protect my heart. Help me to take into my life only those things that are pure and nothing that is poison or polluting. Help me to live in integrity and to have a reputation based upon doing, saying, believing, thinking and feeling [Your truth]. Help me to live in right relationship with you and my neighbors every moment of this coming day.

I am putting on my spiritual boots. Help me to stand and walk in your peace and to move forward in ways that bring your peace and love to others. Help me to have the full confidence and assurance that come from knowing that I am filled with the peace that only you can give to those who are your children. Help me to be a peacemaker today. Show me where to walk and how to walk as you would walk.

I am picking up the shield of faith…Help me to trust you to defend me, provide for me and to keep me in safety every hour of this day. [May I trust you in every situation that comes my way today, and remember that you cause everything to work together for the good of those who love you and are called according to your purpose.]

I am putting on the helmet of salvation. Guard my mind today. Bring to my remembrance all that you have done for me as my Savior. Let me live in the hope and confidence that you are saving me, rescuing me, and delivering me from evil.

I am picking up the sword of the Spirit, the word of God. Help me to remember the verses of the Bible that I have read and memorized, and help me to apply them to the situations and circumstances I will face. Let me use your Word to bring your light into the darkness of the world and to defeat the enemy of my soul when he comes to tempt me.

Father, I want to be fully clothed with the identity of Jesus Christ today. I am in Christ. He is in me. Help me to fully realize and accept that He is my Truth, my Righteousness, my Peace, my Savior, the source of my faith, and the ever-present Lord of my life.

I want to bring glory to your name today. I ask all of this in the name of Jesus. Amen.”

—Prayer from When the Enemy Strikes by Charles Stanley [with additions by Pastor Jim Schwenk]

Suscipe (“Receive”)

Take, LORD, receive
all my liberty,
my memory,
my understanding,
and my entire will,
all that I possess.
You have given me all.
To You, oh LORD, I return it.
All is yours.
Dispose of it entirely
according to Your will.
Give me only Your love and Your grace.
With this I am rich enough,
and I have no more to ask.

–Included by Ignatius of Loyola in The Spiritual Exercises

Grieving Prayer

Into my grieving
I weave
the strength of the Father.
Into my grieving
I weave
the compassion of the Son.
Into my grieving
I weave
the comfort of the Spirit
Into my grieving
I receive
the presence of the Three in One.

Into my anger
I invite
the patience of the Father.
Into my numbness
I invite
the healing of the Son.
Into my confusion
I invite
the wisdom of the Spirit.
And we shall grieve together,
I, in community
with the Three in One.

Anonymous, quoted from Celtic Daily Prayer Book Two (pp. 1050-1051)

Visio Divina (Praying with Images)

Visio divina is praying with images such as paintings, photographs, drawings, icons, or sculptures. A picture may indeed be “worth a thousand words.” God has often used visual images to communicate truth. Both Old Testament prophets and New Testament apostles had visions and dreams. The psalmists  harvested metaphors from what they had observed in nature. Yahweh commanded the Israelites to carve and weave images of cherubim for the cover of the ark of atonement and for the tabernacle curtains.

Though early Christians prohibited graven images of God the Father, they painted and carved Old Testament stories and representations of God the Son, particularly in the catacombs. After Christianity was legalized, Christian art became useful for teaching an illiterate population. Stained glass windows, mosaics, carvings and even the architecture of cathedrals proclaimed the biblical story and aided in worship.

In the Bible, poetry, music, dance, story-telling, and art are all used in worship because all touch and transform the deep, inarticulate places in human hearts. Visio divina encourages a return to one of these earlier forms of learning and worship. In addition, visio divina may be a corrective to the influence of our culture’s increasingly shallow, fast-paced visual orientation.

Pausing to see more deeply, with the eyes of our hearts, trains us to be more attentive to the presence and work of God below the surface of our lives. We begin to block out distractions and sharpen the focus of all our senses toward God and His work—in Creation, in others, in events, and in ourselves.

The method of visio divina, in brief:

Surrender to God. Set aside about 15-20 minutes of quiet, uninterrupted time and start by inviting God’s Spirit to speak to you. Setting an alarm may help you “ignore” time constraints.

Meditate on the image. Notice what is dominant, possibly the first thing that catches your eye. Keep your eyes there. What do you notice? What moves you? Ponder your emotional response. Then allow your eyes to wander around the image. Notice color, shape, contrast, overall impressions. Be gentle and open, both with yourself and the image.

Pray about your meditation. Talk to God directly and take time to listen. How does the Spirit connect this image to your life? To God and His Word? As you gaze on this image, is God in some way gazing at you? Are you moved to amazement, silence, rest, repentance, gratefulness, action, confession, adoration, or dance? What invitations might God have for you? Consider journaling your prayer response.

Surrender again to God and rest with thankfulness in His loving presence with you.

Prayer of Examen

The Method:

1.  Surrender anew to the loving presence of God here and now.

2.  Take a gentle look with God at each part of your past day—all your thoughts, feelings and actions.

• Where did you move toward God or respond to God with a “Yes”?
• Where did you move away from God or respond to God with a “No”?

3.  Ask God, with gratitude, to bless you with more opportunities to receive Him and His gifts and to move toward Him tomorrow.

Ask God to forgive you for moving away from Him and to help you respond to Him with renewed love and faithfulness tomorrow.

4. Yield yourself again to the loving, ongoing, transforming presence of God in your life.


Examining Examen More Closely

1. Intent:

The prayer of examen allows us to become more aware of God’s presence and action in us and in the world around us.

God is always present and active in us as believers by the indwelling Holy Spirit. And God is always active in the world—in love, pursuing and inviting the world to be reconciled to Himself through Jesus Christ. Practiced over weeks to months, the prayer of examen allows us to see more clearly God’s presence and action and to participate with God more fully and freely.

Our part in any prayer practice is to provide a structure and place in our hearts, minds, wills, spirits and bodies for God to be and to act. God alone transforms. Prayer is our cooperation with the amazing, powerful work of God in the world.

2. Explanation:

What does it mean to “move toward God” or “say ‘Yes’ to God”? God is the source of all life; all love (as described in 1 Cor 13:4-8 and Rom 12:9-21); all truth; all gifts of the Spirit (as listed in 1 Cor 12:8-10 and Rom 12:6-8) and all the fruit of the Spirit (as listed in Gal 5:22-23). Where did you cooperate with God to express or increase what He gave you (life, love, truth, gifts or fruit of the Spirit)? Be grateful for what God has done through you and in you.

What does it mean to “move away from God” or “say ‘No’ to God”? We all sin daily, whether by refusing, disobeying, or ignoring God in what we do or do not do. Examining our motives and attitudes, not just our actions, is important here. The goal is not condemnation but a gentle return to God to accept His forgiveness through Christ and to cooperate anew with God’s transforming touch. Be grateful for God’s forgiveness and your own spiritual growth, no matter how stuttering and seemingly slow.

3. Mechanics:

Examen is generally practiced twice daily for about 20 minutes at noon and bedtime. However, just a 5-10 minute prayer of examen every evening can result in increased awareness of God in everyday life.

As with physical exercise, new spiritual practices are best begun in small but consistent ways. We do not start by running marathons every week but by walking around the block every night.


Determine a specified length of time to pray the examen. If you want to develop a habit of examen, practice this prayer for at least 10 weeks. Just to start seeing God somewhat more clearly in daily life, try 4 weeks. The longer you practice examen, the more clearly you will see your own patterns of response or refusal to God and the trends of God’s actions in the world.

For some, journaling or recording a few words during the prayer of examen may be helpful for focus and recall. Setting your Bible or journal in a prominent place each morning may help you remember to practice examen that evening.

4. Failure:

You will fail. Accept it. You are a human, and God knows that. In fact, God made you human—imperfect, not a god. And Scripture tells us (Jn 3:16) God loves us as we  are—imperfect humans. You will not practice the prayer of examen perfectly, even after a lifetime of doing it.

When you fail at examen, just start again. God delights every time we turn and return to him. The Bible records God’s mercy triumphing over God’s judgment. Remember the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32). Remember God’s curses extending to 3-4 generations and his blessings to 1000 generations (Deut 5:9-10). Remember the free gift of salvation and new life through Jesus Christ (Eph 2:8-9). Mercy triumphs over judgment.

The two most unfortunate approaches to examen are 1) not to start at all out of fear of failure; or 2) to practice the examen with perfect form but without an open, surrendered heart towards God.

5. Families

This prayer form is easily adaptable to use with children and in families. Every evening at supper, go around the table and hear from each person the answer to one of the following questions:

  • “For what were you most grateful today?”

  • “Where did you see the most beauty [joy, love, hope, faith, truth, or compassion] today?”
  • “Where did you feel most connected to God today?”
  • “Where did you feel most loved or loving today?”Next, consider hearing from each person around the table the answer to one of the following questions:
  • “For what were you least grateful today?”
  • “Where did you see the least beauty [joy, love, hope, faith, truth, or compassion]today?”
  • “Where did you feel least connected to God today?”
  • “Where did you feel the least loved or loving today?”

6. Final words:

This prayer form may not be for you—now or ever. If it is, start today…and start again tomorrow…and the next day. If it is not, pray in another way today…and tomorrow…and the next day. If you are not sure if examen is for you, either pray about it or experiment with it. Either way, you are interacting with God. And you will always be transformed by interacting with the living God!

Prayer Journaling

Why journal?

Isn’t journaling just for those who are good with words and writing? Actually, journaling is for anyone who can write anything, even a couple words.

Journaling slows us down. Like building a dam across a rapidly flowing stream, journaling stops the cascade of our experiences long enough for us to see and examine them.

Journaling helps us be honest with ourselves–to truthfully and carefully observe and question ourselves.

Journaling helps us recognize our emotions. In order to describe our emotions, we need to first identify them.

Expressing our helpful emotions (compassion, awe, gratitude) to God can augment and expand them. Expressing our unhelpful emotions (resentment, jealousy, hurt) to God may dampen or drain their energy and expose them to the Spirit’s healing.

Emotions are very, very valuable. First, emotions are indicators (barometers) of what is happening inside us. Second, passions and emotions are the powerhouse of our actions. Without passion and emotion, we are depressed, apathetic, dull, unmoving and unmotivated. God is the source of all our godly desires and passions, such as our desire to know God and our passion to serve the poor or defend the oppressed.

Awareness of emotions, desires and passions helps us harness and channel them for God.If we are unaware of our emotions, they are likely to rule us in hidden, undesirable ways. Why not look at our emotions with God and allow Him both to shape them and to tap into that power within us?

Journaling helps us problem-solve and live more intentionally. We want to live examined lives, to act instead of reacting. Journaling gives us an opportunity to live thoughtfully instead of accidentally.

Journaling helps us to better see, hear, and understand God. God speaks through Scripture; through others; through art, music and poetry; through Creation; and through all that is happening in our lives. No part of our lives is irrelevant for journaling. Journaling about God’s activities in our lives develops a clearer picture of God.

 Journaling records history. By noticing and recalling God’s actions in our lives, gratefulness may increase. By reviewing our journals periodically, we can see trends or patterns and we can better remember what we have learned from God and about God. Scripture is a journal of God’s actions in history and an interpretation of those actions.

Journaling savors God’s work. Remembering and savoring can be an act of worship, which is one reason God established annual festivals for His people.

How do I journal? There is no “right” way!

Freely express yourself. Forget correct grammar. Try to consciously notice and record both your feelings and thoughts.

Use words, phrases or sentences; poetry or prose; photos, doodles, drawings or magazine cut-outs. Copy down Scripture verses, quotes, or stories. Record your prayers and conversations with God.

Review your entries periodically. Mine them for spiritual gold. Look for trends and patterns. Be grateful for what God has done in your life.

If you’re not sure what to “talk about” in your journal, you may want to consider  one or more of the following questions:

  • What is your image of God? Has it changed over time? If so, how?
  • To Whom do you pray (which Person of the Trinity)? Has that changed?
  • How are you aware of God during the day? Where did you notice God today?Yesterday?
  • Have you had any dreams lately that seem to have spiritual significance? If so, record them and pray with them. What does God seem to be saying to you?
  • How do you make decisions? What have been the results of past decisions? How did/do you sense God’s leading?
  • What is your calling in life? Has your understanding of your calling changed over time? If so, how?
  • What is your prayer life like? What do you want for your prayer life?
  • How might you be stuck or holding back from God?
  • What scripture passages or quotes have been particularly meaningful to you and why?
  • What questions do you have for God?
  • What do you want from God?
  • What does God want to heal in you and your life? 
  • What has God been showing you? Teaching you? 
  • How is God inviting you to grow?

Journaling daily will help you both process and remember. We have an enemy who will attempt to snatch away what God is trying to do for our sake. Jotting down what was noticed or heard from God, especially right after spiritual direction sessions, helps safeguard and “keep” what God is doing in our hearts, minds, and lives.

Prayer of Imagination

Humans are made in God’s image in so many ways, not the least of which is our imagination. Imagination is essential for child development but is also necessary for anyone who creates or innovates. We all use our imaginations anytime we think of a scene or an object not currently present to our five senses. Jesus used his imagination quite effectively in teaching by parables.

“The Lord’s Prayer” by James Tissot

Every builder, cook, author, or artist imagines a final product before beginning his work. And imagination makes empathy possible as we imagine how another person may be feeling.

How then can we use this valuable tool of imagination in prayer?

Read through a story of Jesus, asking the Holy Spirit to speak to your heart and mind through this recounting. Next, imagine yourself to be present in the narrative, either as a person named in the story or as an unidentified observer. Deliberately engage all five of your senses to interact with the scene and the action: Smell, Sight, Sound, Taste and Touch. Look around you. Pay particular attention to Jesus. What is he like? How are you relating to him? How are others relating to him? Allow the story to unfold gradually and notice your thoughts and feelings as it happens. Stay with the experience, perhaps even longer than you think is needed.

After the prayer of imagination story has “concluded,” try experiencing it from another vantage point. Do not evaluate the story while you are “in” it, but only after the imaginary part of the prayer has concluded. When the action has finished, consider questions such as the following: How were you drawn into the story? Were you experiencing any pushback from the story? Was your experience in the story in keeping with the truth Scripture teaches? What was Jesus like in the story? How were you relating to him? What moved you? What surprised you? What do you want now? What is God’s message or invitation for you in this story?

“Christ in the House of Martha and Mary” by Johannes Vermeer

The objective for this prayer is not exact historical and scientific accuracy in imagining the story and its setting. The goal here is to watch and wait for a revelation from God. Our God is self-revealing and truth-telling. Our desire in this prayer is knowing and experiencing God and His truth. Similar to the way Jesus used parables to teach truths, God can use prayer of imagination to teach our hearts and minds about Him, about ourselves, and about the world. God can use prayer of imagination in the same way He uses art, music and poetry.

The Spirit of Jesus who dwells within us as Jesus followers is the same Spirit who was present as Christ walked this earth and lived these historic accounts in Scripture. God knows what happened there and why. Let God use your imagination to show you what He wants you to know and understand about the events recorded in Scripture.

Jesus at “Emmaus” by Rembrandt

Lectio Divina

Lectio divina  is a way of praying with Scripture to allow God’s Word to penetrate and change your heart, not just your head. An ancient method of prayer, lectio divina has been used by Christians for almost two millennia. Many Christians today use a similar prayer practice called “savoring the Word.” Lectio divina is not meant to replace Bible study, which God also uses to transform us.

The method of lectio in brief:

1) Surrender to God. Set aside about 15-20 minutes of quiet, uninterrupted time and start by asking God’s Spirit to teach you about Himself and yourself. Setting a timer may help you “ignore” the time constraints.

2) Read the Scripture aloud. Next, read aloud the Scripture passage you have chosen at least twice. Read no more than 5-10 verses each day. As you read, watch for a word or short phrase to stand out to you in some way. This word or phrase will almost “shimmer” (not visibly, but in your heart or your attention). It’s likely you will have no idea why that particular word or phrase stands out. Trust that God is bringing this “morsel” to your attention.

3) Meditate on the Word. Then, take that word or phrase and meditate on it. Meditation is like “chewing your cud” mentally, and involves repetitively attending to a thought. Anyone who can worry can meditate. Turn the word or phrase over in your mind and look at it from many different angles. Be free and open in this. If you get distracted, just turn back to it. If distracted easily, consider journaling your thoughts or jotting down short notes.

4) Pray about your meditation. If God has brought to mind something to do or know from your meditation on Scripture, ask Him to help you act on this change or insight. Talk to God directly and take time to listen, giving God space to reply.

5) Surrender again to God. Finally, just sit quietly with God for a while in an attitude of surrender to His loving presence and will. The goal here is not a mystical experience nor an “emptiness” of thought or feeling. The intention is just to enjoy and rest with God, similar to the way friends or spouses sometimes sit silently together, loving one another with gratitude.

6) End with the Lord’s Prayer.