My very dear friends,
After my parents left for work, I had half an hour before I left for school. I was home alone. Having the stereo to myself, I flipped past my parents’ Andy Williams and John Gary albums to put on one of my own, and pumped up the volume. (We had a 1960s-era portable stereo record changer, so when I say, “pumped up the volume,” don’t imagine that the gilt-framed print of The Blue Boy rattled on the wall.)
Nevertheless, I did let my hair down, so to speak, and there was a season when I was regularly carried away (in private) by Godspell, the 1970s flower-child musical rendition of the Gospel According to St. Matthew. On those festive mornings almost five decades ago, I was moved especially by the folksy “Day by Day,” happy the words were about God. But as a fledgling disciple of 15, I had no idea how profound those words were.
Now, self-proclaimed seasoned contemplative that I am, I find in them a quintessential prayer. The words are often attributed to the thirteenth-century bishop Richard of Chichester, but (if Wikipedia is to be trusted) they are almost certainly not his. Regardless of who wrote them, Stephen Schwartz made them groovy:
Day by day,
Oh, dear Lord, three things I pray:
To see Thee more clearly,
Love Thee more dearly,
Follow Thee more nearly,
Day by day.
Simple enough for pop music, right? But what I overlooked as a baby believer was the purposeful progression of the thought, and the longing expressed—the longing of the ardent and faithful disciple. By “purposeful progression” I mean that each request leads naturally to the next, or is even necessary for the next:
Oh, dear Lord, three things I pray:
The longing expressed here in perfect simplicity unfolds its richness if we tease it out:
- to see you more clearly, so that
- I will love you more dearly, so that
- I will follow you more nearly—day by day.
I call this prayer “quintessential” because it sums up all that is best for us disciples of Jesus to crave. It is a wall-to-wall, soup-to-nuts prayer, encompassing the mind in expanding theological clarity, the heart in deepening affection, and the will in more and more accurate conformity to the Son of God. It is a prayer that, when answered, will lead to God’s greatest glory and to our highest joy.
- Dear Lord, by your Holy Spirit, enlighten my mind to know you more personally, more accurately, and in more detail through your self-revelation in your holy word and your creation: for I was made to know you.
- Having come to know you more thoroughly, dear Lord—to see more of your holiness, your beauty, your majesty, your glory, your power, your authority, your wisdom, your purity, your love, your kindness, your gentleness, your justice, your truth—my heart is restless till it loves you above all things; by your Holy Spirit stir my heart to love you more and more: for I was made to love you.
- Loving you above all things, dear Lord, what better life could I by my will choose and embrace, than to follow you, keep your commands, do your will, imitate your life, bear witness to your Light, be holy as you are holy, be perfect as my heavenly Father is perfect—for your glory; so by your Spirit teach me to stay lockstep with Jesus: for I was made to follow you.
With or without the folk-rock tune, these simple words have again become my day-by-day prayer. Please pray them with and for me. And pray them for yourself: you were made to see, love, and follow Jesus.
And for those of you up for a challenge: try to write your own quintessential prayer. Make it short and meaty, so that you could pray it every day. Make it the sort of prayer that on crazy, distracting days could be your only prayer. Boil down your deepest yearning. And if you come up with something, please send it to me. I’m curious.
I’m also curious to see which wiseacre will be the first to reply, “Our Father, who art in heaven….
Slovakia shares a border with Ukraine and so shares her burden of displaced people. Many of our friends are giving their hearts, backs, hands, and homes for the sojourners: Juraj and Zuzi Sabol are leading the crisis response for the denomination. The Gregoires are logging thousands of kilometers in taxi service between Ukraine, Poland, Slovakia, and wherever needed, plus opening their home and their lives. The Henžels in Bratislava are hosting Ukrainians, and Lubica Kovac opened her flat to some Nigerian students scattered by the war. The need has even lured John and Kathy Lesondak out of retirement: they flew to Slovakia last week to serve alongside the Sabols and Gregoires, filling half the plane’s cargo hold with medical supplies.
On top of all that, the church in Bratislava has leased five apartments for the next six month in order to house and support displaced Ukrainians. Each of their community groups will take responsibility for an apartment and the folks that will fill it. Quite a stretching undertaking for a church with thirty-something members. And the church in Nitra has so many Ukrainians attending that I had the privilege of using my support account to order them more communion cups and trays.
Please ask God to keep his servants safe and to make them wise and compassionate in their service. And you can follow more personal stories from MTW missionaries and the people they serve in Ukraine here and here.
We had some delicious treats in March: we reported to Emmanuel PCA in Cedar Park, who has been supporting the work in Bratislava for five years and is helping finance the above-mentioned apartments. And the spring-break blossom was a visit from Jana, our first Slovak teacher in Trnava when we arrived, and with whom we served in Bratislava. We feasted her on tacos, tacos, and more tacos. Please thank God with us for Emmanuel and for Jana.
We’ll be traveling to Europe ourselves in about a week. We’re heading to MTW Europe’s quadrennial retreat in Crete, where we will see beloved colleagues after a long hiatus. Then on Good Friday we head to Slovakia for a second chance at saying goodbye more personally than we were allowed last year, when we left during a lockdown. Please ask God to grant us warm meetings with old friends, and warm words to encourage them.
Last month I asked you to pray for my fork—that is, the fork in my vocational path, and my looming Decision. The Decision is that starting in May I will be on a leave of absence (or leave of my senses?) from MTW. I intend to devote myself to writing for a while, to see whether I can toss another book or two onto the ever-growing pile (Ecclesiastes 12:12). Please ask God to make good use of me for his glory and the good (and delight) of his people.
And now may God by his Spirit open your eyes to see Jesus more clearly, and warm your heart to love him more dearly, and quicken your step to follow him more nearly—day by day.
Kris (for Paula, who broke her wrist last week)
PS: “Day by Day” was a hit on the pop charts and subsequently covered by other singers, including, oddly enough, Andy Williams. I’ll stick with the Robin Lamont version. If you have the endurance to listen to the Andy Williams version, let me know if you catch where he botches the lyrics. (Maybe he changed them on purpose. Intentional or not, the breadth of the prayer is truncated by the change.)
PPS: Perhaps even more oddly, the song was also covered by Hot Butter, the instrumental band most famous for “Popcorn.” I mention this for all you fans of the Moog synthesizer out there. Both of you.