Imagine two Christian “superstars” meeting for the first time (they were “superstars” in their day and, for many, they still retain that title even today—but of course, they would never accept that title to describe themselves). I am talking about the American evangelist, DL Moody (1837-1899), and the great British preacher, Charles Spurgeon (1834-1892).  What would their first meeting look like? Now, both Moody and Spurgeon had admired each other from across the pond for decades. Moody, in fact, considered Spurgeon a type of mentor when it came to preaching. Every week, Spurgeon’s Sunday sermon was printed in the newspaper; and Moody studied each issue carefully. But, although they corresponded with each other, they never had the opportunity to meet. But Moody wanted to change that (one of the items on his bucket list was to go to the Metropolitan Tabernacle and hear Spurgeon preach).  And so, one day, he wrote Spurgeon that he was coming and booked a boat. Once in London, he made his way to Spurgeon’s house and knocked on the door. The door opened. Remember, they had never met; and apparently, they had never seen pictures of each other either because when the door was opened, Moody stood there dumbfounded. There was Spurgeon with a huge cigar sticking out of his mouth (don’t worry, Spurgeon only smoked cigars and only to the glory of God—his words, not mine). Now, Moody believed that all forms of smoking were sin; and so, it came as quite a shock to see his hero with a huge stogey sticking out of his mouth. He was so taken aback, matter of fact, that he said the first thing that came into his head: “How can you, a man of God, smoke that?” Spurgeon stepped out of his house and walked up to Moody. He put his finger on Moody’s rather large midsection, and said with a smile on his face, “The same way, you, a man of God, could be that fat!”

Bottom line: we all need grace (and lots of it). Thankfully, the Book of Common Prayer gives us many prayers to help us here. And today, I want to suggest one of my favorites. Here’s a prayer (or if you want to get technical, two prayers) for you to keep with you at all times.

This prayer is known as “Proper 22” (proper, in this context, simply means that it varies according to date):

Almighty and everlasting God,
you are always more ready to hear than we to pray,
and to give more than we either desire or deserve:
Pour upon us the abundance of your mercy,
forgiving us those things of which our conscience is afraid
and giving us those good things
for which we are not worthy to ask,
except through the merits and mediation
of Jesus Christ our Savior,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.

(Now, I almost chose “Proper 21” here; so, if you prefer this one to Proper 22, go for it:)

O God, you declare your almighty power chiefly
in showing mercy and pity:
Grant us the fullness of your grace,
that we, running to obtain your promises,
may become partakers of your heavenly treasure,
through Jesus Christ our Lord,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.

Reminding ourselves frequently that God declares his power primarily in showing mercy and pity, almost makes me want this prayer rather than the previous one, but I’ll stick with Proper 22, (but if you want to add this prayer’s first phrase to all your prayers, either at the beginning or at the end, I won’t object!).

Here’s what I love about “Proper 22.” We constantly need to be reminded that God is always more gracious and good than we can even begin to imagine and that he is always more ready to hear than we are to pray (that sounds like God declaring his power in mercy and pity and grace to me!).  And it is so important (for me, at least) to remember that God delights in forgiving us even when we are afraid to ask for God’s pardon “one more time.” These two great truths fuel all my prayers, even when they are offered in exhaustion, fear, doubt and distance. Somehow, knowing God is more ready to have me come into his presence than I am wanting to do so, transforms my desire to pray into a sacrifice of praise. And it is always good to be reminded that everything good that comes our way comes to us through the merits and mediation of Jesus. See, I need encouragement to pray. And that encouragement is what I find in the opening of this prayer. God is always more ready to bless me with joy than I am to seek him, the source of true delight. The gospel is this: God’s heart is always turned towards me, but my broken heart always resists. I wish that was not so, but my sin and selfishness deny me joy in his presence. But that one line changes everything and gives us hope: “God is always more ready for me, than I am for him.” I will just say it this way, and I am not ashamed to say it: I love this line. Or maybe it is simply that I need this line.

But who asks for these requests in just this way? To whom can we say in life, “You are always more ready to hear than we are to speak.” To whom can we say, “You are always more ready to give than we either desire or deserve?” To whom do we freely ask for an abundance of grace and to whom do we confess our faults, knowing that they will always forgive us? Who always gives us good things for which we are not worthy, but they give nevertheless? To me this is a great picture of my parents (but I had great parents who loved me deeply, and I know a lot of people can’t say that; but I hope you have a lot of people in your life who fulfill these descriptions). I think that is the undergirding theology here and the reason why this prayer moved me. It is a prayer to our loving heavenly father—a God who loves us beyond our wildest dreams, a God who graciously forgives our sins, and a God who delights in his children. This is a prayer to our God who loves us unconditionally and who can’t wait to pour out his grace upon us; and as such, it is one of the most beautiful, most encouraging, most meaningful and the most hopeful prayers I know. Why? Because I need to be reminded constantly that God loves me, and I bet you do, too. But here’s the good news: God delights in reminding us by giving us endless grace.

Moody thought Spurgeon was sinful. Spurgeon though Moody needed to drop more than a few pounds. Both needed to give each other grace. But that is life in a nutshell. We need grace in our relationships, in our responsibilities, in our desires, in our affections, and most of all in our relationship with God, so that we can find true joy in everything we do.

May this prayer bring you true joy, true encouragement and lots and lots of grace.