Day 20: The Prayer Someone Gave Manasseh

Perhaps at some point you've noticed this, which can seem very confusing: some groups of Christians have Bibles that have more books than other groups of Christians. Growing up as a Protestant, somewhere along the line I picked up on the implicit message that groups who had the "extra books" really must not have cared very much about the Bible (or–for that matter–must not have cared very much about God). Boy, was I wrong. My first clue that the extra books (the best term for them is "Deuterocanonical books," or in the past they were referred to as the "Apocrypha," but I'll stick with "extra" since it's easier to type) have some good things to say was when I bought a study Bible edited by a group of my favorite Christian scholars, and they decided to include the extra books. In part of their explanation of why they did so while knowing it would be a change for most of their readers, they explained that while these books aren't given the same weight as other parts of the Bible, they are worth reading and can be helpful to us just as good sermons and devotional writings. Even Martin Luther himself said, "Apocrypha–that is, books which are not regarded as equal to the holy Scriptures, and yet are profitable and good to read."

(I've probably made this explanation longer than necessary for today's reflection, but hopefully–if you come from a background similar to mine–it will at least convince you there's no need to call an exorcist the next time you see one of the extra-books-bibles.)

My second step toward valuing these books came when I started having a regular method for praying with other people's words by using prayer books. I've most often used The Book of Common Prayer, and about once every couple of weeks, I come around to this prayer from one of the extra books, "Prayer of Manasseh," which is a great prayer and gives good direction for the way that I want all of my praying to go during Lent:

O Lord and Ruler of the hosts of heaven, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and of all their righteous offspring: You made the heavens and the earth, with all their vast array.

All things quake with fear at your presence; they tremble because of your power. But your merciful promise is beyond all measure; it surpasses all that our minds can fathom. O Lord, you are full of compassion, long-suffering, and abounding in mercy. You hold back your hand; you do not punish as we deserve. In your great goodness, Lord, you have promised forgiveness to sinners, that they may repent of their sin and be saved. And now, O Lord, I bend the knee of my heart, and make my appeal, sure of your gracious goodness. I have sinned, O Lord, I have sinned, and I know my wickedness only too well. Therefore I make this prayer to you: Forgive me, Lord, forgive me. Do not let me perish in my sin, nor condemn me to the depths of the earth. For you, O Lord, are the God of those who repent, and in me you will show forth your goodness. Unworthy as I am, you will save me, in accordance with your great mercy, and I will praise you without ceasing all the days of my life. For all the powers of heaven sing your praises, and yours is the glory to ages of ages. Amen. (Prayer of Manasseh 1-2, 4, 6-7, 11-15)

That's a good prayer, regardless of which kind of Bible you have. (It's ascribed to Manasseh, who–though he almost certainly didn't actually write it, which is part of why it's one of the extra books rather than the regular books–was the longest reigning monarch of Judah, and a really, really bad one. Yet before the end of his life, he turned back to God with a prayer of repentance, so we follow the good part of his example by praying rich words like those of this prayer. See 2 Chronicles 33:1-20 for Manasseh's story.)

A Prayer for the Day:

Heavenly Father, in you we live and move and have our being: We humbly pray you so to guide and govern us by your Holy Spirit, that in all the cares and occupations of our life we may not forget you, but may remember that we are ever walking in your sight; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.*

A Prayer for the Week:

Gracious Father, whose blessed Son Jesus Christ came down from heaven to be the true bread which gives life to the world: Evermore give us this bread, that he may live in us, and we in him; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.*

Click here for this week's scripture readings.

*From The Book of Common Prayer

[This is part of 40 Days of Prayer: Daily Emails for Lent]