Guide our Lives Toward Thy Commandments
by H.H. Pope Shenouda III
This issue is repeated many times in the Psalms, where the worshipper says, "Show me Your ways, O Lord; Teach me Your paths." (Ps 25:4) Again: "Teach me Your way, O Lord, and lead me in a smooth path." (Ps 27:11). So man admits that he does not know the way, and that he needs direction, knowledge, and guidance.
That is why we find an important verse in the book of Proverbs, saying, "Trust in the Lord with all your heart... and he shall direct your paths. Lean not unto your own understanding." (Prov. 3:5) It is more important to follow the commandment than just know it.
It has been stated at the end of the Sermon on the Mount that the person who follows the commandment is like a wise man who built his house upon a rock, the rain descended, and the floods came, the winds blew, and it did not fall (Mt 7:24, 25). We ask God to guide our life toward his commandments, especially when some commandments are difficult or might seem to be difficult. To follow these commandments, we undoubtedly need divine guidance, for example: "Love your enemies, bless those who curse you.” (Mt 5:44) We might be able to tolerate our enemies. But to love them? This needs divine guidance. Also, the commandment of turning the other cheek, and whoever compels us to go a mile, we go with him two miles without complaint - these need divine guidance. (Mt 5:39-41)
I don't want to talk theoretically, but practically by saying: "Guide my life Toward Thy commandments." Let us take another commandment, such as "denying oneself." (Mt 16:24, Mk 8:34, Lk 9:23) Guide us, O Lord, towards how to deny ourselves! There is an even more difficult commandment that says: "He who loves his life will lose it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life." (Jn 12:25). Also: "If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother…and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple." (Lk 14:26)
So guide me O Lord toward resenting myself, and toward how to deny my life as well. Guide me in the commandment, "Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect." (Mt 5:48) followed by: "If you want to be perfect, go, sell what you have, and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven: and come, follow Me." (Mt 19:21) Who, Lord, might be able to become perfect, or give all his wealth to the poor?
Guide me, O Lord, toward being perfect, and to do that without feelings of self-righteousness so that Satan would not fight me with that, and guide me toward how to accomplish both issues at the same time. Satan was perfect in all his ways as was written in Ezekiel 28:15, but he fell! So how can I become perfect without falling?
Lead me to follow the commandment that says that men always ought to pray and not lose heart (Lk 18:1) or the commandment "pray without ceasing." (1 Thess. 5:17) Indeed, who can pray without ceasing? Guide our life toward Thy commandments. Many times, Lord, I fall. The bible says: "For a righteous man may fall seven times and rise again." (Prov. 24:16) So, please lead me, Lord, to rise again when I fall, and also not to fall again when I arise.
In the ninth hour prayer we say "mortify our carnal senses, O Christ our God, and deliver us", so how can our carnal senses be mortified and not used in evil? Who can control his senses to that mortifying degree?
Let us remember some phrases which were said by St. Paul the Apostle in his epistle to the Romans, he said: "or what I am doing, I do not understand. For what I will to do, that I do not practice; but what I hate, that I do. If, then, I do what I will not to do, I agree with the law that it is good. But now, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me. For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells; for to will is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find. For the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice. Now if I do what I will not to do, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me."(Rom. 7:15-20). These are difficult words. Direct me, O Lord, to do the righteousness that I wish to do, and which You also want me to do, because many times I actually do what you do not want me to do, and what I do not want to do as well.
Lead me, O Lord, to knowing how to strengthen my will, how my will would be always attracted to righteousness and to You! Lord, You give the commandment, and You also give the power to follow it, and the way through which this commandment is to be followed. So guide me, Lord, toward how should I follow Your commandment, and toward following it in Your way. For that reason we pray, "Create in me a clean heart, O God." The phrase "Create in me" means that this pure heart is not at all present. So how then will I follow Your commandments?
Even when we turn to God in repentance, remember the deep words that were written in the Prophetic book of Jeremiah: "Restore me, and I will return." (Jer. 31:18) This means direct me, Lord, to how can I turn to You in repentance, and give me the power to do it. Every person wants to turn to God in repentance, but is every person capable of doing that? There emerges the same verse once more: "Guide our life toward Thy commandments." The issue of depending and leaning on God is ever present. How many times does a person think that, by his own efforts, intelligence and experience, he can win? But the wise man says: "Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding." (Prov. 3:5) For this reason, we should say every day; "Guide our life toward Thy commandments."
No doubt, this matter needs God's grace, and also the work of God's spirit in us. Not only during repentance, but in the service, too. As St. Paul the Apostle says: "But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me that was bestowed upon me was not in vain; but I labored more abundantly than they all, yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me." (1 Cor 15:10)
So God, I need, during following your commandments, Your guidance towards how should I do that, I need Your Grace to help me in this work, Your Grace which works with me, and for me as well. We also need that You give us wisdom to know how to work this out.
This is what Solomon the King demanded, when he told God: "Therefore give to Your servant an understanding heart to judge Your people, that I may discern between good and evil" (1 Kings 3:9). Solomon asked for wisdom, to know how to manage things, and to differentiate between good and evil. Lots of people asked God for His guidance when they were following His commandments, like Eliazar of Damascus (Gen. 24) when Father Abraham asked him to go and chose a wife for Isaac his son. On his way, he requested God's guidance. And God has guided him and made things easy for him. Many incidents in the Holy Bible show us how God intervenes and leads the way, and shows also how His commandments were followed. Though many times, man knows where to go to get guidance, he often does not follow the way. So Guide our life Lord toward Thy commandments, O Lord.
Our Lord, You say, as it is written in the Gospel according to St. Mark, "Jesus said to him, 'If you can believe, all things are possible to him who believes'." (Mk 9:23). Yes indeed, all things are possible through faith even if we cannot see it. But I want to practically see that all things are possible to me. Give me Lord, the ability to know how I can do all things through Christ with the power that You give to me. "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me." (Phil 4:13)
We ask for Your guidance through difficult and complicated things. But give us first Your guidance even in simple matters. Or in the issues that seem to be simple, as when the Disciples asked for something that seemed so simple to many people, when they said to God: "Lord, teach us to pray." (Lk 11:1) Is there anyone who doesn't know how to pray? Even the pagans knew how to pray to their idols. But the Disciples asked for divine guidance so that their prayers would be according to the Divine will. Teach us, Lord, how to make the commandment a practice in our life. Guide us towards loving the commandment, and then we will definitely follow it. Teach us how to resent sin, to keep ourselves away from it. Direct us in how we can strive for righteousness, so that we will will definitely achieve it.
Lord, guide my conscience and my thoughts, and speak in my heart as well. Guidance should not be through visions and dreams. If a person thinks that God might guide him through dreams or a vision, Satan might present him with misleading dreams and false visions. Guidance could be through a father of confession, and here I can say: God, if You want to guide me through my spiritual father, please guide him when he guides me.
Lead me as well as my own Leader, as You have said in the Old Testament: "O My people! Those who lead you cause you to err." (Is 3:12) Scribes and Pharisees, they were also leaders to their people. They misled them. They were shutting up the Kingdom of Heaven against them "for you neither go in yourselves, nor do you allow those who are entering to go in." (Mt 23:13)
Sometimes, God was guiding people through His messengers, His stewards on earth, as in the story of Cornelius when God guided him through St. Peter. So God didn't lead him directly, but He guided him through a leader (Acts 10). Also, Saul of Tarsus, at the beginning of his missionary work, was led by Ananias to guide him toward what he was about to do (Ac 9:1-22).
Guide us, O Lord, toward how to win over obstacles, which keep us from following the commandment. Guide us toward winning over the bad habits that we are stuck with it, which we find it so hard to get rid of.
The phrase which says "Guide us" goes for people, servants, and organizations. It goes also for churches. Everyone says; "Guide our life Toward Thy commandments." We know that churches are keen to be united, but they need God's guidance towards how to reach this unity in faith and shared work.
As when the star guided the wise men, guide us, O Lord, toward You. We do not claim to have knowledge, but we carefully try to find our way. St. Anthony said once to his disciple Joseph: "Blessed are you, Joseph, for you knew the way to the words 'I don't know'." How beautiful is this saying. The human light that we have is not perfect, and sometimes it is foggy and we cannot see, so lead us, Lord. We long to tell You, Lord, this phrase constantly: "Guide our lives toward Thy commandments."
*Revised for grammar and translation. The original version of this article appeared in El Keraza.