The prayer of Sir Francis Drake comes alive in a new context

As I wrote last week, prayers, like Scripture, come alive in a new context. This was certainly my experience when I came across again a prayer attributed to Sir Francis Drake, just before he was to set sail on yet another adventure:

Disturb us, Lord, when we are too pleased with ourselves,
When our dreams have come true
Because we have dreamed too little,
When we arrived safely
Because we sailed too close to the shore. 

Disturb us, Lord, when with the abundance of things we possess
We have lost our thirst
For the waters of life;
Having fallen in love with life,
We have ceased to dream of eternity
And in our efforts to build a new earth,
We have allowed our vision
Of the new Heaven to dim

Disturb us, Lord, to dare more boldly –
To venture on wider seas
Where storms will show your mastery;
Where losing sight of land,
We shall find the starts. 

We ask you to push back
The horizons of our hopes;
And to push back the future
In strength, courage, hope and love.
This we ask in the name of our Captain, who is Jesus Christ.

If the truth be told, I don’t know how Drake had effrontery to pen such a prayer – for in spite of all his many achievements, he was at times little better than a pirate, happily taking other people’s possessions and often their lives too! Yet in spite of those reservations, it is a wonderful prayer – challenging not least the older ones amongst us, who are happy to live a settled life, and so tend to resist the changes proposed by younger people in the church. It occurred to me too that there is a particular challenge for pastors whose lives are no longer marked by enthusiasm, whose faith no longer dares to take risks; pastors who are happy just to tend the sheep rather than to lead their churches forward in adventurous mission.

As I was reflecting on this prayer, the verse of Scripture which comes to mind is Proverbs 29.18: “Where there is no vision, the people perish” (AV). George Carey, a former Archbishop of Canterbury, commented: “Unless the minister and at least some of the people have a spiritual vision which sees beyond the difficulties of the human situation, everything will seem hopeless. Vision thus becomes the driving force of prayer and the wheels of change are set in motion. It is important also for this vision to be shared with others, so that it may gently permeate the life of the church, creating expectancy and awareness of what is possible”. And so we need to pray: “Disturb us O, Lord”!

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