In Part 2, we were reminded that the foundation of worship renewal is an unwavering dependence upon God’s word. By filling our services with Scripture, we provide frequent opportunities for our congregations to encounter God.
But divine revelation always compels human response. If we want our worship gatherings to increase our congregation’s love and devotion to Christ, we should provide regular occasions for them to respond to his revelation. Scripture reveals many types of response, but I will concentrate on the two most common in our worship gatherings. In this article we’ll look at prayer, and next week we’ll consider singing.
Most of us share concern about our times of corporate prayer. We are instructed to pray without ceasing and that our churches should be houses of prayer, but we sense that something is awry. We don’t pray enough, and when we do pray, our prayers often lack substance and scope. We also have become increasingly dependent upon those on the platform praying for us, rather than embracing prayer as a work of the people. If we truly desire worship renewal, we must strive to increase the quantity, quality, and congregational participation of our corporate prayers.
Consider these six practical suggestions to strengthen and diversify your congregation’s corporate prayer life.
“Pray with me…no, really.” When a pastor or lay leader begins a prayer by saying, “Pray with me,” or “Let us pray,” actually pray along, silently echoing the prayer in your mind—adopting it as your own. On the other hand, if you are the one leading in corporate prayer, strive to make your prayers suitable for the entire body. You are praying on their behalf. Your prayers are their prayers.
Prepare to lead in prayer. Many Baptists believe prayer should be totally spontaneous. Though preachers prepare for sermons; Sunday school teachers study their lessons; and choirs rehearse worship music, prayers are said to lack authenticity and guidance from the Holy Spirit when they are prepared in advance. We are wise to remember that the same Spirit who guides the language of our spontaneous prayers may also guide our thoughts as we prepare in advance.
Pray Scripture. The best sourcebook to strengthen the quality of our church’s prayer life is the Bible. By infusing our prayers with the language of Scripture, we will increase their depth and breadth. The Lord’s Prayer, numerous psalms, and a myriad of scriptural prayers are obviously attractive options, but other verses and passages also may be adapted into prayers. Allowing the Bible to shape our corporate prayer language will do wonders to increase the quality of our corporate prayer life.
Pray together. For most Baptists, rote, memorized, and read prayers are not the norm. And that’s okay! I believe, however, there can be beauty in the body of Christ sometimes praying together in unison—much like we do hymns and worship songs. “The Lord’s Prayer” is a great starting point, but consider utilizing your worship bulletins and screens to show other prayers—especially scriptural prayers—to facilitate your church praying together in unity.
Sing your prayers. Many hymns and worship songs are sung prayers. “Just as I Am,” for example, is a prayer of confession. “Holy, Holy, Holy” is a prayer of adoration. “Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing” is a prayer of invocation. The list goes on and on. Drawing our congregation’s attention to this reality and allowing these sung prayers to shape and form our corporate response can serve to deepen our congregational prayer life.
Consider creative prayer actions and postures. Bowing your head and closing your eyes, while customary and appropriate, is not the only suitable posture for prayer. Raise your hands and eyes toward heaven as you offer prayers of adoration. Lift your open palms as a sign of dependence and need as you offer your supplications. Kneel in contrition as you confess. You may even consider directing your congregation to keep their eyes open periodically to provide visual cues ofwhat to pray for during gathered worship. (Children especially love this idea!) This is the key: we are physical creatures, so employing action and posture gives us a bodily, kinesthetic connection to our prayers.
Our hope for worship renewal rests, in large part, on emphasizing corporate prayer. Let us commit, therefore, to increasing the quality, quantity, and congregational participation of our corporate prayer life. Then, just as Baptists are known as a “people of the Book,” we also may be celebrated as a people of prayer.