Note: This article originally appeared in Worship Leader Magazine Jan/Feb issue 2017

Psalm 95:6 Come, let us bow down in worship, let us kneel before the LORD our Maker;
Ancient believers understood that worship is prayer. The book of Psalms was not only the hymnbook of our ancient Faith, it was also the prayerbook. The songs and the prayers of the people were one and the same, that is to say, when they were singing, they were praying. There didn’t need to be a prayer chorus to lead into the pastoral prayer time because the song itself was a form of prayer and when the service started the praying had already begun.

There is a wonderful Latin phrase, “lex orandi, lex credendi,” which loosley translated means “the law of praying is the law of believing”. A simpler way of saying it might be, “our worship forms our theology”. Lex orandi, lex credendi was the guiding principle in the ancient church for developing the creeds, the canon of scripture, and other doctrinal matters based on the prayers (liturgy) of the church. Before the church had the Bible, it had it’s worship liturgy. Before we had the New Testament, we had the prayers of the people filling our worship. The close communion with God that the church had in its praying and it’s liturgy is a huge part of what guided us to the canonizing of the Bible.

Worship fueled the imagination of the early church and led it to act upon it’s theology. In Acts chapter 2 we see a church at worship in an upper room in Jerusalem, actively waiting and praying together for the promise of God. We notice in the story that when the Holy Spirit overcame the church in Jerusalem, it didn’t just land at random in people on the street. The Holy Spirit fell first upon those believers who were praying and waiting in worship.

The worship of the early church was not rote and inactive, it was a worship that led them into the streets with a message like no other. “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 2:38) Make no mistake about it, this is a literal call to worship. Repentance is the action of turning away from sin and this turning away is rooted in prayer. This turning away is marked in a liturgical action called baptism. To paraphrase William Willimon, our baptism is thethe departure/death from empire to live into a physical Kingdom of God with it’s own logic, language, and culture. Worship is the way that we pass along the Christian faith with its logic, language and culture. Worship is the church at prayer.

Should our view of the congregational liturgy be any different from those early Christians? When we gather together to worship as the body of Christ shouldn’t we be just as engaged in worship as prayer? From gathering to the benediction our worship is prayer. Do we understand this when we are doing service planning?

Rather than increasing our repertoire of music, what if our driving goal as worship leaders and service planners was to increase our congregation’s repertoire for prayer? What if we saw our vocation as a way to helping our people communicate with God? James Hudson Taylor once said, “I have seen many men work without praying, though I have never seen any good come out of it; but I have never seen a man pray without working.” When we study the great revivals of history we can see that prayer has been at the center of them all. While revival may not always be the result of our prayers, we do know that revival has never come without prayer.

If liturgy is in fact the work of the people then shouldn’t prayer be our primary tool in that work? What if we put real effort, advanced effort even, into helping our congregations pray as they worship? What if all words spoken to God in our worship services were intentionally words of prayer? What if our quiet moments in worship were intentionally designed to help our people listen? What would happen if Prayer saturated our services? What if in our service planning we made sure that every service element was one of prayer?

According to the Book of Common Prayer, “Prayer is responding to God, by thought and by deeds, with or without words.” We know that the principal kinds of prayer are adoration, praise, thanksgiving, penitence, oblation, intercession, and petition so imagine with me what it might look like if we worked to make every element of our worship a form of prayer?

If prayer is the one essential thing we do in worship, maybe we should examine the structure of our weekly services and ask if the elements at play could be considered prayer. Is the offering a time of true oblation for the people in our congregation or do they simply write out checks and quietly chit chat to each other while the plates are passed and a song is played? Are your announcement times placed in a part of the service that helps or hinders your congregation’s connection with God? Are your greeting times truly moments of passing God’s peace to each other or are they simply short times of shooting the breeze in the middle of the service? Are there opportunities for repentance and confession in each service, preferably near the beginning, where your people can enter into God’s presence with clean hearts?

I’ll close with a few questions to ask after we have examined the structure of our services:

  • Are there are elements of our services that are clearly not forms of prayer?
  • Are we able to do without them and use the time in a more effective, or more holy way?
  • Are the songs that we are singing helping us to prayer?
  • Are there songs that may actually be hindering us from praying?
  • As worship leaders and worship songwriters we are literally putting words into the mouths of worshippers, are those words worthy of the gospel?
  • Are we striving to make every minute of worship Kairos/holy time or are we just simply trying to fill the hour?
  • What does our worship say about where God is calling us?
  • Do our prayer times call our people to actively participate engage in prayer?
  • What does our worship say about God?
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On Tuesday, July 26th, an 84 year old priest, Father Jacques Hamel, was murdered in cold blood while he was leading a mass in France. He was forced to his knees before his throat was slit all while being videotaped. How marred the image of God must be in the people who do things like that, one of them a 19 year old.

Jesus said, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44). He also said, “Do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you” (Luke 6:27–28).

So how do we pray for enemies like this? How do we possibly love them like Jesus taught us?

Maybe we try praying the Lord’s Prayer for them.

Our Father in heaven, we pray that our enemies would be converted by your hallowed, holy, sacred name.

We pray that your Kingdom would come upon our enemies and Your will would be done in them and to them. Let this happen on earth before they have to stand before your heavenly throne in judgment.

Give them as little or as much provision as is needed to drive them unto you and to beg for forgiveness of their trespasses. Do the same for us until we have prayed to a place where we are able to forgive them, lest we be accountable in Your judgement.

Lead them away from the path of temptation and deliver them from this evil that has overcome them, because Lord, Your Kingdom is the only Kingdom with power, authority, and glory.

As we pray this for our enemies we pray it for ourselves as well. Lord, have mercy, Christ have mercy.

In our lives and especially in our deaths, may the love of Jesus be seen in us by everyone, especially our enemies who need Your love so desperately.

Our lives are yours Lord, and with our final breath, help us to tell our enemies, “God loves You and what the enemy has intended for evil, our God will work for good.”

On Tuesday, July 26th, an 84 year old priest, Father Jacques Hamel, was murdered in cold blood while he was leading a mass in France. He was forced to his knees before his throat was slit all while being videotaped. How marred the image of God must be in the people who do things like that, one of them a 19 year old.

Jesus said, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44). He also said, “Do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you” (Luke 6:27–28).

So how do we pray for enemies like this? How do we possibly love them like Jesus taught us?

Maybe we try praying the Lord’s Prayer for them.

Our Father in heaven, we pray that our enemies would be converted by your hallowed, holy, sacred name.

We pray that your Kingdom would come upon our enemies and Your will would be done in them and to them. Let this happen on earth before they have to stand before your heavenly throne in judgment.

Give them as little or as much provision as is needed to drive them unto you and to beg for forgiveness of their trespasses. Do the same for us until we have prayed to a place where we are able to forgive them, lest we be accountable in Your judgement.

Lead them away from the path of temptation and deliver them from this evil that has overcome them, because Lord, Your Kingdom is the only Kingdom with power, authority, and glory.

As we pray this for our enemies we pray it for ourselves as well. Lord, have mercy, Christ have mercy.

In our lives and especially in our deaths, may the love of Jesus be seen in us by everyone, especially our enemies who need Your love so desperately.

Our lives are yours Lord, and with our final breath, help us to tell our enemies, “God loves You and what the enemy has intended for evil, our God will work for good.”

I invite you to pray along with me this week on this special episode of The Voices My Head Podcast as I lead us through a Morning Daily Prayer Rite of the Orthodox Church. Click the picture below to follow along with the prayer.

Beginning Daily Prayer Rule

Sometimes I really wish people wouldn’t read their Bibles. That sounds blasphemous I know, but it’s true. The Bible contains all that is essential for life and salvation, it tells us repeatedly that God is love, it gives us the narrative of our faith story, and yet there is no other book I can think of that causes more damage than the Bible. For instance, what are we to do with passages like these from the book of Psalms?

15 Let death take my enemies by surprise; let them go down alive to the realm of the dead, for evil finds lodging among them. (Psalm 55:15)

Break the teeth in their mouths, O God; (Psalm 58:6)

28 May they be blotted out of the book of life and not be listed with the righteous. (Psalm 69:28)

May his children be fatherless and his wife a widow. (Psalm 109:9)

Happy is the one who seizes your infants and dashes them against the rocks. (Psalm 137:9)

The Psalms have a unique place in the Bible in that they are prayers and songs prayed to God. Where other parts of the Bible are filled with messages from God to us, the Psalms are our prayers and songs of praise to Him. The Psalms were not only the hymnbook of ancient Israel, they were the main prayer book and songbook of Jesus and his disciples, the early church, and most of Christendom until fairly recently in church history. The Psalms have been teaching believers how to pray and praise God for literally thousands of years.

About a year ago I released a book called, Out of the Depths: A Songwriter’s Journey Through the Psalms. In it I told readers that I just wasn’t sure what to do with certain scriptures like the imprecatory (cursing) Psalms, quoted above. I’ve gone as far as wondering if there are some parts of the Bible that Jesus would forbid us to pray. We would never see Jesus joyfully dashing infants on rocks and I don’t believe for a second that he would ever condone such unspeakable acts. Yet, here in the prayer book that we know Jesus used, we have unconscionable prayers like these.

How can the Christ who told his followers to love their enemies and pray for those who persecute them have anything to do with cursing prayers like the imprecatory Psalms? Does Jesus really want us to pray for the damnation of others, to pray that innocent women and children be widowed and orphaned, wandering desperately in the street with no help to be found? How does God answer our prayers of cursing upon others? I believe He answers them with the cross.

All the hateful things that we prayed about our enemies, Jesus took upon himself on the cross. When mankind prayed for God to humiliate, starve, and destroy the enemy, God answered those prayers by coming to earth as Jesus to be humiliated, starved, and destroyed in their place. When our weapons were aimed at our enemies, Jesus turned our weapons and aimed them at himself. Jesus died from the shots we fired. Jesus was killed in answer to our prayers against others. Jesus didn’t only die for our sins, Jesus died for the sins of the enemy.

Jesus on the cross is God’s response to the cursing prayers we pray. All the wrath that mankind could muster was aimed at Jesus on the cross. Jesus did not bear the wrath of God on Calvary, Jesus was God on the cross bearing the wrath of man. Jesus died at the hands of devout, Bible believing, religious people. When Jesus taught us to love our enemies, he also showed us how to do it. To love an enemy, you might have to step in front of a bullet for them. When we rage against others, Jesus steps in to bear that rage because no one else has shoulders big enough to bear it.

All that being said, the imprecatory Psalms ,and many unsavory passages like them, are still in our Bible and they aren’t going anywhere. What should we do with these passages as followers of Jesus?

When traumatic events happen in our lives, we often suffer from what is diagnosed at Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Veteran’s Affairs requires soldiers who are victims of PTSD to write a stressor statement describing the stressful experience they had that led them to developing the disorder. This statement consists of three parts:

  1. Life before military service
  2. Life during military service (including traumatic event(s)
  3. Life after traumatic event(s)

Often, after traumatic life events, victims are filled with rage. They have trouble being around people and their temper gets the best of them. Victims often have trouble sustaining employment due to their condition, many times costing them their marriages, their homes and even their sanity. It is important that PTSD victims find a healthy outlet for their afflictions and that often comes in the form of therapeutic letter writing, chronicling their anger, grief, and need.

I believe that the imprecatory Psalms serve a similar function for us in our liturgy. Praying curses down on our enemies may not seem like a holy endeavor until we realize that we are praying them in all honesty to a God big enough to bear them upon Himself. When we pray for our enemies to be cursed it is an honest expression of what we feel, but God’s answer to us in Jesus will always be, “no”.

When God answers prayers of cursing, He does so by bearing the curse upon Himself.

Even so, we should still find the freedom to be completely honest with God in our prayers. Our God prefers an honest curse to a dishonest blessing. May God help us to see that Jesus is to answer to our prayers, even our prayers of cursing. He not only tells us how to love our enemies, He shows us. When we pray for our enemies to suffer and die, Jesus suffers and dies for them.

As we enter into this Lenten season, may God grant us courage to walk the road to the cross with Him, helping us learn what it means to truly be Christian. We will encounter scripture that makes us uneasy along the way so may Jesus be the living Word for us, showing us where we’ve gotten it wrong. When the crowd cries crucify, may God help us have the honesty to hear our own voices in the crowd.

A Prayer for Lent O gracious Master, infuse in our hearts the spotless light of Your Divine Wisdom and open the eyes of our mind that we may understand the teachings of Your Gospel. Instill in us also the fear of Your blessed commandments, so that having curbed all carnal desires, we may lead a spiritual life, both thinking and doing everything to please You. For You, O Christ, our God, are the enlightenment of our souls and bodies; and to You we render glory, together with Your eternal Father, and with Your all holy, life-creating Spirit, now and ever, and forever. Out of the depths Postcard

How Do I Pray?
How Do I Pray?

More than 400 years ago Saint Ignatius Loyola, founder of the Jesuits (literally meaning the society of Jesus), developed a way of praying for the purpose of helping people to find God in all things. This way of praying intentionally looks for what God is doing right now. As Christians we believe that the risen Christ is alive and active, working in His creation in every moment, drawing everything near to Himself as He Himself draws near. A wonderful way to pray is by looking for God’s presence in our lives, both individually and communally. Saint Ignatius Loyola encouraged prayer-filled mindfulness by prayerfully developing a technique called the Daily Examen. The Examen is a prayerful reflection on the day’s events for the purpose of detecting God’s presence and discerning His direction for our lives. The following is my best attempt to adapt St. Ignatius’s prayer for my own use. This is one way I am learning to pray as I follow Ignatius’ 5 steps and since none of us pray in a vacuum, I thought others might find it helpful as well. These certainly aren’t ideas that are original to me, they are simply my attempt to make this type of praying my own. I always pray better with a guide.

1. Become aware of God’s presence. 

Look back on the events of the day so far. Be aware that you are in the presence of the Father, revealed to us in Jesus, through the power of the Holy Spirit. Don’t ask anything yet, just simply be aware of the Presence of God, who is with you in this very moment.

2. Review the day with gratitude. 

As you review your day, be mindful both of the things that have brought you joy as well as things that have been obstacles.  Take note of the delights as well as the struggles of the day. Ponder the work that you accomplished and the people with whom you interacted. What did you recieve from these people and things? What did you give to them? Pay atttention to both the small things and the large things for God is in the details.  What did you eat? How did you feel? Were you cold or hot? Jesus presence is both the center of our joy as well as our stumbling block at times. Cultivate gratitude for both, that God would care enough to be present in every moment, revealing Himself in the joy and struggle, knowing that His nearness is always for our good.

3. Pay attention to your emotions. 

Strive to detect the presence of the Spirit of God in the movements of our emotions. Reflect on the feelings you experienced during the day. In what did you find affirmation? What did you find challenging? What caused you Boredom? Exhilaration? Resentment? Compassion? Anger? Confidence? Have I been kind to others? Have I been open to growth? What is God saying through these feelings?

God might show you some ways that you have fallen short. Make note of these sins and faults but also look deeper to what these things might mean. Does your frustration possibly mean that you need to consider new directions in some area of  your life and work? Are there people who come to mind that you may need to reach out to in some way? Are there places and habits that you need to avoid? Do your emotions indicate that a change of course is needed? God’s paths will lead to wholeness so it’s helpful to examine if you are recieving wholeness or brokenness from your present path?

4. Choose one feature of the day and pray from it.

Ask the God to direct you to something during the day that is of particular importance to Him. It might involve positive and/or  negative feelings. It may be a significant encounter with another person or people. It might be a vivid moment of peace or fulfillment. It might be something that seems insignificant at first. Look at it. Pray about it. Allow prayer to arise spontaneously from your heart. Ask the Holy Spirit to guide you in prayers of intercession, praise, repentance, or gratitude.

5. Look toward tomorrow. 

Ask God for light to face the challenges of tomorrow. Pay attention to the feelings that surface as you survey what’s lies ahead. What are you experiencing about the future? Doubt? Cheer? Worry? Joyful anticipation? Allow these feelings be transformed into prayer. Seek God’s guidance. Ask him for help and understanding. Ask God to show you how to be the Christlike person that he wants you to be.

Talk to Jesus like a friend. End the Daily Examen in a conversation with Jesus. Ask Him to forgive for your sins. Ask for His protection and help. Ask for His wisdom in the questions you have and the problems you are facing. Pray in the spirit of gratitude but also in complete honesty. There is nothing you can say to Him that will make Him stop loving You. Be real with God even when it isn’t pretty. God doesn’t know the person you pretend to be because that person doesn’t exist. Be who you are, who God made you to be. Every life, including yours, is a gift. If you examine your life carefully and prayerfully, you will see that it is filled with gifts from God.

End the Daily Examen with the prayer Jesus taught his disciples

Our Father, Who art in heaven, Holy is Your Name;

Your Kingdom come,Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.

Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us;

and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.

For Your’s is the Kingdom and the power and the glory forever, Amen.

I would say that at least 90% of the prayer requests I hear from church people have to do with sickness and health. The really interesting thing about that is Jesus very rarely healed people. When Jesus did heal people it was a sign of something else, an illustration to a point that he was trying to make. Healings were living parables pointing to God, not the ancient equivalent of the latest wonder drug.

No, Jesus never promised us health. In fact he promised us just the opposite of health. What Jesus offered to his disciples was a cross, a Roman instrument of torture and death. If Jesus had our health as his primary goal then I’m sure he would’ve done a lot more healing, but as it has always been, there’s 100% chance of death for each one of us.

The Gospels never call the miracles of Jesus miracles, they call them signs. To what signs do you think Jesus was pointing us? He certainly wasn’t pointing us to the miracles themselves, as Jesus wanted disciples, not spectators at a magic show. With that being said, if our health was not Jesus main priority, then why does that seem to be all we ever pray about? What do you think Jesus would have us pray about? What are the signs to which his miracles are pointing? The answer is not far from you so think about it, better yet, pray about it.

Blessings,
Rick Lee James

 

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About Rick:

Rick Lee James is a professional singer and songwriter, a speaker, author worship leader and Podcast host who has worked with the likes of Jason Gray, Andrew Peterson, Sara Groves, Michael Card, Brian Zahnd, Tripp York, Brett Mccracken, Ian Morgan Cron, Paul Baloche and many more. In 2013 Rick released his first Live album of original songs called, Basement Psalms Live. In 2014 Rick published critically applauded a companion book to Basement Psalms Live called, Out of the Depths: A Songwriter’s Journey Through The Psalms. Rick has also been a contributing writer for Worship Leader Magazine, an adjunct teacher at Trevecca Nazarene University and has had a number of songs published by Lifeway Worship, including, I Lift Up My Eyes and Advent Hymn. For more information about Rick’s ministry visit his web site at http://www.RickLeeJames.com