Weekly Prayer Meeting as Prayer Liturgy

Jesus said to them, “When you pray, say: Father, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come . . .” (Lk 11:2).

The weekly, public prayer meeting of the church seems to be going the way of the Sunday evening service – they are disappearing.  Among churches that still advertise one, many of them end up being Bible studies instead of times of prayer. Now there are probably tons of reasons for this, but at the root, I think it comes down to the simple fact that public prayer is difficult and uncomfortable for many, if not most. As I mentioned last week, some have suggested there is a real problem in the church today with people approaching prayer self-centeredly and pragmatically, to which I agree. However, many are uncomfortable speaking publicly, let alone, praying publicly. Some have had tough days at home, school, or work and are distracted. Some come out of a sense of duty, instead of devotion and delight. Some have not been spending time in private devotion or practicing the presence of God throughout the day, which makes it difficult to come in the evening and suddenly enter into worshipful dependence on God. If there is a temptation to self-centered, pragmatic prayers in individuals, how much more when you get in a group?  If we can’t express our worshipful dependence on God in private, we probably won’t be able to do it in public either.

The result of all this? Many just don’t value the weekly prayer meeting and see it as a waste of time. As a pastor I long see myself and those in my congregation enjoy the blessing of praying to God as worshipful dependence, especially communally. So, to help this time be centered on God and not just ourselves, to help those who are shy and lack confidence to pray out loud, to promote our requests to be set in the context of worship, to help those quiet their hearts from a long day, to assist those who have not been praying throughout the day, to help those who are there more out of duty than devotion, the session of the church I pastor has changed the format of the weekly prayer meeting to a weekly prayer liturgy. The liturgy is arranged to help us worship, includes all the elements of adoration, confession, thanksgiving and supplication, and has sections for corporate and private prayers. In addition to using it during the prayer service, it also provides families something to use at home to help their family worship.

Here is what we prayed last night (I have removed the specifics from the individual prayers of intercession): Continue reading

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Praying God-Centered, Scriptural Prayers

Is your church committed to prayer? Are you committed to prayer? These can be difficult questions, as Robert Murray McCheyne noted, “You wish to humble a man? Ask him about his prayer life.” I do not wish to humble you about your prayer life, but to encourage you in your prayer life.

As I have been preaching through Romans 8, I have been thinking and reflecting quite a bit on prayer. In Romans 8, one of the ways the Apostle Paul describes the Spirit-filled life is as a life of prayer. “Living by the Spirit,” “being led by the Spirit,” and having “the Spirit of adoption” are expressed in our Christian pilgrimage as we cry out “Abba! Father!” (13-15). The Spirit leads us to glory by uniting us to Christ so that we follow his path of suffering that leads to glory (17), a suffering that leads us to “groan inwardly” as we endure and wait for our redemption (23). Throughout the struggle of our pilgrimage, the Spirit helps us in our weakness by interceding for us when we are so confounded that we don’t even know how to pray for ourselves (26).

As Iraneaus once said, “We live in a veil of tears that is an engine of soul-making. In this life, we Christians are being made into saints, and it takes suffering to make saints.” The life of faith – the Spirit filled life- is a life of prayer. And a life of prayer is a Spirit empowered, persevering, patient, engagement with the world, the flesh and the devil, that is encouraged by the knowledge of God’s purposes for his people. If we are going to find any aid, if we are going to find any help, if we are going to find any comfort, we must look outside ourselves – we must look to Christ. And one way to do that is through prayer. Continue reading

Artists, Worship, and the Church

For the past decade, or so, there has been much said about art and worship.  You can see this reflected in different ways, for example, artists are now often employed to lead worship, some churches now refer to worship as the “Ministry of the Worship Arts,” and one of the major trends is for congregations to take over old abandoned theaters in order to use them for worship.  You can read about this in an article that was recently published, “Artists Build the Church,” which is centered on Jon Guerra, the “artist-in-residence,” not worship pastor, who leads worship at a church called The Line, and Aaron Youngren, the lead pastor, who together
have formed a “determination to tear down the walls between church art and city art so that music can freely flow between the venues.”

They both had what they call the frustrating experience of the lack of art in their church backgrounds, and desire to see that changed.  Youngren says that his frustration has been summed up well by an essay written by another artist, Makoto Fujimura, “A Letter to North American Churches.”  And what is this frustration, exactly?

An artist’s relationship with you has not been easy; we are often in the margins of your communities, being the misfits that we are. . . . Instead of having quality artists at the core of your worship, we were forced to operate as extras; as in ‘if-we-can-afford-it-good-but-otherwise-please-volunteer,’ Extras. 

What do you think about this?  Have artists been unlovingly marginalized in the Church?

See what Carl Trueman has to say here.  In his typical British whit, he is spot on.

>First Annual Reformation Worship Conference

>This coming fall, October 21-24, the first annual Reformation Worship Conference will be held at Midway Presbyterian Church.  The purpose for this conference is:

The speakers include Hughes Oliphint Old, Terry Johnson, Jon Payne, Mark Ross, Paul Jones, and David Hall.  The conference opens with a Hymn Festival led by Paul Jones and then doesn’t stop for three days!

Check out the website where you can find more details here.

>Jesus is My Girlfriend Worship?

>Sometimes things like this make me wish I was an exclusive Psalm singer.  Songs that can be sung to a girl or to any human cannot be sung to God!

O.k., so you’re probably wondering what I’m talking about.  Well, this past Lord’s Day, Rick Warren of Saddleback Church held his Easter service at Angel Stadium in Anaheim, CA.  At this Easter “worship” service, Warren had the Jonas Brothers do “a three-song session” (or performance) to close the nearly two hour service, worship service.  A service reportedly devoted to worshiping God was closed with a performance by a popular boyband, singing Easter classics like “Hold On,” A Little Bit Longer” and “Gotta Find You.”

Now apparently the last song was written by a member of Saddleback Church, so certainly it should be about the resurrection, Jesus, or at least about God, right?!  Unfortunately, no!  Well, at least we’re really not sure since the song had been originally sung to a teenage girl in the ABC Family television show Camp Rock.  Now if you can sing a song to a girl, and then later sing that same song to God as worship, then either your view of that girl is way too high, or, the more likely scenario is that your view of God is much too low.  In fact, it is what the Bible refers to as idolatry.

Below is a video clip that shows the song being sung at the Easter service compared to when it was sung to a girl.  I do not endorse the man that introduces the clips nor his cynicism, although the idolatry it reveals is quite flagrant and shocking. 

Songs that can be sung to a girl or to any human cannot be sung to God!

>Singing God’s Words – The New Book of Psalms for Worship

>In addition to the 1973 edition of The Book of Psalms for Singing comes the new Book of Psalms for Worship. Crown & Covenant Publications of the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America have produced a new Psalter. They have updated the language and have used modern English to make it easier to understand. Included in this updated version is fresh translation work from the original Hebrew in addition to consulting updated English translations–which means that when one sings these Psalter selections, one is singing the very words of scripture–this is a translation, not a paraphrase. They have updated some archaic expressions, and have also switched certain words to provide a more up to date word that better expresses the intended meaning. You can go here to see some examples.

In addition to changing and updating the language, they have also updated the appearance. They have given it a new page lay out with a uniform presentation of the music and font. The now identify the Psalm selection with the first line of the Psalm in addition to the number. They have used a larger font for the Psalm number and selection letter for easier identification and navigation of the Psalter.

They have also updated the tunes used for singing the Psalms. Some of the Psalms have retained the same tune, but many of the Psalms have been given new tunes. Some of the new tunes are traditional hymns tunes that are readily recognizable, some are new tunes that were written specifically for the Psalter, while others have been borrowed from other cultures. These changes are not for the sake of being contemporary, but an attempt to help the worshiper understand the Psalm by using a tune that reinforces the setting and meaning of the Psalm. (I am particularly interested in this improvement since one of my beef’s with the old Psalter is that many of the tunes did not match the Psalm.) A complete chart noting the changes in words and tunes can be found here. If you want to hear the new musical arrangements, a complete library index of the tunes (MIDI files) and Psalm selections can be heard here.

However, in all the updates and changes, my favorite improvement is that they have taken steps to help the worshiper see the broader connection that each Psalm has with the rest of scripture by including a New Testament reference that goes along with the theme of the Psalm. This NT reference is to help the worshiper have a more Christ-centered experience of singing the Psalms by helping the worshiper understand the Psalm as Christian scripture in light of its fulfillment in connection with the person and work of Jesus Christ (see Luke 24.27 & 44):

It is deemed important to help the singer associate and appreciate the presence of Christ and the Gospel of the kingdom in the Psalms. Though these are old songs, they are new in Jesus Christ; promise followed by fulfillment.

They hope for this new Psalter to encourage Psalm singing again in the Church and in the home. When we sing the Psalms, we are singing God’s truth and learning true theology, which serves to nourish us and form us in the image of our savior. Jesus, himself, sung the Psalms and by them he learned prayer and he learned the nature of his own calling. Jesus saw himself in the Psalms (his life and experiences) and he found his voice in them. And when we sing them, we who are united to him by baptism and faith, find our own lives, experiences and words hidden in the one of whom the Psalms speak, and who continues to speak through them.

If you are interested but don’t want to buy it without seeing it, you can sign up for a free Psalter sample kit first. Check it out.

>Old Wine in New Wineskins: Giving Traditional Hymns Modern Tunes

>In the previous post, I talked about the value and necessity of the Church in utilizing Reformed hymnody and psalmody in worship and pointed out the danger of the recent trend to leave them behind. But, some of you may be thinking, what about giving the old traditional hymns and psalms new modern tunes and arrangements? Isn’t that the best of both worlds?

Well, let me direct your attention to Psalm 96.6-9:

Splendor and majesty are before him;
strength and beauty are in his sanctuary.
Ascribe to the Lord, O families of the peoples,
ascribe to the Lord glory and strength!
Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name;
bring an offering, and come into his courts!
Worship the Lord in the splendor of holiness;
o tremble before him, all the earth!

As we read in Psalm 96.6-9, we find that the worship that the church is commanded to offer God (“ascribe” is a command), is to be reflective of the splendor, majesty and glory that is due to God because he is a God of splendor, majesty and glory. Our worship is to be biblical. The words can be scriptural (psalmody) or interpretations of scripture (hymnody), but they should never be unbiblical or false interpretations of scripture. But beyond that, biblical worship is concerned with more than just the words, but also the mode by which those words are sung. This means that sound words can be sung and offered to God in an unbiblical way–esepcially, if the worship offered does not reflect his splendor, majesty and glory.

Paul Jones comments that there is a problem today with the influence of the music of pop culture in the Church. The result is that it is leading the Church to become dominated by the spirit of the age rather than the spirit of Christ. The way I would put it is that it is leading the church to offer up worship that has biblical content in a worldly wrapper. The result is that the worldly wrapper colors the biblical content so that the worship is no longer biblical. In other words, as Marshall McLuhan, Neil Postman, et. al., have taught, you cannot separate the message from the medium. One of the problems with trying to breathe new life into the old hymns with modern tunes and arrangements is that it tends to borrow from the world in order to engage in an other worldly activity. The end result is that old hymns with new tunes often end up being no better than jettisoning the old hymns to begin with, for the mode changes the meaning, which means the hymns get jettisoned anyway.

Let me offer up an example. Below you will find two video presentations of the song “Arise, My Soul, Arise,” which was originally penned by Charles Wesley in the 18th century. Both are using the same basic lyrics, though the second does add its own chorus. The lyrics are:

Arise, my soul, arise,
Shake off thy guilty fears:
The bleeding Sacrifice
In my behalf appears:
Before the Throne my Surety stands,
My name is written on his hands.

He ever lives above,
For me to intercede,
His all-redeeming love,
His precious blood to plead;
His blood atoned for ev’ry race,
And sprinkles now the throne of grace.

Five bleeding wounds he bears,
Received on Calvary;
They pour effectual prayers,
They strongly plead for me;
Forgive him, O forgive, they cry,
Nor let that ransomed sinner die!

My God is reconciled;
His pard’ning voice I hear;
He owns me for his child,
I can no longer fear;
With confidence I now draw nigh,
And “Father, Abba, Father!” cry.

Listen to both and see which one you think better reflects the splendor, majesty, and glory of God as commanded in Psalm 96. Which seems more fitting to be sung to and before the face of a heavenly, divine, Lord?

>The Value of Reformed Hymnody and Psalmody

>In his lecture “Music, Singing, and the Protestant Reformation,” Paul Jones provides an excellent history and introduction to the importance of the Reformation and the recovery and development of congregational singing in worship. With the Reformation came the recovery of reading and studying the Bible in the original languages. From their studies, the Reformers, like Martin Luther and John Calvin, were able to see the errors propagated by the Roman Catholic Church in doctrine and worship. Their reading of scripture and recovery of the truth led them to protest those false teachings and practices, especially in worship. In the 1000 years prior to the Reformation, the congregation would not participate in worship through song. Singing was reserved for the clergy and choirs. But with the influence of Luther and Calvin, congregational singing once again became an essential element of worship.

Martin Luther did much in recovering and developing congregational hymnody. One of the problems in the Roman Catholic Church was the use of Latin in the worship services. The Bible they used was the Latin Vulgate and the entire liturgy was performed in Latin. Most of the laity did not know Latin (in fact many of the clergy didn’t either), so they had very little understanding of what was taking place in the service. And if they did know Latin, they still were not able to read the Bible for themselves, for the Bible was not made available in the pew, but was reserved for the clergy and scholars alone. Luther changed all of this.

He facilitated the witting participation of the congregation in worship with three radical changes. First, he began conducting worship in the German language so the congregation could understand and participate in the worship liturgy. Second, he translated the Bible into the German language. This way the congregation could read the Bible in their own language. This translation into the common tongue, combined with the use of the Gutenberg printing press, facilitated many acquiring a Bible they could read and understand. But what about the persons who could not read and did not have anyone to read to them? Well, third, he produced hymns in German. The hymns were Luther’s way to teach doctrine to his people in a way that they could easily remember, since he noted that people recall the words to songs much more readily than the words from a sermon.

John Calvin also contributed much to congregational participation in worship through singing. Though Calvin was not a musician like Luther, he nonetheless viewed music and singing as one of the most excellent gifts of the Holy Spirit. Calvin wanted the people to sing–especially the canonical psalms. So Calvin developed French psalmody by utilizing French poets and artists (like Clément Marot, Loys Bourgeois, and Guillaume Franc) to collaborate with him on the development of a Psalter. In 1562, the Genevan (or Hueguenot) Psalter was completed and published. Because Calvin understood the Bible’s command that all the congregation praise God through singing, he gave the French speaking Protestants metrical psalms that they could sing in the worship God. Very quickly, the Genevan Psalter was translated into German, Dutch, English and other languages so that congregations of many different cultures, ethnicities and languages had biblical songs to sing in their own language, which they could understand.

The point here is that in recovering biblical Christian doctrine and biblical Christian worship, there was a recovery and development of public, corporate worship where all the congregation participated in praising God through singing. Luther and Calvin understanding this importance gave the Protestant Christians biblical church music for them (and us) to sing. Part of what it means to be a child of the Reformation, then, is to understand the musical heritage that we inherit in the hymnody and psalmody of the Reformers. A heritage that has been preserved and passed down to us in Hymn Books and Psalters.

Yet, there is a trend today to move away from our Protestant and Reformation heritage. In the last couple of decades, there has been a movement to replace hymnals and Psalters with movie screens and power point. Psalm singing has almost disappeared completely, while the songs that are sung in many churches are no longer the historic hymns of our faith that teach us biblical doctrine. These songs are being replaced with trite praise choruses that focus more on one’s existential experience of God in order to have a spiritual experience, than in communicating the truth of God’s word back to him as a reflection of his truth and glory. There is also a trend to utilize more “special music” where special choirs, worship teams, ensembles and soloists do so much of the singing that the congregation is being sung to, as much as, if not more than, it itself participates in the singing.

Are these trends a good development for the church’s worship and life? Is this going to nourish us and enrich our worship of God? Jones thinks not,

There is something wrong with throwing out the hymnals and Psalters. You see, people died for our right to hold song books in our hands, and to read them, and to have them in our homes, and places of worship, to teach them to our children and to share them with each other. This move to be unencumbered by hymnals will prove to be a disastrous one for the spiritual health of the church. We think we’re freeing ourselves to worship better, but what we’re actually doing is impoverishing our worship now, and for our children and grandchildren in the future. It only takes one generation for a hymn to disappear from use.

Although many are making these changes with good motives and intentions, by forgetting the past and not thinking about what we are doing (why we do it, how we do it, if we should do it, etc.) in the present, we unwittingly can lead the church into repeating the errors of the past and developing our own novel traditions that distort true, biblical worship today. The answer obviously is found in scripture. We must take the time to think biblically about our worship. And according to Jones, the Reformation’s teaching on music, singing and worship promotes and reinforces just that,

If the Reformers have taught us anything by their example, it is that we must take time to examine our ways and methods, that we must measure them by the principles of scripture, that we must ensure the biblical models are followed when it comes to worshiping the one who created us for that very purpose. They have taught us to go to the Bible . . . it gives us guiding principles that can be applied and are instructive for us.

<!– /* Style Definitions */ p.MsoNormal, li.MsoNormal, div.MsoNormal {mso-style-parent:""; margin:0in; margin-bottom:.0001pt; mso-pagination:widow-orphan; font-size:12.0pt; font-family:"Times New Roman"; mso-fareast-font-family:"Times New Roman";} @page Section1 {size:8.5in 11.0in; margin:1.0in 1.25in 1.0in 1.25in; mso-header-margin:.5in; mso-footer-margin:.5in; mso-paper-source:0;} div.Section1 {page:Section1;}Reformed hymnody and psalmody are valuable and essential for the Church today because they teach us our heritage, they help us to learn and remember scripture and doctrine, and they protect us from falling into the snare of idolatrous worship as the Church did long ago, and from which the Reformation freed us. To quote from Jones one more time,

Singing Psalms and hymns, writing new ones, holding these collections of prayers and doctrinal teaching in our hands–these privileges are our birthright as children of the Reformation. This is our music; we must value it, treasure it, teach it and share it, and above all, sing it, for God’s glory and our enrichment as his children.

The Catholic leaders during the time of the Reformation claimed that they could have stopped the spread and influence of “Luther’s heresy” if it wasn’t for the hymnody that caused it to spread like wildfire throughout Europe. It was Reformation hymnody and psalmody that played a key role in the recovery and propagation of the light of the true gospel. If we give up our Hymnals and Psalters, we will lose our hymns and our psalms, we will give up our identities as Reformed Protestants, and we risk developing spiritual anemia–and the Protest may soon be over. For as surely as Reformation hymnody and psalmody played a role in the recovery and spread of the true Christian faith for past generations, it certainly also plays a crucial role in guarding and preserving it for future generations to come.

>Does "A Mighty Fortress Is Our God" Need A New Tune?

>At this year’s Reformation Heritage Conference held by Grace Presbyterian Church in Douglasville, GA, the speaker Paul S. Jones weighed in. While talking about Luther’s hymn, he commented that it was the battle hymn of the Reformation, and was sung by the Huguenots in Paris during the St. Batholomew’s Day Massacre. He noted that it is a hymn that immediately reminds astute Protestants of their heritage having been sung for 500 years to the same tune. And then he opined concerning the idea of giving it a new tune:

And let me just state up front my opinion that it does not need a new [tune]. Honestly, I sometimes wonder at the audacity we have to have to think we can improve on a tune that martyrs and saints have sung for 500 years. A tune that has galvanized Protestants together in the truths of scripture, that people have sung while burning at the stake, and while waiting for the guillotine to drop. Has it needed our help to last that long, or do we just refashion it or dumb it down to make it somehow valid for use today? I mean, really.

You can hear this lecture and all four of the lectures here:

  • Session 1: “Music, Singing, & the Protestant Reformation”
  • Session 2: “Martin Luther & Reformation Hymnody
  • Session 3: “John Calvin & the Recovery of Psalm Singing”
  • Session 4: “Hymnody in a Post-Hymnody World”

[HT: David Strain]

Is All Worship Offered By Christian Churches Necessarily Christian?

>When I was attending seminary at the Southern Seminary, Russ Moore asked my class a question like this in a systematic theology course, “Are we and all the other religions worshiping the same God as many like to suggest? If not, what is the difference?”. Well, the difference is that the Christian church recognizes that God has revealed himself in his scripture as Trinitarian–that is that the one, living and true God exists in three persons, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. These three are one God, the same in substance and equal in power and glory (see Westminster Shorter Catechism Q. & A. 5 & 6). No other religion or cult acknowledges this reality. God’s Trinitarian existence is unique to biblical Christianity.

God exists as a trinity, but he has also acted in creation and redemption as a Trinity. If Christian worship is of this God, then Christian worship must be self-consciously Trinitarian. In Jon Payne’s recent book on worship, he notes that:

The revelation of God’s three-in-onenesss in Scripture demands that our worship and liturgy reflect this mysterious reality. Indeed, our worship must always be directed to the Father, through the mediation of the Son, in the power of the Holy Spirit, (34).

One implication for this is that worship offered by Christians is not necessarily Christian simply because self-professed Christians are offering it. If the worship being offered by Christians is focused on one person or two persons of the Trinity to the exclusion of others, then it is not Trinitarian worship, it is not Christian worship.

So, given the importance of expressly Trinitarian worship, how does the Church “protect, promote, and practice” Christian worship? This is one of the areas in which Reformed worship and liturgy is so helpful, since it focuses on being self-consciously Trinitarian. Payne suggests that one way to do so is by a carefully prepared liturgy that “takes the congregation by the hand and leads them to worship God in a manner that gives due attention to the Father, Son and Holy Spirit,” (35). It is the responsibility of the elders of the Church to shepherd the Church in biblical worship by structuring worship to be Trinitarian.

On pages 35-36, Payne sets forth six elements that support Trinitarian worship:

  1. The ststematic reading and preaching of God’s Word
  2. The confession of sin and assurace of pardon
  3. The singing of Psalms and hymns
  4. The Confession of Faith
  5. The pastoral prayer
  6. The benediction

These six elements are by no means an exhaustive list–but they are very helpful for providing a basic starting point. Since

. . . the Christian conception of God and of all his activity toward us in creation and redemption is essentially Trinitarian, then the Trinitarian perspective must be allowed to pervade all Christian worship and practice, all interpretation of the Holy Scriptures, and all proclamation of the Gospel, and must be given a regulative role in the dynamic structure ofall Christian thought and action, (35).

So how are you and your Church doing?