I have, in my many years as a pastor in Christ’s Church, grown to greatly appreciate and deeply love the liturgies that our traditions have created over the centuries – “High” and “Low”, ancient and modern, Eucharistic and Choral, large gatherings and small group. I have been blessed by both the constancy and the variety that each Sunday, Festival Day and Seasonal discipline has allowed me to experience and lead. However, there is one dimension to the Christian liturgy and life – especially our corporate and communal life together – that has sometimes left me with a feeling of disappointment, even failure; with a sense of guilt in my leadership and a lack of fulfillment with my family in Christ. This feeling of dis-ease centers on our corporate Sunday morning prayer life; one of the most important actions of the Body of Christ gathered for worship. Our Sunday morning prayers together …whether for the church’s mission, Zion congregational leaders, our nation, our world, our congregation, the ill, the grief stricken, the hospitalized, the chronically absent, the newly married, the recently divorced, the extended family, the shut-in or shutout … the needs and names for prayer are often given little more than a passing glance … a brief mention. Given the challenges to Sunday morning congregational prayers … the traditional worship time constraints, (1 hour?) the sometime difficulties in maintaining clear focus on the distant praying voice of the pastor, the lack of information we may have that would give content and background to the petition’s occasion and all of the normal distractions in public worship – the corporate life of prayer on a Sunday morning, as we think about it, may seem at times like little more than paying lip service to a venerable tradition.
According to the Apostle Paul in his many New Testament letters to 1st Century Christians, there is little that a congregation does that is of greater importance or greater benefit than prayer together. Jesus says simply, “…where 2 or 3 gather in my name and call upon me … here I am and here your prayers are heard and answered.” (Matthew 18:18) I am confident that daily and hourly prayers rise from the lips, hearts and hands of the people of Zion. However, I am even more confident that our congregation needs an opportunity for prayer together where the sole focus is prayer … together – in depth – in community – in devotion – in knowledge – in love – in breadth – in health – in energy – in focus – in practice – in dedication…
I am even more confident that our congregation needs an opportunity for prayer together where the sole focus is prayer … together – in depth – in community – in devotion – in knowledge – in love – in breadth – in health – in energy – in focus – in practice – in dedication…
Prayer During Late Afternoon Beauty
In a recent sermon on BEAUTY, I quoted the psalmist David who prayed, “one thing I have asked of the Lord, that I will seek after, that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life and gaze upon the beauty of the Lord in His holy temple …” As I worked through the text of Psalm 27, I thought about and even mentioned from the pulpit the beauty of Zion’s sanctuary (“holy temple”) as the sun glory’s through the stained glass windows in the late afternoon. I even suggested, somewhat casually in the sermon that we should have an occasional service in the late afternoon to provide another opportunity for us to “gaze upon the beauty of the Lord”. As I have reflected on… and prayed about … the gifts and the needs of the family of Zion for our internal and personal growth and our neighborhood mission and ministry + Standing Strong + Growing Together + Reaching Out + a number of needs and gifts are surfacing that may offer a deeper and more dynamic 21st Century prayer life for Zion. Following are some of these pastoral musings, not necessarily in order of importance:
- The compelling beauty of our sun-drenched sanctuary;
- The weakness of some of the present vehicles we employ for communicating special, urgent prayer requests;
- The encouragement of Jesus’ brother, James, to provide for healing opportunities for the congregation’s ill (James 5:13-16);
- The potential need for another worship service for members or congregational friends who are unable because of work or other demands to join for prayer on Sunday morning;
- The desire on the part of some members of the family of Zion for an occasional more informal, relaxed worship setting;
- The opportunity to invite neighbors/friends to a simpler and more personal experience with us and to assure them of our continuing prayers for them and the Zion neighborhood;
- The potential for the discovery of and growth in personal prayer gifts for our members;
- The treasured experience of the power of prayer when Christ’s people gather to share His prayer promises;
- The simple grace of time to pray for each other and with each other, un-hurried, informed, and with the deep personal care and confidence that in “asking”, “seeking” and “knocking” we are both obeying our Lord’s command and trusting His promise.
2nd Sunday Each Month
All of the above and more are leading me to pursue the development of a regular “Evening Gathering for Prayer and Health”. At this point in my thinking… and praying… I have suggested an informal “Evening Service of Prayer and Health” be offered the 2nd Sunday of each month, 5:00 PM, in the sanctuary.
The format would include:
- Gathering song or hymn – brief and simple (optional)
- Invocation (Remembrance of Baptism – Foundation for prayer)
- Psalm for the Day (A Prayer of the Scripture)
- Meditation (A 5-7 minute Scriptural reflection on the Life of Prayer)
- Prayer (Petitions from the gathered; For all – From all)
- Thanksgivings (for prayers answered)
- Closing personal prayers – (Kneeling at the Altar/Communion rail as desired for personal prayer
- Anointing with oil (as requested)
- Closing song or hymn – brief and simple (optional) (Time frame – 50 minutes)
National Challenge and Stress
The days in which our nation and world are living seem to be times of particular and unique national challenge and stress. Increasingly, in our nation, a present and growing image of the church is of a failing religious organization complaining and helpless in the face of losing many privileged positions in our society (e.g. “prayer in school”). The options for managing personal or corporate anxiety are many – from depression to drugs, from anger to angst, from fight to flight, from resignation to resigning. The Holy Spirit speaks to us in His WORD and PROMISE, “Cast your care upon me for I care for you!” “Come unto me all you who labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest!” “Bear one another’s burdens!” “Rejoice always! Pray without ceasing! Give thanks in every circumstance!” St. Paul’s exhortation and encouragement to pray for him and one another at the close of his letter to the Ephesians begins with the challenge to, “Put on the full armor of God!”
The Holy Spirit speaks to us in His WORD and PROMISE, “Cast your care upon me for I care for you!” “Come unto me all you who labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest!” “Bear one another’s burdens!” “Rejoice always! Pray without ceasing! Give thanks in every circumstance!”
Body, Mind, Heart and Soul
A Gathering for Prayer and Health such as I am describing and encouraging is not the end of our “asking, seeking and knocking” but it could be a significant step in a new beginning. A Gathering for Prayer and Health has the potential to develop a community life of prayer that connects us in new ways to the promise, power, purpose and peace of our Lord, that connects us with each other, that connects us with our neighborhoods and finally, that connects us – body, mind, heart and soul – with the healing presence of Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
– Pastor Howard Patten