A New Beginning, Faith, Prayer, Worship

Seeing the Old Anew

Seeing the Old Anew

WHAT IS LITURGICAL PRAYER?

For a while now, I have been pondering about the meaning and place of liturgy in our lives. Liturgy can be understood as the way in which public religious worship, in particular Christian worship, takes place. 

You see, I come from the background of a charismatic church which barely sang hymns, but often rocked the latest Christian hits. Prayer was mostly a spontaneous affair that came “straight from the heart”, not pre-written and read out during the service. 

So, liturgical ways that involved prayer books and traditional services were lost on me for a long time. But in recent years, I have been mulling more particularly on liturgical prayer and its significance and place in our lives because of various books I have read, experiences I have lived through, and people I have spoken to.

THREE INFLUENCERS OF FAITH: ELISABETH ELLIOT, RICHARD J. FOSTER, STEPHEN CROTHERS

For starters, reading Elisabeth Elliot’s works has been thought-provoking. Elliot was a missionary to Ecuador who lost her husband to martyrdom. Yet, she went on reaching out to the same people who had hurt her (Read more about her in our article In Acceptance Lieth Peace). Throughout her life, she wrote many books and had radio broadcasts about her experiences and thoughts towards God. Elliot did not mince her words and her works have challenged and influenced me to always live in light of who God truly is and to have faith. 

In some of her writings, she shared how praying through the prayers of saints have helped her in her own journey of seeking God and finding the words that she could not articulate herself. Adding on to that, she believed that we are joining in with the long history of fellow believers who have prayed these prayers and have sought and found God. We, who are the body of Christ, are not alone in our walk with God, but are carrying that same refrain to God, who is the same God over all time.

When I was younger, I always saw traditional liturgies — these set lines to recite — as boring and old-fashioned.  Using them was as if we could not come up with something better or more relevant for our time. But is that really the case? Or was I perhaps a bit immature and letting pride take the place of a humble heart to learn and grow in ways I wasn’t open to explore? 

The heartfelt cries of the saints of old who felt lost, broken, disappointed, or angry, the real anguish and pain they brought to God and penned into prayers to remind themselves of God’s faithfulness, are the prayers that we now have the privilege to also utter as a way of saying, “Yes, God, I need You as much as the saints before me did.” These written prayers are still very relevant to us today.

We, who are the body of Christ, are not alone in our walk with God,
but are carrying that same refrain to God, who is the same God over all time

Another author who has highlighted liturgical prayer is Richard J. Foster. Years ago, my pastor passed me this book as I was searching to have a deeper prayer life. In his book, Prayer: Finding the Heart’s True Home, Foster highlights five points for us to consider through liturgical prayer to grow in our prayer life: 

    1. Liturgical prayer enables us to express the longings of our heart that are at times hard to put into words. Perhaps at times, we do not even want to pray. These liturgical prayers act as a crutch for us to still limp towards God in times of our woundedness.
    2. Liturgical prayer helps us to join in with the community of saints. The act of uttering the very words spoken by so many who have gone before us can be likened to us marching to the same beat in the grand marching band of Christ.
    3. Liturgical prayer helps us to stay away from the enticement of a prideful show of self. It relinquishes the need for skilful words or any sort of appealing personality. It is simply praying the words that have been prayed. It enables us to focus more on God, rather than the person leading the prayer.
    4. Liturgical prayer pushes us to shy away from letting the frivolous concerns of our lives dominate our prayers. Through the liturgy, we are constantly brought back to the Word of God, to open our hearts to the poor and regard the turmoil of the world.
    5. Liturgical prayer keeps our reverence for God, remembering that He is the Almighty God our Creator. Through the stately and formal ways that liturgy is presented, we are reminded of the distance between God and us, and we are to fall in reverent awe before Him.

Holding liturgical prayer and our own personal prayer in tandem may be the answer to a greater growth in our own Christian journey.

These liturgical prayers act as a crutch for us to still limp towards God
in times of our woundedness 

Stephen Crothers of A Liturgy Collective (a group that comes together to reimagine ways of worship needed in all seasons of life) shared in a workshop titled, “Worship, Liturgy and Seeking Renewal in Public Worship”, about how we should not sideline liturgies in our worship to God but instead see them as a way to deepen our worship of God.

Perhaps for those who have grown up knowing liturgies, this might be a start to look at liturgies with fresh eyes and see how you can worship God deeper through this means. For others like me who have not had much chance to delve into liturgy, there’s always a place to start and reap the riches it has to offer.

Holding liturgical prayer and our own personal prayer in tandem
may be the answer to a greater growth in our own Christian journey

THE BOOK OF COMMON PRAYER

The prayers in The Book of Common Prayer are called Collects and there are patterns and structures set in place in these prayers that model after many biblical prayers. Scot McKnight in his book, To You All Hearts are Open: Revitalising the Church’s Pattern of Asking God, introduces these structures.

Firstly, liturgical prayer often begins with addressing God by a certain quality we know Him by.

Then, it goes on to confession and repentance.

Finally, it goes on to supplication based on related promises and characteristics of God, and the purpose that would be fulfilled through the answered prayer.

 

SHALL WE PRAY?

As an example of liturgical prayer, I have chosen part of a daily morning prayer from The Book of Common Prayer that we can pray through together. The use of older pronoun forms are simply because that was how language was used in the past and also a way of showing reverence to God. This is a simple prayer reminding us of our need for God and the grace He offers us when we humbly come to Him.

You may join me in prayer together here: 

Almighty and most merciful Father,

We have erred and strayed from Thy ways like lost sheep, we have followed too much the devices and desires of our own hearts, we have offended against Thy holy laws, we have left undone those things which we ought to have done, and we have done those things which we ought not to have done.

But Thou, O Lord, have mercy upon us, spare thou those who confess their faults, restore thou those who are penitent, according to Thy promises declared unto humankind in Christ Jesus our Lord; and grant, O most merciful Father, for his sake, that we may hereafter live a godly, righteous, and sober life, to the glory of Thy holy Name. 

Amen.

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