A Different Request
I can tell this Saturday will be different.
The lead church-of-the-month—it alternates every month—isn’t here. A hiccup in plans.
But Fran has made sure all the bases are covered: there will be worship music; there will be a message from the Word; there will be food enough for all (thanks, Scruggs BBQ). Outdoor Church is important to our homeless and local underserved community. They gather at Manna House each month for this.
When I see Larry in charge, I also know it will be different. Larry is a humble pastor. He knows these folks by name. He sees their hearts and works in their lives and believes in a God who is bigger than every circumstance.
So when Larry says we will begin differently, I’m not too surprised. But when he says we’ll start by all praying aloud together, I know this is new for Outdoor Church.
I wonder about a couple of guys in the back. They are already rowdy. Others are still heads-down, talking to no one. Mixed in are “church people,” who know formal prayers and formal ways.
I’m not sure what the response will be to Larry’s request to “Let’s all pray at the same time out loud.”
Public Prayer as Grace
Prayer is a strange enough phenomena as it is.
- Why does God want our prayers anyway?
- Does he answer those who pray in doubt?
- Are repetitious prayers kicked out?
I’ve started reading a 500-year-old book (on my Kindle, the irony) about spiritual disciplines, including prayer. Tim Challies has invited us to read it together (join in—this is week 1!). It is Holy Helps for a Godly Life by Richard Rogers, a Puritan author, “the Enoch of his age.” It’s been revised this year for our modern ears.
While the overall focus of the book is on spiritual disciplines and grace, this week’s chapters (1-3) focus on three public means of grace: the ministry of the Word, the sacraments, and public prayers.
But the same practices are just as relevant now as in 1500.
There’s a fine line between doing to receive, and receiving to do.
“But godliness never flourishes unless it is planted in the fertile soil of God’s grace. Legalism subverts the gospel.”
– Brian G. Hedges (in the Preface, Holy Helps for a Godly Life)
So when offered to do one of these means of grace—public prayers—with the group on Saturday morning, I am eager to accept.
And I am curious to see what will happen in our ragtag group.
The Prayer that Stirs
Larry begins. Eyes close. And mouths open.
Little by little, I hear murmurings from those around me. I search my own heart and begin praying for my sweet friend Erma who is sitting beside me. We see each other often at Manna House. I know she has needs, like all of us, and I know she has faith. It is easy to pray for her.
As the minutes tick off, the crowd continues to chatter aloud to God. It is a beautiful noise. Then Larry gets louder again, with these words:
Our Father which art in heaven,
Hallowed by thy name.
Thy kingdom come,
Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.
And to my surprise, the crowd joins in full and strong. In sync and connected.
Give us this day our daily bread;
And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil:
For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever.
It is a holy moment.
There are those who claim public recitations of prayers are in vain. That prayers need to be spontaneous. That they need to be spoken one person at a time, in an orderly fashion, with somber tone and words.
But not on this Saturday morning.
“For if the content is erroneous, then the words pronounced do not make it good; and if the content is good and pure, then the reading cannot make it evil.”
– Richard Rogers
This cacophony of prayer is drenched in grace and received by faith. It is a divine gift of participation.
For at least these sacred moments, our crowd is a community. The rumble has become one voice. And there is an awareness of Presence stronger than has existed before.
Rogers is right:
“Let them resolve together what must be granted: that public prayers are a help to stir up God’s graces in us and to convey to us the many good blessings of God, which we need.”
Grace is stirred up. God’s many good blessings have arrived in us. We need them. Amen.
* * *
Join in at Tim Challies’ blog or his Facebook page for the first three (short) chapters of Holy Helps for a Godly Life. Then read a few more chapters for next Thursday’s discussion.
Do you participate in public prayers? When have you been particularly moved by a prayer offering? Please share in the comments.
sharing with Dawn, Rachel, Lori, Crystal, Debbie