Something Old, Something New
Want to breathe new life personal worship? Try this method of writing prayers based on the scriptures.
Last year, someone challenged me to spend as much time preparing the prayers I offer as I spend developing workshops and messages. As an evangelical used to "free-style" praying, this was a new thought. But developing my own liturgy has opened up new avenues of worship in my devotional life.
First, what is a liturgy? Basically, it is a prescribed or designed form of worship. In some churches the liturgy is followed closely, and in others it would be difficult to find.
It may seem strange to talk about developing a personal liturgy, since liturgies are usually associated with corporate worship. Nevertheless, many of us already follow a prescribed form for per-sonal worship: we may read the Word, meditate, and pray during our devotional times. All of these can provide the raw ingredients for writing a personal liturgy.
A first step in developing a personal liturgy is to read the prayers of others. There are many wonderful prayers and hymns in the Bible. I like to think of these prayers as "pure" liturgy. As you read through biblical prayers, try to pray them. If you have trouble concentrating, try praying out loud, or on your knees.
If you are uncomfortable praying a written prayer, start by praying one of David’s prayers. Psalm 8 would be a good choice:
O Lord, our Lord,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!
You have set your glory
above the heavens.
From the lips of children and infants you have ordained praise
because of your enemies,
to silence the foe and the avenger.
When I consider your heavens,
the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars,
which you have set in place,
what is man that you are mindful of him,
the son of man that you care for him?
You made him a little lower than
the heavenly beings
and crowned him with glory and honor.
You made him ruler over the works of your hands;
you put everything under his feet:
all flocks and herds,
and the beasts of the field,
the birds of the air
and the fish of the sea,
all that swim the paths of the seas.
O Lord, our Lord,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!
A further step would be to take the thoughts of this prayer and rewrite them in your own words.
Beyond the prayers in the Bible we have a rich heritage of written prayers and hymns—an often-neglected resource—that can help us worship. The following prayer, from The Valley of Vision: A Collection of Puritan Prayers and Devotions by Arthur Bennett, shows the intensity and completeness of thought the Puritans were known for in their devotional lives. It is a prayer based on understanding God as the Creator (also the theme of Psalm 8 above). The language is archaic and flowery, but the thoughts are appropriate for today. Try to not let the language become an obstacle, but rather an aid in wrapping your own thoughts around great thoughts about God. Try putting your own name in place of the personal pronoun.
O Lord God, Who inhabitest eternity,
The heavens declare Thy glory.
The earth Thy riches,
The universe is Thy temple;
Thy presence fills immensity,
Yet Thou hast of Thy pleasure created life,
and communicated happiness;
Thou hast made me what I am,
and given me what I have;
In Thee I live and move and have my being;
Thy providence has set the bounds of my
and wisely administers all my affairs.
I thank Thee for Thy riches to me in Jesus,
for the unclouded revelation of Him in thy Word,
where I behold His person,
character, grace, glory,
humiliation, sufferings, death, and resurrection;
Give me to feel a need of His continual saviourhood,
and cry with Job, ‘I am vile,'
with Peter, ‘I perish,'
with the publican, ‘Be merciful to me, a sinner.'
Subdue in me the love of sin,
Let me know the need of renovation as well as of forgiveness,
in order to serve and enjoy Thee forever.
I come to Thee in the all-prevailing name of Jesus,
with nothing of my own to plead,
no works, no worthiness, no promises.
I am often straying,
often knowingly opposing Thy authority,
often abusing Thy goodness.
Much of my guilt arises from my religious
my low estimation of them,
my failure to use them to my advantage,
But I am not careless of Thy favor
or regardless of Thy glory.
Impress me deeply with a sense of Thine omnipresence, that Thou art about my path, my ways, my lying down, my end.
Using the prayers, hymns, or writings of godly people, both living and dead, lets us see their faith and stimulates our own. By entering into their "worship" and relationship with God, we don't just see a model, we "taste and see" the Lord (Ps. 34:8). When I immersed myself in this rich heritage of written prayers, my joy in personal worship intensified.
Collecting Your Prayers
The next step in writing your own liturgy-prayers is to learn a basic prayer pattern. The Church in the Middle Ages had to deal with an illiterate congregation. Rather than participate themselves, the people watched the priests worship. With the Reformation, all sorts of forms evolved to teach people how to worship God. Orders of worship services, collections of Scripture readings, and specific prayers written for specific occasions framed the worship.
One form developed during this time was the "collect." Collects were written by religious leaders to help people pray more effectively and appropriately. A "collect" is a one- or two-sentence summary of devotion and prayer read aloud by the congregation. This form summarizes or "collects" your prayer expression. It has been used for centuries in liturgical churches as a part of corporate worship.
Collects follow a definite pattern. Although the form was developed for corporate worship, it is a simple pattern that can help us learn how to pray with more focus. Basically, there are three parts to a collect:
1. The address. This is often amplified with an attribute or even an action of God, and often it is an expression of praise.
2. Petition. This is often coupled with the expected result and can include intercession for another.
3. A meditation leading to doxology and the Amen.
Following through with our theme from Psalm 8, here is one of my "collects":
(1.) Creator God, Your design and fingerprints are all around me.
(2.) Remind me again that I am Your special creation whose purpose is to reflect Your glory, as do the mountains and heavens. Teach me how to glorify You today by remembering You are the Creator and I am the created.
(3.) For You are Creator-God, whose presence fills both the universe and my heart because of the work of Jesus, Lord of Creation and my Lord. Amen.
Notice how the thoughts were "collected" from Psalm 8. Addressing God leads to praise. The petition is personalized, although it could have been prayer for another. Finally, I end with a praise doxology.
Read Psalm 8 again and try "collecting" your own prayer expression to God using the pattern of a collect.
Finish your devotional time by praying the collect you have written. Remind yourself that this same God is sending you into His world to love and serve Him today.
Writing personal prayers based on a liturgical form requires discipline, but it can open up new avenues of devotional expression to the Lord. May the thoughts, prayers, and reflections you develop in your own liturgies prove to be an overflow of a heart that worships in Spirit and in truth.
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