A few years ago I began writing out the exhortations which are delivered at the beginning of our worship service each Lord’s Day just before the corporate prayer of confession. What follows (and shall weekly D.V.) is something of the fruit of that labor.
Two common practices are much to be deplored in worship. As these exhortations were being composed, one of these deplorable things I was in the process of coming out of, and the other one I wanted to avoid getting into. The former was the notion that spontaneity in worship is something that we want, the order of the day, and that all exhortations should be impromptu, “from the heart.” Of course all true godliness is from the heart, but so is everything else—sin included. If a vacuous man shares his heart, all the saints feel is a faint breeze. I was very tired of the sanctified rambling and repetition that had characterized most of my past.
So I wanted the discipline of writing things down, preparing my thoughts (and heart) beforehand. But the temptation that comes with prepared and set forms is that of drifting into holyspeak, dearlybelovedism, and other ministerial forms of sonorous praying and speaking through the nose. As a result, I labor to have the exhortations be an ongoing exercise in the discipline of plain speaking, and plain dealing. I offer them to you, along with the accompanying prayers, for your edification.
Almighty God and Father, we dare to approach Thee because we are dressed in the righteousness of Thy Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. From Thee all things come, the heavens and the earth, and all things in between. Thou didst speak into existence the farthest galaxy, and Thou didst do the same to the dust beneath our feet. Every created thing is a constant debtor to Thy manifold mercy for its continued existence. For it is of Thy mercy that we are not consumed because Thy compassion does not fail.
As we look around us, Father, we see that in one way everything declares Thy praise. The trees clap their hands, and the mountains shout for joy. Yet, in another sense we see that the trees and the mountains and the rivers and the stones cannot praise Thee in the way that Thou hast enabled us to praise Thee.
Once Thou didst place our father Adam as a steward over all creation, but he forfeited the dominion which Thou didst most graciously give to him. And yet, even though Thy justice would be preserved if Thou hadst chosen to leave us in our misery, Thou didst send a Second Adam to restore all things.
And so we gather in Christ, redeemed and restored. We recognize that while the silent creation has no tongue, Thou has given to us the means and the authority to speak for it. We thank Thee, O God, for Thou has appointed us as the secretary of Thy praise. So Lord, on behalf of all things which cannot praise Thee with words, we lift up our praise and adoration. On behalf of the children who have not yet learned how to form words, we praise Thee. On behalf of the aged, who through infirmity have lost the ability to utter praises, we magnify Thy name. There will be no rocks crying out here today, O God. To Thy name be all the glory.
We know these praises to be feeble. We know that they fall immeasurably short of Thy majesty. But we offer them promptly and sincerely. May the words of our mouths and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in Thy sight, O Lord, our Strength and our Redeemer.
In the Strong Name of Jesus, Amen!
O Give Thanks Unto the Lord
It was the eternal mercy of God which first set our names down; it was everlasting grace which taught our names to an empty Book of Life. This was done, to the glory of the living God, before any of us drew a breath, thought one thought, or sinned one sin. This was done because God determined, out of the counsel of His own good pleasure, to be kind to us in the Lord Jesus Christ.
Our duty therefore, as a congregation of Christ, is clearly the duty of thanksgiving. We are not hear to mumble our amens; we are not here to sing as though at a funeral; we are not here to act as though the sermon were a lecture in some kind of theological calculus.
Your thanksgiving is not a detached emotion, floating around your heart somewhere. Because theology is everything, your thanksgiving, like everything else in your life, will proceed directly from your theology. Moreover, your manner of thanksgiving reveals your true theology, which in many cases has been found to be quite different from what is professed with the lips.
Therefore, lift up your heads; your redemption draws near. Magnify the Lord, and exalt His name together. Deliverance is from the Lord; thanksgiving is therefore from His people. Taste and see that the Lord is good; and, having tasted, declare it together with all God’s saints this morning. Declare it ,with rejoicing, to a generation which is without God and without hope in the world.