Common Prayer

One of the regular complaints leveled against “liturgical” worship is that it stifles “worship from the heart.” There is a tendency to think that spontaneity is synonymous with spirituality. My own experience has revealed that most people think that “from the heart” roughly equates to “off the cuff.” However, when I approach the Holy Majesty the last thing I want is to saunter into the gates of Zion flying by the seat of my britches.

This is not to say that God is unapproachable but it is to say that the Throne of Grace is not a celestial Easy Chair. The Dread Sovereign receives all who come, provided they make their approach with reverence and godly fear.

Does this rule out extemporaneous prayer? Absolutely not! But neither does it rule out prayers that have been tried in the furnace of affliction, purified through centuries of continuous use, and proven to be as devotionally comforting as they are theologically rich. After all, in answer to the petition of his disciples to teach them to pray Jesus famously replied, “Pray this way…”

Praying from the heart means praying in obedience and faith. It doesn’t mean uttering every emotive syllable that may form a froth on top of our scattered brains. It doesn’t mean “umm-ing” and “hmm-ing” our way into the holiest.

This morning during corporate worship I, along with millions of others around the world, prayed these same familiar words during Holy Communion, “We do not presume to come to this thy table, O merciful Lord, trusting in our own righteousness, but in thy manifold and great mercies. We are not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under thy table. But thou art the same Lord, whose property is always to have mercy; Grant is therefore, gracious Lord, so to eat the flesh of thy Dear Son Jesus Christ, and to drink his blood, that our sinful bodies may be made clean by his body, and our souls washed in his most precious blood, and that we may evermore dwell in him, and he in us. Amen.”

We pray this together every Lord’s Day. I don’t mind telling you that some days I just don’t “feel” it. That’s quite alright. But today when I came to those words, “Thou art the same Lord, whose property is always to have mercy…” I could not hold back the tears of joyful gratitude that these well-worn words were nevertheless still true today. I probably wouldn’t have ever prayed those words had someone before me not had the good sense to write them down. Had that been the sad case my experience would have been just a bit more impoverished and my soul would have been deprived this manifestation of “worship from the heart.”


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