Liturgy gets a bad rap in some church circles. Sure, people have been known to pray prescribed prayers in robotic fashion, yet we also need to give liturgy its due. All churches, whether they admit to it or not, follow a liturgy. Some churches observe a highly structured, standardized liturgy while other churches keep a less formalized yet equally predictable order of worship. Liturgy in the Bible is a composite of two Greek words that translate “people” and “work.” Put them together and we have a word that correlates to “public service” or “work of the people.” Liturgy takes work on our part to stay focused and engaged. Yet the work implied here is God’s work in us that leads us to praise and confess, give and receive. We live in a culture addicted to novelty and change. Sometimes, we need to eschew originality and draw upon the “communion of the saints,” a phrase recited in the Apostles’ Creed. I draw strength in joining with believers from all times and places in offering time-honored prayers to God. The Book of Common Prayer is a compendium of corporate and individual prayers and readings compiled by 12 Englishmen (yes, they were all men), led by Thomas Cranmer. They collected liturgies and prayers from church history that was first published in 1549. The 1662 version of this prayer book is still in use in the Church of England. One prayer I revisit often is titled “A Prayer for Those Troubled in Mind and Conscience.” Tell me we don’t need this prayer today:
Prayer for Those Troubled in Mind and Conscience
Blessed Lord, the Father of mercies, and the God of all comforts: We beseech thee, look down in pity and compassion upon this thy afflicted servant. Thou writest bitter things against him, and makest him to possess his former iniquities; thy wrath lieth hard upon him, and his soul is full of trouble: But, O merciful God, who hast written thy holy Word for our learning, that we, through patience and comfort of thy holy Scriptures, might have hope; give him a right understanding of himself, and of thy threats and promises; that he may neither cast away his confidence in thee, nor place it anywhere but in thee. Give him strength against all his temptations and heal all his distempers. Break not the bruised reed, nor quench the smoking flax. Shut not up thy tender mercies in displeasure; but make him to hear of joy and gladness, that the bones which thou hast broken may rejoice. Deliver him from fear of the enemy and lift up the light of thy countenance upon him, and give him peace, through the merits and mediation of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Rev. Dr. Peter James served 42 years as the senior of Vienna Presbyterian Church in Vienna, VA — 21 years in the 20th century and 21 years in the 21st century. He retired in 2021 and now serves as Pastor-in-Residence at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary.
Even as a pastor, prayer came slowly to Pete. Read Pete’s story.