A while back Ruthie and I were visiting a large metropolitan church a long way from our home. We were blessed by their music, especially the choir and the instrumentalists. Every part of the service was planned well and it flowed with excellence. The order of service was listed on the Jumbotron at the front of the worship center so we could follow without having to fumble for the bulletin. I kind of like that.
But a line came up on the screen that caused me to grimace in discomfort. In the midst of this moving, sacred, well-planned worship service it came time for the morning prayer, but the words on the screen read, “A Moment of Prayer.”
A moment of prayer? Five minutes of announcements, two congregational hymns each with four stanzas, a four and a half minute choir anthem, a 35-minute sermon – and a moment of prayer. Now if it seems as though I had been sitting in worship with a stopwatch in my hand I want to assure you that is not the case. I don’t come to church to evaluate the worship leader or the worshipers. I come to worship. I come because I need to be there. I come because I need to hear the voice of God and so I can give Him my praise in the midst of His people. But this was so blatant I couldn’t miss it.
You and I have both experienced the moment when God felt so near that if we were to open our eyes we thought we might find ourselves looking into His face. That’s what prayer does. We don’t come with a list of our needs, as though we were describing the errands we want Him to run on our behalf. We come hungry to worship Him. Hungry to pour out our adoration. Hungry to know the reality that the Sovereign of the universe hears not only our words, but also the hushed cries of our hearts. We seek not His gifts, but His face. Not His hand, but His heart. His touch changes us; we crave that. This kind of holy intimacy does not happen in “a moment of prayer” because the world is so much with us. And in us.
I was pleased to discover that what was on the screen did not accurately describe what would follow. A church elder led us into the presence of God. We sensed it. He began with a Psalm of adoration, spoke praise to the God of the universe on our behalf, represented us in a spirit of repentance and pled for victory. When he said Amen I think most of us felt an appropriate response might be if we would stand and sing the Hallelujah Chorus.
The early days of the Christian church were dominated by that kind of prayer. If I read the chronicles of the first generation church correctly I think Peter would have been startled to hear a deacon rise and announce, “Now let’s all kneel and have a moment of prayer.”