Tuesday, November 28, 2006

The Prayer Book of the Church

In our life of prayer, it is natural that prayer should well up from within us and be expressed in our own words. It is a mark of the conversational aspect of prayer from us to our heavenly Father. Our experiences in prayer may be such that this is the only form of prayer which we have so far encountered.

Throughout Church history, there have been a number of pre-prepared prayers which have served the people of God in a variety of ways. Texts such as the Book of Common Prayer contain the words for prayers used in communion services, weddings, morning and evening prayer and a large number of other church ceremonies. In addition to these formal and typically corporate expressions of prayer, we do encounter times in which we know we should pray but do not know how to frame the words of our requests.

As such, the Church has used the biblical book of Psalms as a hymnbook and a prayer book. Within its texts are the heartfelt convictions of the people of God. They can give us words by which to pray when words. from ourselves, sound empty and hollow. We find the words of Psalm 22 and Psalm 31 on the lips of Jesus as He was dying on the cross. The first verse of Psalm 110 was a delight to Jesus as it pointed to Him by posing a conundrum for the religious leaders of the time. (King David wrote "The LORD said to my Lord.." LORD refers to God but who is this other Lord who is over the King?)

The Church has embraced the Psalms in a special way over its 2000 year history. Chanting the Psalms has been the mainstay of monastic expressions of worship for 1500 years. In the fourth century, Macrina, the sister of Gregory, bishop of Nyssa was noted for her use of the Psalter at different times in her daily schedule. It is telling that two of the biggest archaeological finds during the last 25 years that had to do with Christian religious practice were the unearthing of Psalters. In 1984, a 4th century Psalter was located at a gravesite in an Egyptian cemetery 85 miles south of Cairo. Earlier this year, a construction worker in Ireland found a Psalter in a bog. This Psalter is thought to date back to 800-1000 A.D.

When you don't have the words for prayer, whether it is a time of distress, grief, joy, perplexity or just wanting to praise God, be open to using one of the Psalms as your prayer. They have the distinction of being inspired by the Holy Spirit and reflecting the heart of their human authors. Join the chorus of the church who have used the Psalms to praise God from the 1st century right up to the 21st century and beyond.

Sing to the LORD a new song; sing to the LORD, all the earth.
Sing to the LORD, praise his name; proclaim his salvation day after day.
Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous deeds among all peoples.
For great is the LORD and most worthy of praise; he is to be feared above all gods.
For all the gods of the nations are idols, but the LORD made the heavens.
Splendor and majesty are before him; strength and glory are in his sanctuary.
Ascribe to the LORD, O families of nations, ascribe to the LORD glory and strength.
Ascribe to the LORD the glory due his name; bring an offering and come into his courts.
Worship the LORD in the splendor of his holiness; tremble before him, all the earth.
Say among the nations, "The LORD reigns." The world is firmly established, it cannot be moved; he will judge the peoples with equity.
Let the heavens rejoice, let the earth be glad; let the sea resound, and all that is in it;
let the fields be jubilant, and everything in them. Then all the trees of the forest will sing for joy;
they will sing before the LORD, for he comes, he comes to judge the earth. He will judge the world in righteousness and the peoples in his truth.
Psalm 96 NIV

The photo above is of the Bay Psalm Book printed in 1640. It was the first book printed in colonial British America.

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