This is the twelfth in a series of bulletin inserts on corporate worship at Trinity URC. Full Series (to date)–>HERE
The Congregational Prayer
After God declares to us the pardon of our sins, we continue the dialog of worship by responding to him in prayer, “the most important part of the thankfulness God requires of us” (Heidelberg Catechism, Lord’s Day 45, Q&A 116). Yet how often we demonstrate our ingratitude in prayer: we wonder when the minister will ever say “Amen,” we allow our thoughts to wander, sometimes we even nod off to sleep. We have a hard time outgrowing our perception of the congregational prayer as “the long prayer.”
Psalm 122 is most helpful to us here as it presents congregational prayer not as a burden to be endured but as a privilege to be embraced. Gladness pervades this psalm from beginning to end; it is not a sad song, but a happy one, filled with anticipation, security and goodness. Psalm 122 is a pilgrim song, a traveling song—a song sung by God’s people and with God’s people—in anticipation of gathering together in God’s house. God’s people find in him their security and are comforted in coming before his throne (vv. 3-5), knowing that his throne is a throne of grace for them, a throne that can be approached with confidence (Hebrews 4:14-16).
Two verses of Psalm 122 sing of the pilgrim’s gladness (vv. 1-2); three verses sing of the pilgrim’s security (vv. 3-5); but four verses sing of the pilgrim’s desire and prayer for peace (vv. 6-9). The psalmist prays for peace in Jerusalem, for peace among the people of God, for peace among the family of God. He prays for peace because peace is not to be taken for granted. Peace is a gift from God, a gift that comes only through the gospel. Along with the gift of peace, the gifts of prayer and of the family of God all come together in this psalm. These gifts all converge in this psalm, reminding us that the gospel undergirds this entire psalm. If there were no gospel there would be no peace, there would be no prayer, there would be no family of God.
Undergirded by the gospel Psalm 122 points us to the great Pilgrim, our Lord Jesus Christ, who came down from God’s house to dwell with us in a far country, to seek and to save prodigal sons and daughters, and to bring them to his Father’s house. Jesus is the One who perfectly prays for his people, who perfectly seeks the prosperity of his people, who perfectly loves his people, who perfectly seeks the good of his people. Even now he is praying for us (Romans 8:34; Hebrews 7:25).
As we are being conformed to Christ by the Spirit (who also prays for us; Romans 8:26), we pray for one another, even as he prays for us; we seek one another’s good, even as he seeks ours (Psalm 122:8-9). Sometimes it is hard to love your family, after all, family are those whom you know best: you know the faults of your brothers and sisters, you know their weaknesses, their failures, their sins, their history—and it doesn’t take much to be hurt by them. What are you to do in those times when you don’t feel much love for the family, nor much of their love for you? What are you to do in those times when you don’t feel much gladness in coming together to the house of the Lord? What are you to do in those times you don’t feel much like praying for your family, let alone with them?
This is what you are to do: you are to go back to the gospel, and to the dialogue that has been going on in worship. The gospel that unites us and makes us part of this family is still the gospel no matter how we feel. Christ is the tie that binds us together, and he is bringing us to that great day where the family of God will be joined together forever in perfect peace and our prayers will be turned to praise. The imperfect communion we now experience will be enjoyed perfectly forever.
As you join with your brothers and sisters in Christ in the congregational prayer, be thankful for the gospel, be thankful for Christ, and let your heart be filled with the certain hope and anticipation of heaven. And if the prayer seems a bit long, may it still fill your heart with joy, knowing you will dwell forever with one another in perfect peace in the presence of our Savior, in whom alone your prayers are heard.
~Rev. Brian Vos