We are looking at the third section of Eugene Peterson's Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places, particularly what he says about prayer in community (read the intro to this series). Using Luke's Pentad of Prayers at the beginning of his gospel I am setting out to identify a biblical order and function of prayer in a worship gathering; how we, the community of Christ, can most effectively participate in the activity of the Spirit when we gather. Today we look at the two prayers of petition out of the five. The first is Mary's prayer, the Fiat mihi, the first of the five.

And Mary said, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38).

This is Mary's response to the angel's message that she will conceive the Son of God by the Holy Spirit. I cannot say this any better than Peterson says it, so I'll simply quote him, and then comment.

"Prayer begins when God addresses us. First God speaks; our response, our answer, is our prayer. This is basic to understanding the practice of prayer: we never initiate prayer, even though we think we do" (273).

Prayer, whether spoken or sung, begins with God. He speaks his word to us, He sings his word over us, and our response is prayer. In this case, Mary petitions the Lord to "let it be" to her according to His word. She submits to the will of God by "amen-ing" His word. We see here that response is only possible when there is something to respond to. In fact, isn't that always the case? It sounds obvious, but how often do we try to conjure up prayers and praise without first hearing from God?

Not only do our prayers begin with God, they end with God. The last prayer in Luke's Pentad is Simeon's prayer, the Nunc dimittis.

Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel (Luke 2:29-32).

What the Holy Spirit promised Simeon had finally come to pass; he held "the purpose and meaning of life in his arms," Jesus. And just as Mary responded to the word of the Lord, so Simeon does. Peterson points out,

"Mary and Simeon...are a complementary pair: the young girl starting out in submission to God's word; the old man ending in submission to God's word. God's word not only initiates all prayer, it provides the grammar and vocabulary of prayer and brings all prayer to wholeness, to completion" (276).

On a practical note, as I was reading this section I couldn't help but feel confirmed in the way we use musical praise in our main weekly worship gatherings. We feel the bulk of our music is most effectively placed after the preached word and during the Table portion of our service. This way everyone has heard the word of God, has received communion, and has a whole lot more to respond to in unified thought and expression. This unity is important, especially in the context of the main weekly gathering, because those whom God has put in leadership truly believe they have received from God his special word to be delivered to the church at that time. Having the bulk of musical worship before this word lends toward disunity and an experiential time in which response is dependent upon what each individual has heard from God prior to gathering (or upon what God is speaking through a given song). That's not to say the prayers aren't initiated by God, nor is it to say they aren't true expressions glorifying God. I'm just saying it might be worth reconsidering, especially biblically (according to His word), how we structure our worship in order to better aid worshipers in receiving and responding to God's word in unity.

Aside: Some prayers and praise songs inherently proclaim God's word in them, so as to allow worshipers to receive God's word and respond to it in one swift movement. Also, experiential worship is a good thing when done biblically and when it is the true God one is experiencing.

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