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The Jesus Prayer

I have mentioned in a previous post that "I am extremely grateful for the freedom I have to be creative and incorporate ancient worship practices in our church, but I am equally grateful for the reins of a healthy team." Well, a couple nights ago, during our P.S. Epiphany gathering, I took a few moments to lead our church in the Jesus Prayer. I got the idea from Bob Webber in his book Ancient-Future Time. My intention was to give struggling worshipers a simple way to connect more deeply with God in prayer, something they could bring with them everywhere they go in their everyday lives. So, after a few songs, prayers, and Scripture readings, I read the excerpt from Bob's book, explaining the origin of the Jesus Prayer (Luke 18:13) and the significance of short form prayer, which, according to Webber, the Church Fathers advocated as the form of prayer to establish union with God (p. 90). I quoted the list of rules for beginners to the Jesus Prayer (p. 91), and assured everyone that this isn't a New Age exercise. Then we prayed it through about ten times, slowly and quietly:

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy upon me a sinner.
Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy upon me a sinner.
Etc.

I have been here at River Valley Church for two years and a few months now. It would be an understatement to say that I have stretched our church family in our worship practices. So I wasn't surprised to receive the kind of feedback I did yesterday and today. I heard from one excited person that the prayer lesson was exactly what they needed to jump-start their waning spiritual life. Another person said they had an epiphanic experience in the moment of praying the prayer together. I myself have been lulled to sleep by the prayer the past two nights, awaking with Jesus on my lips. And then there were those who were perhaps a bit too stretched to participate in the prayer without reluctance. I am thankful for their honest feedback, and in retrospect I could have taken a smaller step in introducing this type of spiritual exercise, especially to a group so diverse in age and denominational background. My hope is that they will not throw out the baby with the bathwater, and instead embrace, or at least appreciate, biblical and spiritually edifying, ancient traditions of Christian worship and spirituality, such as the Jesus Prayer.

We need not dwell upon misuses of the Jesus Prayer, except to realize that all exaggerations are harmful and that we should at all times use self-restraint. "Practice of the Jesus Prayer is the traditional fulfillment of the injunction of the Apostle Paul to 'pray always:' it has nothing to do with the mysticism which is the heritage of pagan ancestry."

I would encourage anyone interested in learning more about the Jesus Prayer to read this beautiful article, from which the above excerpt comes, by Princess Ileana of Romania. She was an Eastern Orthodox Christian with a deep, deep spirituality and love for Jesus. As an Eastern Mystic, there are a few things she says that push the limits of my comfort, but then she might be discomforted by the Western Rationalism she would find in this blog. Both of us love Jesus, though, and the Jesus Prayer.

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Originals: Christ as a Light

Part of the "Morning Prayer" in the Celtic Daily Prayer book includes St. Patrick's Breastplate Prayer. After praying it every morning for several months it became a song in my heart. Soon after I completed my new song, I looked at the credits in the back of the book and realized that the words of the prayer are actually from a song John Michael Talbot made of St. Patrick's prayer. So this is my musical adaptation of John Michael Talbot's lyrical adaptation of St. Patrick's Breastplate Prayer. A fitting song for Epiphany and every day. (If you were at P.S. Epiphany, this recording is without the chord I completely botched last night.)







Download: mp3

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A Worship Lesson from John the Baptist

A couple days ago I had the privilege of gathering with my worship team to celebrate Epiphany. Thursday nights are normally rehearsal nights for us, but the first Thursday of each month we forgo rehearsal and the whole team gathers together for fellowship and worship through Scripture reading, prayer, communion, and sometimes song. Since, then, we don’t have a rehearsal that week, we plan something acoustic and small for the following Sunday that wouldn’t require practice.

We’ve been doing this for only three months now, and already I’m seeing it impact our team powerfully. The simple heart of these meetings is to chase after God with all we’ve got. Our hope is for us as worship leaders to participate deeply in the same kind of worship we desire for everyone else in our weekly worship gatherings. As a worship pastor, these Thursday nights at the beginning of each month have energized and excited my heart greatly. I see God shaping and transforming us with the Gospel, cultivating a desire for Christ and an expectancy of communing with Him when we gather together. I’m learning that our team can’t live without this.

Our focus a couple nights ago was the story of Jesus' baptism in John 1. As we immersed ourselves in this story, something came to life in me. It may only be a few verses long, but John the Baptist's experience here paints a perfect picture of what our corporate worship gatherings should look like: the revealing, receiving, responding to, and retelling of the Gospel. In verse 33 we learn of John having been told, “The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is he who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.” When John sees the Spirit fall and remain on Jesus, he immediately receives Him as God’s Son, humbles himself, and declares, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!”

Revealing
Jesus is revealed to John as the Son of God and Savior of the world. The Spirit revealed this to him, and continues to reveal Jesus to us today. Christ is seen and the Gospel is proclaimed through everything in our worship gatherings - our songs, Scripture readings, teachings, prayers, fellowship and communion. In our worship planning we do everything we can to ensure that the content of our prayers, songs and art paint deep and meaningful pictures of God’s salvation in Christ.

Receiving
When Christ is revealed, John receives Him as God’s Son with childlike faith. He does not question the revelation given him, but fully embraces it with all he is. I am praying for this kind of faith. As the Gospel is declared to us in our worship gatherings, may we receive it not just with cognitive assent, but also with faith that moves us to be and act accordingly.

Responding
This revelation humbles John. Who is he to even untie Jesus' sandal straps, let alone baptize him? But with most likely a mixture of reverent fear and humble joy, John baptizes the Savior of the world. When the Spirit helps us see God rightly, our depravity is exposed and the only right response is humble thanksgiving for the great work of salvation accomplished for us by the Father's sending of His one and only Son.

Retelling
John wells up with this revelation of Christ as God’s Son, unable to contain himself. He bursts out, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” The Gospel demands our response, a life declaring the glory and salvation of our God in Jesus Christ our Lord. But this proclamatory response doesn’t end with the worship service. Like John we have seen and now testify that Jesus is the Son of God. We are sent out from the worship gathering to retell the Gospel story that has been revealed to us and embody it before a world in need of God’s rescue.

May God continue manifesting Himself to us and shaping our worship with His amazing Gospel story.

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A Liturgy for Epiphany

This Sunday, January 10th, we will be kicking off the Epiphany Season at our church. The Epiphany of Our Lord Jesus Christ is actually on Wednesday the 6th, but no one would come to a mid-week service if we had one, so we're doing it on the First Sunday after the Epiphany for our monthly P.S. (Prayer and Song). If you're unfamiliar with Epiphany worship, maybe the liturgy I put together for P.S. will be helpful. I always make good use of the Worship Sourcebook when crafting services such as these.


Call to Worship

LEADER: Give the king your justice, O God,
and your righteousness to a king’s son.
May he judge your people with righteousness,
and your poor with justice

ALL: May the mountains yield prosperity for the people,
and the hills, in righteousness.

LEADER: May he defend the cause of the poor of the people,
give deliverance to the needy,
and crush the oppressor.

ALL: May he live while the sun endures,
and as long as the moon, throughout all generations.


Adoration

SONG: “Center of It All” by Tim Hughes

SONG: “Cannons” by Phil Wickham


Confession

ALL: O God, our guide,
who once used a star to lead people to Christ,
we confess our poor sense of direction.
We let ourselves become confused,
easily distracted, and lose our way.
We fail to follow the signs you provide.
Forgive our waywardness, O God.
Lead us to the Christ so that we may
follow his way to you. Amen.

LEADER: You may be seated.


Assurance

LEADER: [Setup “Christ as a Light” - St. Patrick's Breastplate Prayer]

SONG: “Christ as a Light” music by Ryan Flanigan


Word

LEADER: [Epiphany Explanation - 2 Tim. 1:9-10]

  • The Manifestation of Jesus Christ as the Savior of the World
  • The Magi from the East
  • The Baptism of Our Lord
  • The Life and Ministry of Christ

READER: Please stand for a reading from Isaiah 60. [Read Is. 60:1-6, 9]

SONG: “Light of the World Arise” by Sean Carter & Ryan Flanigan

SONG: “Be Thou My Vision” the old Celtic hymn


Thanksgiving

SONG: “Living for Your Glory” by Tim Hughes

LEADER: Please be seated. [“Jesus Prayer” Explanation – Read pp. 90-91 in Ancient Future Time.]

ALL: Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy upon me a sinner. [repeat endlessly]

SONG: “Stronger” by Ben Fielding & Reuben Morgan


Sending

READER: A reading from Ephesians 3. [Read Eph. 3:1-12]

SONG: “Holy Church Arise” by Ryan Flanigan

SONG: “No Greater Love” by Matt Maher

LEADER: The light of God’s purposes has shone upon us.
Carry that light into another week.

ALL: The star of God’s promises that led us to worship
now leads us to serve in God’s world.

LEADER: When we have met God in the light,
we cannot dwell comfortably in the shadows.

ALL: We cannot enjoy our abundance and wealth
without thanksgiving and generous sharing.

LEADER: The glory of God shines on you today.
Others will see your radiance and rejoice with you.

ALL: We seek God’s peace that we may share it,
God’s wisdom that we may live by it,
in Christ’s name. Amen.

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Welcome Josh Weaver to Reform worship.

RYAN: Tell us a little about yourself, your family and home.

JOSH: I grew up in the city of Chicago and currently live in a south suburb working for the Apple store part-time, mostly doing training. Since May I’ve also been the part-time worship arts pastor at Pathway Community Church in Elmhurst. I’ve been married for five years; no kids yet. My wife, Rachel, the love of my life, is a gifted worship leader and singer herself. She helps me in my ministry and works part-time in Elmhurst. I am also a singer/songwriter and have recorded and produced two albums independently.


RYAN: Describe your journey to becoming a worship leader.

JOSH: Last year, while praying about the Lord's purposes for my life, God brought to mind a moment from my middle school years. Many of us have had moments like these where we first encounter the living God in corporate worship and are literally overwhelmed by His holiness and love. Moving past words and music, into direct contact with the Triune God who is completely other has the potential to change everything. As a junior higher, I hardly had words to describe my worship experience or even fully comprehend what was happening, but I remember thinking that if words and music could help people connect with the living God in such a real way, then I wanted to be a part of that for the rest of my life. The Spirit has been consistently wooing me towards worship ministry and has given me opportunities to serve Christ’s bride through music and art ever since.

RYAN: What led you back to a local church position?

JOSH: At the start of 2007, I left my full-time worship pastor position at a large church in the south suburbs of Chicago, burned out, discouraged and wrestling deeply with worship theology and what true art was. I thought for sure that I was either going to earn my living by being a singer/songwriter vocationally or by working somewhere that allowed me to pursue that goal. I had tried worship ministry and it didn’t work out, so now I was going to live out my “true dream” to share my art with the world. I recorded and produced two albums during this time and had several conversations with record labels and producers that I thought might lead somewhere.

I also started getting requests to lead worship for local events, ministries, and churches on a per-hire basis. This gave me some income, since I didn’t have a job, and also allowed me to continue leading worship even while my heart was still wrestling deeply with what it means to lead others in true worship.

Pretty soon, I was leading worship at different events, camps and conferences full-time. Doing spot dates like this and being distanced from church administration and politics gave my heart time to heal and gave God space to convict me of some of the wrong thinking I had about ministry and what it meant to “arrive” as a worship leader/artist. At the same time, I felt the tension of being disconnected from a local worshiping community because we were somewhere different almost every weekend.

As time progressed, I was getting “bigger” and “better” opportunities to lead worship at larger events that paid more money, but God was changing the desires of my heart. I found it continually harder to practice the things I was learning about worship with people I knew only for a weekend. I longed for a community of believers with whom I could work out what God was teaching me and grow with.

My wife and I began to pray that God would place us back in local church ministry. I immediately thought that my experience and credentials would land me in a large church, with a great salary and a lot of resources, but God kept placing the passage from James on my heart that says, "the brother in humble circumstances ought to take pride in his high position". God was gently showing me my pride and wrong feelings of entitlement. Slowly my thinking changed, and I desired rather to be entrusted with God's will, no matter what it was. The Lord was preparing me for His best.

This led me to an unexpected conversation with Kirt Wiggins, the lead pastor of a four-year-old church plant in Elmhurst, IL, about a part-time worship pastor position. I remember leaving that conversation overjoyed at the possibility of what being the church and embodying the gospel could look like. My heart was literally dancing over the reality that God could provide a place for me to partake in His Kingdom where I could authentically minister and participate as the Lord was leading me. I was hired on as the part-time worship arts pastor in May of 2009. It’s a perfect fit for me and my wife, and we couldn’t be more grateful and thankful that the Lord has put us there.

RYAN: Tell us about your church.

JOSH: Pathway Community Church is an interdenominational church that was planted four years ago in Elmhurst, a middle class western suburb of Chicago. We are a non-traditional church that meets in an old restored movie theater downtown. This means we setup and tear down in the theater every Sunday, which is difficult, but provides more service opportunities for our people to participate in. We have office space located close to the theater but no large meeting space of our own, meaning we are limited to meeting together in homes and the “public square” during the week. This has been a gift to us, helping us value relationships and attempting to live out what it truly means to be the Church, versus just showing up for programs.

Our worship gathering is casual. People are free to come as they are. Our music style is contemporary, while incorporating many hymns. We include in our services corporate prayers, scripture readings, contemplative space, and communing together. Most of the time we do the majority of our singing at the end, in response to God’s Word and the Lord’s Supper. We’re experimenting and learning how to use art forms other than music to present the gospel. We have a community of musicians, artists and worship leaders that share life and pray together regularly. We’re becoming a people in pursuit of communion with the Triune God, learning together what it means to receive and respond to the gospel.

RYAN: What do you hope to bring to Reform worship.?

JOSH: I am so excited to be a part of Reform worship. My heart resonates deeply with the conversation taking place here, and I want to help take what’s shared and make it more accessible to worship leaders everywhere. Hopefully, I can contribute to making our site a little more aesthetically pleasing and spread the word that there is a resource for worship leaders to grow in their theological depth and historical understanding of what worship is and does, whether they are just starting to lead worship or have been for years.

As a part-time worship pastor, I know what it’s like to have limited time and finances. Reform worship. has an opportunity to be a valuable resource for worship leaders. As we continue to share our songs (even with mp3s and charts), art, and the other elements we’ve used to help our local churches reveal, receive and respond to the Gospel, I believe that we’ll see more people joining the conversation, sharing stories of how these things are being worked out and wrestled through. Hopefully, the result will be a deeper understanding of the gospel in our post-modern culture, a richer communion with our Triune God, and a more purified Church living in the rhythm of death and resurrection, awaiting the return of her Bridegroom.

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