Private Worship: Stirred by a Noble Theme

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Private Worship: Prayers

Stirred by a Noble Theme—

The Book of Common Prayer

Psalm 45:1 NIV
My heart is stirred by a noble theme as I recite my verses for the king; my tongue is the pen of a skillful writer

January, 2002.
Standing alone in the small chapel of a large church, the worshiper carefully placed his burgundy leather Bible on the communion table. He opened a matching leather book and began to pray out loud.

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. (Philippians 1:2)

I was glad when they said to me, “Let us go to the house of the Lord.” (Psalm 122:1)

Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my strength and my redeemer. (Psalm 19:14)

Send out your light and your truth, that they may lead me, and bring me to your holy hill and to your dwelling. (Psalm 43:3)

The Lord is in his holy temple; let all the earth keep silence before him. (Habakkuk 2:20)

He paused, letting the silence search His soul and then continued.

The hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for such the Father seeks to worship him. (John 4:23)

Thus says the high and lofty One who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy, “I dwell in the high and holy place and also with the one who has a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble and to revive the heart of the contrite.” (Isaiah 57:15)

As the worshiper continued to pray from the little leather book, he repented of his sins and received God’s forgiveness. Picking up his Bible, he prayerfully read from the Psalms, and from the Old and New Testaments. Then, with ancient words from the other little book, he poured out his praise and his adoration to the Lord, rehearsing the revelation of who God is. Next came the Apostles’ Creed and the Lord’s Prayer. He put the little leather book down. With his prayer list, he interceded for his family, friends, church, and country with extemporaneous prayers as the Spirit led. His prayers began to sound strange to the human ear, but clear to angels as a heavenly prayer language began to flow from his heart. The Lord’s presence filled the little chapel.

After a season, He picked up the little book again and concluded his prayer time with carefully crafted prayers for his country, his church, and for a lost world. Finally, he prayed this benediction.

Glory to God whose power, working in us, can do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine: Glory to him from generation to generation in the Church, and in Christ Jesus for ever and ever. Amen. (Ephesians 3:20,21)

The little chapel was at Suncoast Cathedral in St. Petersburg, FL. The worshiper was me and the little leather book was The Book of Common Prayer. (“Common” here means, “held in common” not coarse or base. These prayers are for the whole church.) After three decades of public ministry I was skilled at public worship but I struggled secretly and shamefully with private worship. I never figured out how to minister to the Lord in the “Secret Place.” I lacked the very thing I supplied those I led in public worship—a service! Through the leading of the Holy Spirit and doctoral work, I discovered The Book of Common Prayer.

I’m sure you have the same questions I had:

  • What business does a Pentecostal preacher have using a prayer book
  • Isn’t this second-class spirituality?
  • Didn’t “we” come out of “them”?
  • Aren’t these oldest of old wineskins?
  • Can the move of the Spirit today be found in ancient methods?

Good questions, all. And they were my questions as I sought to understand where the Spirit was taking me. Before we deal with The Book of Common Prayer, lets reason out the whole idea of written or “fixed” prayers.

Fixed Prayers are biblical.
The Bible is replete with fixed prayers, including the book of Psalms.

  • The epistles contain several examples of confessions and hymns thought to be well known to the readers, much as our songs are today.
  • It is likely that, in addition to prayers made up on the spot and prayers in the heavenly prayer language, the disciples prayed fixed prayers.
  • In Acts three Peter and John were going to the Temple at the fixed time for evening prayer.
  • In Acts chapter thirteen, the Bibles says they “ministered to the Lord and fasted.” The word used here is leitourgeo (li-toorg-eh’-o) meaning to “worship, obey, relieve.” (“Rom 11:33-36; Phi 2:6-11; 1 Tim 3:16; 2 Tim 2:11-13; Heb 10:37-38; Jude 24-25)
  • The same word is used again in Hebrews 10:11 in reference to the functions of the priests in the Temple.

In other words, these New Testament, Spirit-filled, Holy-Royal Priests were ministering to the Lord just as the Old Testament Priests had. Surely they used fixed prayers as well as spontaneous prayer and prayer in tongues. Perhaps this is Paul’s idea when told the Ephesians to pray with “all kinds of prayer”. It is interesting to note that Jesus, when asked by the disciples for a lesson in how to pray, gave them a prayer.

Fixed Prayers are historical.
By 100 -150 A.D. the Didache, among the earliest of early church documents, recommended that the Lord’s Prayer be prayed three times each day. While historical documents do not carry the authority of Scripture, it is clear that the prayer the Lord gave was used as a fixed prayer.

But, can it be “Pentecostal” to recite a prayer?

If what we mean by “Pentecostal” is to be led and empowered by the Holy Spirit—yes! We must remember that the church of the first few centuries was a “Pentecostal” church.

  • Current scholarship is revealing the hidden history of signs and wonders, gifts of the Spirit, miracles and healings in the early church.
  • Leaders in these centuries, called the Patristic period—the time of the Church Fathers, have much to say to us today.
  • The Holy Spirit used them to disciple believers in a hostile, pagan, relativistic world. To them we owe the canon of Scripture, and the doctrines of the Trinity and the dual nature of Christ.

How did these pastors make disciples in such a hostile climate? One of their methods was daily prayer, fully apostolic—fixed prayers, extemporaneous prayer and prayer in the spirit. (from Schaff’s History of the Church)

Fixed Prayers are contemporary.
Our services are full of fixed prayers. We even argue about them with some of us preferring the old ones and others wanting the new ones. But no one says they are second class spirituality or that they are too “catholic” or asks whether they should be in our “liturgy.” (“Liturgy” refers the part of the service the people say and do. Literally it means “the work of the people.”)

Why? Because these fixed prayers are called songs!

The only difference between reciting an ancient expression of praise, and singing “How Great Thou Art” is the music. Should music make that much difference?

The Book of Common Prayer

We also owe much to the Reformation Fathers. They were empowered by the Holy Spirit to throw off the corrupt hierarchy of Rome, to pursue the purity of scripture, and to re-establish Apostolic worship. They took many different paths toward these goals. The one that has most affected the Pentecostal movement is that of the English Reformation. We can thank it, its offshoots (and its rebels!) for the King James Bible, the Sunday School movement, modern missions, the revivalist movement, the holiness movement, mass evangelism and even modern Pentecost. Prior to these developments, Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury (1489-1556), supervised the translation of the first English Bible and compiled The Book of Common Prayer. These two books became the foundation of the English Reformation.

But isn’t that too “Catholic” for Pentecostals?

On the contrary!  Cranmer’s purpose in compiling The Book of Common Prayer was to help English Christians pray without being Roman Catholic.

  • There is no worship of Mary,
  • no prayers to the saints,
  • no papal authority and
  • no transubstantiation at the Lord’s Table.

There is nothing Roman Catholic about The Book of Common Prayer. Cranmer, a leader of the English Protestant Reformation, was burned at the stake by Queen Mary, a Catholic.

Pentecostals in the Flow of History
Contemporary leaders look to the New Testament Church for answers to today’s challenges. And well we should. The Patristic Fathers can help us as well. In the first centuries of Christianity Spirit-filled leaders grappled with the same problems we deal with today:

  • doctrinal error,
  • false preachers,
  • hostile, relativistic, pagan cultures outside the church, and
  • pride, power and perversity within the church.

A thousand years later, leaders of the Protestant Reformation also sought to re-establish classical Christianity by seeking out the wisdom and methods of the original Pentecostals. One of their principles was, Semper Reformanda (always reforming). In other words, to keep doctrines and worship pure, the church must live and work in constant reformation, rooting out the influence of man and reaffirming the leadership of the Holy Spirit through the Word of God.

To my mind, Semper Refermanda, expresses the heart of twentieth and twenty-first century Pentecostalism.

Prayer Today
Today we have the fullness of Apostolic prayer: written prayers, (scripture) spontaneous prayer (improvised, conversational) and in prayer in the Spirit (tongues.) Like the Psalmists, the Old Testament Priests, the Apostles, the Church Fathers, and the heroes of the Reformation,

“My heart is stirred by a noble theme as I recite my verses for the King.”

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer
© 2016 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

Private Worship: Stirred by a Noble Theme

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