Prayer is certainly a divinely approved (i.e. commanded and sanctioned by God) element of worship. (Isaiah 56:7. cf. Acts 2:42 & 1 Timothy 2:1,8) However the silent prayer that is listed as the first ‘event’ in our liturgy is actually outside of congregational worship since it occurs before the call to worship.
What purpose then does the silent prayer have? How does it contribute to our proper worship of God? We should view the silent prayer as preparation for worship. I usually introduce the silent prayer with the following words: “Let us now prepare our hearts for worship in a moment of silent prayer.” The silent prayer focuses our hearts on the glory of God and readies them to receive the good gifts He intends to bless us with. And it reminds us that we should not go hastily or rashly into His presence for our God is holy, indeed He is a consuming fire. (Hebrews 12:29)
What should the silent prayer ‘sound’ like? What sort of things should I be praying for? We should pray for ourselves, our families and our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ that each of us is prepared for this worship. For prayer by its very nature begins in an introspective manner but must proceed in an extrospective manner. That is the words originate from my heart and mind but they go to God and should be conformed to His revealed will (see the Lord’s Prayer – Matthew 6:9-13). The silent prayer reminds us that we are not here primarily for ourselves but His holy service to which we have been appointed (see our introductory post for more reflection on this point).
We should also note that the silent prayer has an individual focus. Though we all pray silently together (or at the same time) each person is praying in their own words and in their own mind. This reminds us that to please God it is not sufficient to go up to the house of the Lord with our fellow pilgrims but that He requires our hearts to be devoted to Him as well.(Psalm 24:3-4; Matthew 22:37)
Finally a note of caution: the silent prayer should not replace godly contemplation and preparation throughout the Lord’s day, especially the time before we come to worship. Indeed if Sunday is the Lord’s Day as we believe then Christ claims the whole day as His. (Luke 6:5) The silent prayer is a special time of focus on the things of the Lord because it occurs right before we enter into His divine presence but does not preclude a right meditation of our God before we get there.
It has become common for Reformed Christians to do all kinds of things before we come to church except, it seems, to contemplate the worship of God and His glory. So ask yourself: does this activity prepare me for my heavenly calling (Hebrews 12:22 cf. Colossians 3:1-2) or lead me away from it? As a priest of God, am I washing myself and putting on the clean garments prepared for me or am I haphazardly stumbling into His presence?
Some practical suggestions then would be: 1) Pray as a family around the breakfast table that God would sanctify your hearts for worship 2) Listen to godly, Christian music on the way to and from worship 3) Afterward talk about the sermon and how it applies to your life
Now some may object and call this legalism, that is binding believers to extra biblical precepts. Yet this assessment wholly depends upon our view or understanding of worship doesn’t it? If God is holy, those who approach Him must be holy. (Revelation 15:4 cf. Leviticus 10:3) If worship is for God then those who approach Him must be prepared for Him:
“Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us have grace, by which we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear.” Hebrews 12:28
Next post – Liturgy: Call to Worship