Why do we do that?—PRAYERS IN THE LITURGY
In this mini series, we are considering why we do certain things at Table Rock the way we do. For this post, Luke Salik is answering the question, “why do we include prayers of confession and praise in our Sunday morning liturgy?”
Prayers in the Liturgy: Confession and Praise
Liturgy is a form of discipleship. I will write more about that in another article. But suffice it to say for now that what we do (habit) helps shape our hearts (what we love/desire) and vice versa. A liturgy is simply the form or shape of something that we do. When we gather for worship on Sunday morning, one of our main goals (the form we use) is to rehearse the gospel together. We pray that this habit of rehearsing the story of our redemption will shape our hearts around what’s most important and reorient us away from many false narratives the world provides us every day which we are tempted to believe. We are shaped by the shape of our worship.
This article is about two specific prayers that are common within our liturgy at Table Rock. We pray in a number of different ways on a Sunday morning, and prayer is involved in much of our service because we are not merely recalling a story or event but engaging with a person, the God of the story! We are currently, together with him, living in that story! We hear from him (His Word); he hears from us (our prayers). We pray in our hearts as our leadership prays out loud after the welcome or when they give the prayer of benediction after a sermon. We pray together out loud as we sing, since many of our songs are in the form of a prayer to God. Then, we have two specific prayers somewhere in the middle of our service that may feel newer to some of you than the ones mentioned above:
(1) Prayer of Confession
(2) Prayer of Praise
Prayer of Confession
This may be the rarest form of prayer heard in churches throughout our country today. Perhaps mainly because we fear that times of confession will be a big downer to many, maybe it will even scare them away. Who wants to spend time admitting we’ve been wrong and living wrongly? Aren’t we all our own worst critics already? Actually, we are awfully imperfect critics of ourselves (Jeremiah 17:9). Not only that, but the world tells us lies all week long—that we are right when we are actually wrong, and that we’re wrong when we’re actually right. So confessing together as we encounter the word of God helps confront us in the right places and helps us tell the truth about ourselves.
But we don’t confess our sins together simply to get ourselves or the story right, though that’s important. We confess our sins because of the relational mending that takes place with our God and with each other. If we believe what the Bible says, that confessing our sins leads to forgiveness and cleansing (1 John 1:9), that drawing near to God’s throne of grace in repentance leads to an experience of his mercy and help in our time of need (Hebrews 4:16), and that confessing sins to one another and praying for one another leads to healing (James 5:16), then we want to spend time there together often. In other words, we believe that our regular experience of forgiveness, cleansing, mercy, help, and healing is well worth the regular discomfort that we experience looking at the ugly places in our hearts and lives. We value doing this together, remembering that we are a sinful people and that we have been saved into a community of redeemed saints. We are not alone. And we hope that as we confess our sins together, this will help shape us into people who confess on our own, always eager for intimacy with their Father in heaven.
Confession doesn’t stop at the beginning of our walk with Christ. It ought to be a daily rhythm, because we are daily sinners. One of the reasons we do not confess often is because we forget that our sin is a personal offense that directly impacts the quality of our relationship with our God. God is a personal being. When we sin against a close friend or a spouse, the quality of our relationship is harmed. We suffer not only from our own guilty conscience (Psalm 32:3–4) but from a noticeable change in the intimacy we normally share. The personal offense acts like a dam that holds back the sweetest and most full form of fellowship between one another—that is, until we are forgiven (Psalm 32:5) and our relationship is restored. Many times we feel more loved and more secure than we ever did before, because although they’ve now seen us at our worst, they still want to be with us; they still accept us. This is why we confess and seek forgiveness often. In Christ we have been promised the gift of acceptance. That’s why we can approach the throne of grace with confidence (Hebrews 4:16). The acceptance promised to us does not mean that we no longer should repent and seek restoration; it is our assurance that when we do seek forgiveness, the answer will always be a resounding yes.
Prayer of Praise (or Prayer of Thanksgiving)
Our assurance of forgiveness rests in the sufficiency of Christ’s work on the cross. Jesus saves! So we joyfully move from confession to thanksgiving for his saving and restorative work. This place in our liturgy is typically where the prayer of praise is located. The prayer of praise is an opportunity, along with our singing, to express our thankful hearts vocally to our great and gracious God.
We often include the prayer of praise in our liturgy because our hearts are encouraged by the gladness of others. This time is not primarily meant to be an opportunity for the one who prays out loud to teach the body something specific, rather it is meant to be a time for the body to join them in exalting Him. By hearing their affection for God in response to how they’ve encountered him in worship, we are caught up with them in their thankful exaltation.