Friday, August 13, 2010

Singing, Prayer, and Intro to the Lord's Prayer

My family is filled with church musicians, so this is an important section for me. Singing hymns is a way for the entire congregation to actively participate in the worship and praise of God. One of my favorite services each year near Christmas is a service of lessons and carols - we read Scripture and respond with hymns for nearly the entire service.

I agree with Calvin that "unless voice and song...spring from deep feeling of heart, neither has any value or profit in the least with God." We are instructed by the psalmist:

 Make a joyful noise unto the LORD, all ye lands.

 Serve the LORD with gladness: come before his presence with singing.

 Know ye that the LORD he is God: it is he that hath made us, and not we ourselves; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.

 Enter into his gates with thanksgiving, and into his courts with praise: be thankful unto him, and bless his name.

 For the LORD is good; his mercy is everlasting; and his truth endureth to all generations. (Psalm 100, King James Version)
If you are truly glad, thankful, and sure of your faith in Christ, it is a natural reaction to sing and pray from your heart and not just from your lips. Calvin tells us that since God's glory should shine in multiple parts of our bodies, it is "especially fitting that the tongue has been assigned and destined for the task, both through singing and through speaking...But the choice use of the tongue is in public prayers, which are offered in the assembly of believers..."

During apostolic times, it is documented that singing was a common practice in worship. It became used in worship less and less in the western church until it was reintroduced in early 4th century when Augustine and Ambrose were alive. Calvin writes that singing "both lends dignity and grace to sacred actions and has the greatest value in kindling our hearts to a true zeal and eagerness to pray." Hymns really can prepare our hearts for worship of God. They can reinforce Scripture that has been read and proclaimed. And personally, I find myself sometimes with a hymn tune stuck in my head after worship, which leads me to think about the words and meaning of that particular hymn. Calvin warns, "Yet we should be very careful that our ears be not more attentive to the melody than our minds to the spiritual meaning of the words." Words are what separates sacred from secular music. If we pay no attention to the words of the hymns, than we might as well not have hymns at all in worship.

Paul wrote to the Corinthians, "Otherwise, if you bless with the spirit, how will he who occupies the place of the uninformed say 'Amen' at your giving of thanks, since he does not understand what you say? For you indeed give thanks well, but the other is not edified," (1 Corinthians 14:16-17, New King James Version). Calvin uses this passage to attack the Roman church's tradition of performing their masses in Latin. No one is edified, nor does anyone really know what is going on. Even the priests often do not understand what they are saying. The congregation "receives no benefit whatever from a sound not understood." Therefore, public prayers must be said in the language of the people, "which can be generally understood by the whole assembly." Calvin tells us that the tongue and the mind are generally joined in prayer, but silent prayers are not only acceptable to God but often the best prayers. When we pray, we often have certain bodily gestures such as uncovering our heads, kneeling, bowing our heads, folding our hands, etc. Calvin states that these are "exercises whereby we try to rise to a greater reverence for God." He does not dictate that these are required, but it is our attempt at reverence.

Over the next couple of days, we will be looking at the Lord's prayer. We say this prayer every week in worship, and often we use it other times either in group settings or even during our individual prayer time. This prayer helps us "acknowledge his boundless goodness and clemency." God "warns us and urges us to seek him in our every need," and this prayer is an example of calling on Him for these needs. Calvin writes about the Lord's Prayer, "For he prescribed a form for us in which he set forth as in a table all that he allows us to seek of him, all that is of benefit to us, and all that we need ask." Christ sets forth a right pattern for prayer in the Lord's Prayer.

There are six petitions contained in the Lord's Prayer. Some have claimed seven, but Calvin disagrees with them saying that the phrase "lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil" is one petition and not two. The entire prayer "is such throughout it God's glory is to be given the chief place." However, two primary sections are in it. The first three petitions are focused particularly on God's glory. The second three petitions are concerned with the care of ourselves. We will be looking at each of the six petitions with Calvin and his interpretation of each.

Tomorrow's reading: 3.20.36-40

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