Complementary Prayers for Lift Up Your Hearts
Prayers to Accompany the Psalms, Hymns, and Spiritual Songs of Lift Up Your Hearts.
When choosing music to be sung by a congregation, worship planners naturally fit it within the church year, or alongside the sermon theme, or inside the celebration of the sacraments. Especially, they fit singing inside the movement of the service itself. Accordingly, planners keep their eye on moments of gathering, confessing of sin or of faith, reassurance, preparing for preaching, receiving the sacraments, and sending.
Worship leaders live off the work of the planners and add touches of their own, sometimes celebrating in prayer the power of what the congregation has just sung or, in a prayed line or two, anticipating what the congregation will sing in a moment. They tie their prayers into the congregation’s song.
To help in the tying process CICW has asked several of us to write prayers that fit the 965 psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs of Lift Up Your Hearts. (Lift Up Your Hearts is a new hymnal, published by Faith Alive Resources in 2013, that includes songs and hymns from and for a variety of traditions).
The idea is to give planners and leaders prayers they may use verbatim or in part—or take simply as suggestion for composing their own prayers, written or extemporaneous.
In 1997, the worship leader Paul Baloche was pondering Isaiah 6, where Isaiah sees “the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne,” with seraphim flying and calling to each other, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty.” Baloche was pondering this hair-raising vision along with a simple prayer used in teaching sessions by Bruce Morgan, a mentor to Baloche. Before beginning to teach, Morgan would pray, “O Lord, as we look into the mysteries of your Word, open the eyes of our hearts”.
Baloche’s pondering flowed out into his song “Open the Eyes of My Heart,” a lyrical prayer with great depths of yearning. Lift Up Your Hearts places it as #537 in the section titled “Opening of Worship,” and it belongs there.
So placed, it invites, just before or after it, an opening prayer:
Gracious God, Master of the Universe, you who are holy beyond human thinking and glorious beyond human telling, lift us now toward your holiness and point us toward your glory. Open the eyes of our hearts, Lord; we want to see you shining in the splendor of your light, through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.
But what if the worship planner/leader is thinking of a place in worship to confess sin and receive assurance of pardon? Baloche’s song works there too, because God’s holiness reveals and measures the depths of human sin. So placed, it invites a prayer of confession:
Wonderful God, radiant in your splendor, we confess how often we avert our eyes from your glory, seeing instead what we want to see and watching whom we want to watch. We choose to watch what is shameful, or vengeful, or disdainful, gradually becoming more like what we watch. Before it is too late for us, open the eyes of our hearts, Lord, so that we may gaze on your holiness and be healed, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Or, again, think of Baloche’s song used as his mentor used it, just before teaching or preaching. Then, perhaps, it invites a spoken prayer something like this:
We turn now to your Word, gracious God, praying that you will illuminate it through the radiance of your Holy Spirit, that, drawn to the light, we may spot a part of your glory. Open the eyes of our hearts, Lord; we want to see you through your perfect image, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Or, finally, think of the song used at the close of worship. So used, the song is gratitude for illumination already received in worship or a plea for it to continue in the lives of worshipers.
An accompanying prayer of closing gratitude might be this:
Eternal God, shining in glory like a thousand suns, you have shone on us in this time of worship, lighting up your work and Word, lighting up the faces of our brothers and sisters, drawing us toward the splendor of your presence, which is otherwise too high for us. You have opened the eyes of our hearts, Lord, to see your glory and we thank you. We pray in the powerful name of Jesus, the light of the world. Amen.
In attempting to tie prayers into songs and hymns, I have found that phrases repeated in hymns easily become echoes in the prayers to accompany them. So, in “Holy, Holy, Holy! Lord God Almighty” the repeated phrase (besides the title) is “merciful and mighty, God in three persons, blessed Trinity,” which may be echoed at the end of an opening prayer:
Lord God Almighty, our prayer rises to you in all your mercy and power. Your inner life is a dazzling mystery of glory and love, and we have beheld your glory in the One incarnate. You are merciful and mighty, God in three persons, blessed Trinity, and we worship you in the power of the Holy Spirit, through Jesus Christ. Amen.
But a hymn as famous as this one contains lots of lines, unrepeated but still well known, that make fine echoes: “all the saints adore thee,” “all your works shall praise your name in earth and sky and sea,” “were and are and evermore shall be.”
I have also found that with songs of high emotion and sensitivity (“Softly and Tenderly Jesus is Calling . . .Come home, come home, you who are weary, come home”) it is difficult, and maybe unseemly, for the one who prays to try to match the emotion within the song. Too many of us who try this will sound like ham actors. So how about an accompanying prayer that is emotionally pretty straight:
O Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on us. You are the one who calls not the righteous but sinners. You call through our defiance, through our confusion, through the first turning of our hearts toward you. Softly you call, tenderly you call, always you call, waiting to renew our hearts and bring us home. In Your wonderful name. Amen.
As they are composed, prayers to accompany the psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs of Lift Up Your Hearts will go up on the CICW website or at that of the Hymnary for use by worship planners and leaders, but also for the use of teachers and parents with singing children, or leaders of small groups, or anybody at all who thinks songs and prayers naturally go together.