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Prayer - Psalms 10, 13, James 5

A service plan focused on the paradox in our prayer life. The Bible tells us that God answers prayer, yet we often experience doubts about that in our own prayer life. Part of a series of sermons pairing together some of the seemingly irreconcilable paradoxes in the Christian faith.

Worship Service

Theme of the Service

An Introduction to "Worship Pairs"

The worship planning ideas that we have for you this week follow a different pattern. Instead of providing a full service, we'll be giving you the building blocks for a pair of services. Over the next fours weeks we will provide ideas for four pairs of such services.

Christians have often had to deal with the fact that there are seemingly irreconcilable matters in the Christian faith that exist side by side as a paradox. For the next four weeks we will be pairing some of these matters together in complete worship services. Since there are four pairs we will be dealing with, we will be providing building blocks for eight worship services. You may use these now or file them away for use at other times of the year.

The four issues (pairs) we'll be presenting are:

Prayer (Jan. 16):
"God Isn't Answering," Psalm 10; Psalm 13
"Prayer Changes Things," James 5:13-18

Our Beliefs (Jan. 23):
"I Believe the Bible Is True," 2 Timothy 3:16-17; 2 Peter 1:19-21
"Sometimes I've Had to Change My Convictions," Acts 10:34-48

Our Influence (Jan. 30):
"Christians Need to Be Different," 2 Corinthians 6:14-7:1
"Christians Need to Be in the World," Matthew 5:13-16

Our Joy (Feb. 6):
"Sometimes Christians Are Broken," Psalm 34:17-18; Psalm 51:17
"Christians Should Be Happier," Luke 15:5-7, 9-10, 22-24

You can readily see how the two sermon themes seem to contradict each other.

The intent of this method is to be honest about the questions and struggles that many Christians have with these and similar issues and to give them freedom to admit that. We also aim to portray that a healthy and mature faith often involves a tension or sense of balance between such seemingly irreconcilable matters rather than a complete resolution of them. And, of course, our aim is to give some guidance and help in how to answer some of these questions to the extent possible.

In the past when we've done this in our pastorate we scheduled each pair for the same Sunday-"point" in the morning service and "counterpoint" in the evening service. If that is not possible, you may schedule the "point" for one Sunday and the "counterpoint" for the following Sunday. In either case, this is a golden opportunity to encourage worshipers to be present for both sides of an issue, and thus becomes an opportunity to encourage faithful and regular attendance.

Two cautions are important to note. First, be sure to clearly explain to the congregation that the two services together are a whole, complementing each other. Such an explanation should be made ahead of time in print and included in the weekly bulletin, worship sheet, or newsletter. It should be explained again within each service. Without such an explanation of your intent, they might look at one sermon title and draw a totally erroneous conclusion!

Second, each service and sermon should be a complete event. For instance, in the first pair, the first sermon, "God Isn't Answering," obviously may not stop with that complaint but must give some pastoral instruction for resolution of the matter so that hearers who come for that message and not for the second one will receive a completed sermon.

Suggestions for Two Sermons

The first "Worship Pair" deals with our prayer life; all worshipers will readily understand this paradox. The Bible tells us that God answers prayer, yet we often experience doubts about that in our own prayer life.

Sermon #1 - "God Isn't Answering"
Scripture: Psalm 10; Psalm 13

Ideas for Sermon Development:

  1. Aid listeners in naming the problem that we are dealing with. They have certainly experienced feeling that God isn't listening but may find it difficult to get to the point of admitting and naming it. Use anecdotes or illustrations, or construct a monologue in which you express what is in their heart: "I have a problem, and I pray, but nothing happens . . . the problem goes on. So does my praying. But nothing seems to change. I get weary of it and begin to wonder: Is the problem with God, or with my praying, or with me, or my faith?" When that happens we are vulnerable to discouragement, doubt, cynicism, or worse.
  2. Spend some time with folks who lamented about seemingly unanswered prayers. 1 Kings 18:25-29 portrays a very dramatic scene in which Baal worshipers receive no response to their prayers. Not only do they become frantic, but they have to deal with Elijah's taunts. Psalms 10 and 13 are different because they come from the heart and lips of a child of God, probably David. In both prayers he feels helpless and in danger and is crying to God for assistance. In the first of the two psalms he tries hard to hold on, yet complains that God is standing far off and hiding himself (10:1) and calls on God to do something (10:12). In Psalm 13 he feels forgotten, as though God has hid his face, and he wonders how long this will go on (v. 1); again he calls on God for a response (vv. 3-4). These are blunt words for the Bible, similar to what many feel from time to time but often dare not express.
  3. Pastorally, it will be helpful to examine the Scriptures to see that there may be many possible explanations of what is happening in times like this. It may be a delay (John 11:5-6), or a wise denial (1 Kings 19:3ff.), or an obstruction by sin (Psalm 66:18; Isa. 1:15), or an alternate answer that we don't yet recognize (2 Corinthians 12:7-10). Even while suggesting these possibilities, be sensitive to the intense struggle many Christians have in this matter; allow them the freedom to struggle with it, provide some guidance concerning the direction in which they should search for greater certainty. Do not give the impression that there is an easy answer. In our prayer life we walk by faith and trust!

Sermon #2 - "Prayer Changes Things"
Scripture: James 5:13-18

Ideas for Sermon Development:

  1. Many different Scripture passages can be used as the foundation for this message-Psalm 34:15-18, Proverbs 15:29, Matthew 7:7-12, John 15:7, 1 John 5:14-15, to name just a few. You likely will be able to add many more to the list and make your selections. These passages capture the clear message of Scripture that prayer has powerful potential.
  2. We suggest James 5 for a careful study as the foundation of this message. The theme that James seeks to communicate to the church is found in 5:16b. The remainder of the passage identifies different ways in which prayer is to be experienced: when we experience trouble (all the afflictions that life brings) we should pray, when we are happy our prayers take the form of song, when we are sick we not only pray but call in others to join us in prayer, and when we have sinned and need pardon we pray for it. Each of these examples reinforces the truth of 5:16b in its own way. Finally, Elijah is drawn in as a convincing Old Testament example of how prayer can be powerful because it changes things.
  3. It would be helpful to reinforce this truth with illustrative material from other Bible characters and people today within our own circle of acquaintance.
  4. Though the message seems clear, we must be careful to remain pastorally sensitive to the struggles many have with prayer (as portrayed in the first sermon of this pair). A quick review of the considerations of that sermon may be necessary so we don't leave the impression that healthy, superior Christians always have their prayers answered and never deal with such struggles. The purpose of the truth in James 5 is not that we are the problem if it doesn't seem that our prayers are answered; rather, this truth is given to strengthen, stabilize, and prop our faith in those times when it seems otherwise.

Suggestions for Music

You will find here suggestions for congregational song, instrumental music, and choral anthems for both of these services with the theme of prayer.

Glossary of Hymnal Abbreviations:
PH The Presbyterian Hymnal (Presbyterian Church USA; Westminster/John Knox Press)
PsH The Psalter Hymnal (Christian Reformed Church; Faith Alive Christian Resources)
RL Rejoice in the Lord (Reformed Church in America; W.B. Eerdmans Publishing Company)
RN Renew! (Hope Publishing Company)
SFL Songs for LiFE (children's songbook; Faith Alive Christian Resources)
SNC Sing! A New Creation (Calvin Institute of Christian Worship, Christian Reformed Church,
Reformed Church in America; Faith Alive Christian Resources)
TH Trinity Hymnal (Orthodox Presbyterian Church, Presbyterian Church in America; Great
Commission Publications)
TWC The Worshiping Church (Hope Publishing Company)
UMH The United Methodist Hymnal (United Methodist Publishing House)
WOV With One Voice (Augsburg Fortress)

Congregational Song Suggestions (including prayer responses):
"All Glory Be to God on High" (ALLEIN GOTT) PH 133, PsH 247, RL 620, TH 102
"Hear Our Prayer, O Lord" (WHELPTON) PsH 624
"I Lift My Eyes Up" SNC 208
"Let Us Pray to the Lord" SNC 202
"Listen to My Cry, Lord" (LISTENING) PsH 61
"Lord, Listen to Your Children Praying" (CHILDREN PRAYING) PsH 625, WOV 775
"Lord, My Petition Heed" (MASON) PsH 86
"O Lord, Hear My Prayer" SNC 203, WOV 772
"O Lord, My God, Most Earnestly" (THE GREEN HILL) PsH 63
"On Eagle's Wings" RN 112, SNC 185, SFL 205, UMH 143, WOV 779
"Our Father in Heaven" SNC 196
"Psalm 25" SNC 199
"Sing Praise to God, Who Reigns Above" (MIT FREUDEN ZART) PH 483, PsH 465, RL 146 RN 52, TWC 50, UMH 126
"Spirit Divine, Inspire Our Prayer" (GRAFENBURG) PsH 421, SFL 185
"Spirit of God, Who Dwells within My Heart" (MORECAMBE) PH 326, PsH 419, RL 445, TH 338, TWC 290, UMH 500
"The Day You Gave Us, Lord, Is Ended" (ST. CLEMENT) PH 546, PsH 318, RL 516, TH 407, UMH 690
"What a Friend We Have in Jesus" (BEACH SPRING/ CONVERSE) PH 403, PsH 579, RL 507, SFL 52, TH 629, TWC 622, UMH 526
"When the Storms of Life Are Raging" (STAND BY ME) SNC 200, UMH 512

Instrumental Music Suggestions:

ALLEIN GOTT ("All Glory Be to God on High") PH 133, PsH 247, RL 620, TH 102

  • Burkhardt, Michael. Praise and Thanksgiving, set 2. Morningstar MSM-10-752 [1989] (E-M).
  • Haan, Raymond H. Festival Hymn Preludes. SMP KK329 [1985] (E-M).
  • Held, Wilbur. All Glory Be to God on High. Morningstar MSM-10-706 [1995] (E-M).
  • Manz, Paul. Ten Chorale Improvisations. Concordia 97-4554 [1962] (E-M).
  • Marpurg, Friedrich Wilhelm. Twenty-one Chorale Preludes. Augsburg 11-9506 [1967] (E-M).
  • Pachelbel, Johann. Selected Organ Works, vol. 2.Kalmus 3761 (E-M, could be adapted for piano).

Alternative Harmonizations for Organ:

  • Johnson, David N. Free Harmonizations of Twelve Hymn Tunes. Augsburg 11-9190 [1964].

BEACH SPRING ("What a Friend We Have in Jesus") PH 403, PsH 579, RL 507, SFL 52, TH 629, TWC 622, UMH 526

  • Cherwien, David. Interpretations, bk. 7. AMSI SP-104 [1988] (E-M).
  • Haan, Raymond H. Be Present Now. Morningstar MSM-10-566 [2004] (E-M).
  • Held, Wilbur. Seven Settings of American Folk Hymns. Concordia 97-5829 [1984] (E-M).
  • Linker, Janet. Sunday Morning Suite. Augsburg Fortress ISBN 0-8006-7560-6 [2002] (E-M).
  • Wood, Dale. Wood Works, bk. 2. SMP KK400 [1989] (E-M).


  • Porter, Rachel Trelstad. Day by Day. Augsburg 11-10772 [1996] (M).
  • Leavitt, John. How Sweet the Sound. CPH 97-6891 [2000] (M).


  • Hopson, Hal H. Reflections on Beach Spring. Genevox 4184-18 [1986] (3-5 octaves, E-M).

Alternative Harmonization for Organ:

  • Ferguson, John. Hymn Harmonizations for Organ, bk. 5.Ludwig O-14 [1992].

Alternative Harmonization for Piano:

  • Porter, Rachel Trelstad. Let It Rip! At the Piano. Augsburg 11-11045 [2000].

CONVERSE ("What a Friend We Have in Jesus") PH 403, PsH 579, RL 507, SFL 52, TH 629, TWC 622, UMH 526

  • Callahan, Charles. Prelude on Two American Folk Hymns. Concordia 97-6070 [1990] (E-M, with treble C instrument).
  • Hobby, Robert A. For All the Saints. Augsburg ISBN 0-8006-7537-1 [2002] (E-M).


  • Schrader, Jack. Amazing Grace. Hope 8138 [2001] (M).


  • Sherman, Arnold B. What a Friend We Have in Jesus. Red River Music HB 0032 [1998] (3-5 octaves plus handchimes, M).

Alternative Harmonization for Piano:

  • Sedio, Mark. Let It Rip! At the Piano. Augsburg 11-11045 [2000].

GENEVAN 138/MIT FREUDEN ZART ("Sing Praise to God, Who Reigns Above") PH 483, PsH 465, RL 146 RN 52, TWC 50, UMH 126

  • Bender, Jan (1974 Chantry). Augsburg Organ Library - Easter. Augsburg 11-11075 [2000] (M).
  • Candlyn, T. Frederick H. Prelude on Mit Freuden Zart. Abingdon APM-148 [1961] (E-M).
  • Ferguson, John. Three Psalm Preludes. Augsburg 11-10823 [1997] (M).
  • Haan, Raymond H. Canonic Variations on With High Delight. Concordia 97-6167 [1992] (E-M).
  • Leavitt, John. With High Delight. Concordia 97-6845 [2000] (E-M).
  • Wolniakowski, Michael. Partita on With High Delight, Let Us Unite. Morningstar MSM-10-416 [ 1996] (M-D).


  • McChesney, Kevin. Sing Praise to God, Who Reigns Above. AGEHR A623006 [1993] (2-3 octaves, M).

GRAFENBURG ("Spirit Divine, Inspire Our Prayer") PH 230, 325; PsH 421; RL 278; SFL 185; UMH 193, 266

  • Beck, Albert. Seventy-six Offertories on Hymns and Chorales. Concordia 97-5207 [1973] (E).
  • Held, Wilbur. Hymn Preludes for the Pentecost Season. Concordia 97-5517 [1979] (E).
  • Leupold, A.W. An Organ Book. Chantry Music Press [1960] (E-M).

MORECAMBE ("Spirit of God, Who Dwells within My Heart") PH 326, PsH 419, RL 445, TH 338, 378 TWC 290, UMH 500

  • Young, Gordon. Hymn Preludes for the Church Service. Flammer 4188 [1964] (E).

"On Eagle's Wings" RN 112, SNC185, SFL 205, UMH 143, WOV 779

  • Callahan, Charles. This Is the Feast. CPH 97-6575 [1996] (E-M).


  • Carter, John. Today's Hymns and Songs for Piano. Hope 244 [1995] (E-M).
  • Organ, Anne Krentz. On Eagle's Wings. Augsburg 11-10711 [1996] (M).


  • Honoré, Jeffrey. On Eagle's Wings. Concordia 97-6429 [1994] (3-5 octaves, M).

ST. CLEMENT ("The Day You Gave Us, Lord, Is Ended") PH 497, 546; PsH 318; RL 516; TH 407; UMH 690; WOV 690
Alternative Harmonizations for Organ:

  • Burkhardt, Michael. Seven Hymn Improvisations and Free Accompaniments, set 1. Morningstar MSM-10-847 [1992].
  • Ferguson, John. Hymn Harmonizations for Organ, bk. 5. Ludwig O-14 [1992].
  • Hobby, Robert A. Three Evening Hymns, set 1. Morningstar MSM-10-512 [1997].
  • Thiman, Eric. Varied Accompaniments to Thirty-Four Well-Known Hymn Tunes. Oxford ISBN 0 19 323210 3 [1937].

THE GREEN HILL ("O Lord, My God, Most Earnestly") PsH 63

  • Dobrinski, Cynthia. There Is A Green Hill Far Away. Agape 1426 [1990] (3-5 octaves, E-M).

Mixed Voice Choral Anthem Suggestions:
Carter, John. Seek the Lord. Hope JC 287 [1984] (E-M).
Ferguson, John. Psalm 130. Augsburg 11-10749 (M).
Haan, Raymond H. Cause Me to Hear Thy LovingKindness. H.W. Grey GCMR3420 [1980] (E-M).
Joncas, Michael, and Douglas Wagner. On Eagle's Wings. Hope A675 [1993] (E-M).
Lojeski, Ed. Take My Hand, Precious Lord. Hal Leonard 08374375 [1982] (E-M).
O'Brien, Francis Patrick. You Are All We Have. GIA G-3663 [1991] (E-M, with congregational
Page, Anna Laura. Seek The Lord. Hinshaw HMC-775 [1985] (E-M).
Ray, Robert. He Never Failed Me Yet. Jenson 44708014 [1982] (with solo, M).

Suggestions for Liturgy

  1. In both of these services multiple Scripture readings should be included. Some of the passages can be very brief-the promises of God to hear and answer our prayers. Others will be narrative passages that portray the struggle of some believers. Multiple readers of all ages can be used to read these passages, but they should be coached to read with meaning and pathos.
  2. In both services, it will be helpful to have the sermon rather early in the service so there is adequate time for a "Service of Response to the Word" in which prayers can be offered and sung, and the worshipers can be drawn into personal responses to the message of the Word.
  3. These would be ideal services in which to include personal testimonies from those who have struggled hard with seemingly unanswered prayer, those who have experienced very special answers to prayer, or those who have been faithful pray-ers even through the ups and downs of such struggles. It would be wise to consult carefully with those who will give a testimony to be sure that their message complements and does not contradict the content of the message.
  4. In your planning take note that prayers in worship can be offered in a variety of ways. Some are spoken by the pastor, others by a lay worship leader. Some are spoken in unison by the congregation, others can be responsive. And many very meaningful prayers are sung (see suggestions above).
  5. The major part of the "Service of Response" should be the prayer often called the "Prayers of the People" (if you need help with this you will find both resources and encouragement in The Worship Sourcebook, published by the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship, Faith Alive Christian Resources, and Baker Books, pp. 173-221). In both services this prayer should include affirmation of our confidence that God hears, gratitude for the privilege of speaking directly to God, confidence that we can come in the name of Jesus Christ, and thanksgiving for previous answers. But this prayer should also include intercession for those who are needy (in many different ways) and those who are finding prayer difficult because of their personal struggles.