The Power of Prayer

Every true Christian prayer is the bearer and agent of history, it brings the end of the world closer….When the Church gathers for prayer, the Church is the instrument of God’s purpose for the world.

—Jean-Jacques von Allmen, “On the Theological Meaning of Common Prayer,” Studia Liturgica 10, 3/4 (1974), 128

God’s Gracious Initiative 4

Divine indicatives give rise to divine imperatives. This is the Bible’s underlying grammar. Grace, in this sense, always gives rise to obligation, duty, and law. 

Commandments are the railroad tracks on which the life empowered by the love of God poured into the heart by the Holy Spirit runs. Love empowers the engine; law guides the direction. They are mutually interdependent. The notion that love can operate apart from law is a figment of the imagination. It’s not only bad theology; it’s poor psychology. It has to borrow from law to give eyes to love. . . . Neither the Old Testament believer nor the Savior severed the law of God from His gracious person. It was not legalism for Jesus to do everything his Father commanded him. Nor is it for us.

—Sinclair Ferguson, The Whole Christ: Legalism, Antinomianism, and Gospel Assurance—Why the Marrow Controversy Still Matters, 168-69,173

God’s Gracious Initiative 3

There is a great book produced by Presbyterian & Reformed of quotes from Geerhardus Vos [A Geerhardus Vos Anthology]….

Vos says that the heart of legalism is when we separate the law of God from the person of God. And what we have got then are bare imperatives that don’t have an indicative that will sustain them.

God Himself in his grace, love, kindness, and generosity was the indicative that would have sustained the imperative of “Don’t eat the fruit of this tree.” And I see that distortion of God’s character, and the notion of legalism that seeks to earn what now as fallen creatures we can never earn, and blinds us to His a priori love for us in Christ.

Satan is cast out in terms of his dominion over our lives from the beginning of our Christian lives, yet we are still living in a world and with a memory and as a being for whom, I think, that battle against legalism is a lifelong reality.

And this gets back to the quiet time. I have met a lot of very fervent Christians who, if they haven’t had their quiet time, feel things will go wrong in the day. They turn the gospel on its head.

—Sinclair Ferguson, interview with C. J. Mahaney

God’s Gracious Initiative

Christian existence is a strangely relaxed kind of strenuousness [cf. Matthew 11:30], precisely because the Christian gospel is what it is. Before ever any demand is made, the gift is offered: the announcement of good news precedes the challenge.

The indicative precedes the imperative as surely as the rope is made fast round a firm piece of rock for the climber’s security before he has to apply himself to the struggle.

C. F. D. Moule, “’The New Life’ in Colossians 3:1-17,” Review and Expositor 70:4 (1973):479

Words and Music

It was not without reason that the fathers and prophets wanted nothing else to be associated as closely with the Word of God as music. Therefore, we have so many hymns and Psalms where message and music [Sermo et vox] join to move the listener’s soul….After all, the gift of language combined with the gift of song was only given to man to let him know that he should praise God with both words and music, namely, by proclaiming [the Word of God] through music and by providing sweet melodies with words.

—Martin Luther, “Preface to Georg Rhau’s Symphoniae iucundae,” Luther’s Works 53-323-24


Bilingual Worship

Music is a type of language that worshipers used to communicate with God and one another. It helps us to sing the great themes of our faith as we tell the wondrous story of God in song. All believers share the language of music….

Musical style functions like a dialect within the language; it consists of the indigenous and natural musical idioms and expressions with which a particular subculture identifies…. Musical dialects (styles) are determined by who we are sociologically and spiritually. We discover them rather than choose them, for the most part….

Do we sing a dialect of our local context and contentedly sing that which is comfortable and familiar to us? Or should we enlarge our song base to reflect a sense of the whole family of God?…

Churches need to become bilingual in their worship voice. People who are bilingual have the vocabulary, the syntax, and the inflection to communicate in two languages effectively and can flow back and forth between the languages with ease in any given conversation. Both languages have become native tongues for them; they do not have to stop and analyze the grammar before speaking; they simply speak and listen. Musical style can be thought of as our first language—the language of origin, the language in which we feel most at home. At the same time, [we can learn] a second language—one that allows us to communicate beyond our familiar circles and our comfort zones, one that acknowledges the music of the whole family of God….

—Constance M Cherry, The Music Architect: Blueprints for Engaging Worshipers in Song, 187-88

Worship Is for God

I am concerned when people say, as they do about certain occasions, “We want to have a meaningful worship experience.” Generally I find that the concern is not so much on what this worship is going to do for God, but on what it is going to do for the worshiper.

Stephen Charnock, the Puritan, wrote these words, “When we believe that we should be satisfied rather than God glorified, we put God below ourselves as though He had been made for us and not we for Him.” Worshiping in the spirit means that our spirits will be seeking God’s honor, God’s glory and God’s pleasure.

—Eric Alexander, “Worship: The Glory of Revival” Reformation and Revival Journal Vol. 2, No. 1 (Winter 1993)

Praise to Our Creator

A plain translation. Praise to our Creator.
[You may sing this to DUKE STREET, “Jesus Shall Reign”.]

Ye nations round the earth, rejoice
Before the Lord, your sovereign King;
Serve Him with cheerful heart and voice,
With all your tongues His glory sing.

The Lord is God; ‘tis He alone
Doth life, and breath, and being give;
We are his work, and not our own,
The sheep that on His pastures live.

Enter His gates with songs of joy,
With praises to His courts repair;
And make it your divine employ
To pay your thanks and honors there.

The Lord is good, the Lord is kind,
Great is His grace, His mercy sure;
And the whole race of man shall find
His truth from age to age endure.

—Isaac Watts (1674-1748), The Psalms of David, 1719

God’s Priority: A Heart of Worship

For there were many in the assembly who had not consecrated themselves. Therefore the Levites had to slaughter the Passover lamb for everyone who was not clean, to consecrate it to the LORD. For a majority of the people, many of them from Ephraim, Manasseh, Issachar, and Zebulun, had not cleansed themselves, yet they ate the Passover otherwise than as prescribed. For Hezekiah had prayed for them, saying, “May the good LORD pardon everyone who sets his heart to seek God, the LORD, the God of his fathers, even though not according to the sanctuary’s rules of cleanness.” And the LORD heard Hezekiah and healed the people.

—2 Chronicles 30:17-20

Expecting God to Speak

Perhaps the question to ask is whether we actually expect God to speak. If we wish to invite worshipers into that expectation, then the opening words of the service are especially important. A blessing and invitation from God, in the words of Scripture, set the expectation that God is already speaking in this place, today. This prepares worshipers to hear God in any element of the service, even those not specifically thought of as God’s Word to us.

—Ron and Debra Rienstra, Worship Words: Discipling Language for Faithful Ministry, 48

Studying Jesus

It is profound; all other sciences are but shadows; this is a boundless, bottomless ocean; no creature has a line long enough to fathom its depths; there is height, length, depth, and breadth ascribed to it, yea it passes knowledge. Eternity itself cannot fully unfold Him. It is like exploring a newly discovered land; by degrees you search further and further into the heart of the country. Ah, the best of us are yet on the borders of this vast continent! The study of Jesus Christ is the noblest subject that ever a soul spent itself upon.

—John Flavel (1627-1691)

Not So Fast!

There is a need to explore a given culture in depth before elements from it are imported into worship. Christians need to understand, for example, the cultural meanings of an African tribal king’s hut before they use it as the model for a Christian church, or the Buddhist meaning of a pagoda before they use it as a Christian baptismal font. Christians need to understand the dynamics of the entertainment culture before they use a theater or an opera house as the model for a worship space. One of the leading proponents of contextualization in Africa says that “syncretism occurs when enthusiastic missionaries conduct a superficial adaptation in ignorance of the true meaning of cultural symbols.”

—S. Anita Stauffer, “Worship: Ecumencial Core and Cultural Context,” in Worship and Culture: Foreign Country or Homeland?, 205