Prayer in the liturgy: Is it worth it?

Today’s post comes from Timothy Dean Roth, author of The Week That Changed the World: The Complete Easter Story (amzn). There are few people whose words inspire, challenge, and fill me with a sense of God’s presence more than Tim’s. His book has been an excellent aid to my experience of Holy Week these last two years. He’s given me some of my best sermon ideas. Etc., etc. He’s a great dialogue partner and friend. As Words on the Word addresses themes of worship and liturgy on Wednesdays, Tim asks today: “Prayer in the liturgy: Is it worth it?”

If you go to a Church that has a time when a lector reads prayers and the congregation responds after each one-sentence prayer, “Lord, hear our prayer,” you may wonder sometimes whether the Lord really does hear our prayer, especially if you were spacing out and can’t even remember what the prayer was. The answer is that God does indeed hear these prayers, and he responds to them.

Here’s why. These prayers are themselves written by liturgists in a spirit of prayer in response to the needs of the times we live in. The Holy Spirit himself prompts liturgists who are attuned to his voice to write down these prayers. I have never heard a prayer read to the congregation that could be considered outside God’s will (and hopefully you haven’t either), and we know that God favorably answers prayers that are in accordance with his will. We also know that God the Father answers the prayers of the righteous, just like he answered the prayers of his own Son, though only if prayed in a spirit of steadfast faith and without doubt, which is the hard part.

Fortunately for those of us with weak faith, there are some crazy people out there who do believe that when we pray outlandish things like, “That you may increase peace in the Middle East” or, “That you may help all politicians recognize the value of life,” these things are actually going to happen. God hears these people, even if we can’t quite figure out how. What if a suicide bomber changes his mind the day before blowing up a mosque because enough people like the one right next to you sincerely said, “Lord, hear our prayer”? We can’t know how these prayers are answered, but they are. God’s word promises us that. Every little prayer counts, every little prayer brings a little more good into the world and a little less evil, and even the tiniest difference in the chaotic, unpredictable daily stock market fluctuations of good versus evil is worth the effort.

God is going to answer these prayers with or without your participation, so why not participate, why not fully abandon yourself to these prayers? Through these prayers, he’s inviting every one of us, from greatest to least, to join the battle, to actively participate in his work of transforming this world.

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