Prayer in Worship
“They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and … the prayers.”- Acts 2:42
If our goal in worship is to worship only according to the Lord’s prescriptions, we can hardly do better than to look at how those through whom God revealed His Word—the Apostles and prophets—worshiped. Acts 2:42 features our earliest record of the church’s worship following Pentecost, and it sets before us several essential elements of worship.
First, note that the earliest Christians devoted themselves “to the apostles’ teaching.” This practice confirms what we have said about the importance of reading and teaching the Word of God in our worship services, for the Apostles’ teaching comes to us today only in the canonical Scriptures.
Second and most important for our study today is that during the Apostolic period, the early church was devoted to “the prayers.” The early church was a praying church, and prayers were an integral part of early Christian worship. This is not surprising. After all, the first Christians were mostly of a Jewish background, and prayers were an important part of synagogue worship. Moreover, prayers were also offered to God during worship conducted at the temple in Jerusalem. Notably, Solomon prayed at the temple’s dedication (1 Kings 8), but prayer was also a regular part of daily temple worship. For example, the people confessed their sins when they brought their sacrifices (Lev. 5:1–6). Of course, the book of Psalms is itself a prayer book, and many of the psalms were written specifically for use in public worship. Several of them were for “the choirmaster” (for example, Ps. 61), and public worship was the occasion for the choir to sing (2 Chron. 29:25–30).
Speaking of the book of Psalms, it is under the category of prayer that singing finds its place in Christian worship. The various psalms were sung prayers, and it is right to sing unto the Lord under the new covenant as well. Singing can also fall under the category of teaching in worship. Paul writes in Colossians 3:16 that we are to teach and admonish “one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in [our] hearts to God.” We may not always remember this, but our hymns and songs are vehicles for proclaiming God’s truth and thus can serve a teaching function as well as the function of prayer as we offer them with thankful hearts to the Lord. Prayers both spoken and sung are essential in biblically faithful worship.
We often think of prayer as a spiritual discipline for private worship and devotion, and so it is. But prayer is also a public devotion that is to be a part of corporate worship. When we sing hymns or pray in unison, let us do so with our hearts and minds fully engaged. And during the pastoral prayer, let us think carefully on the pastor’s words and ask the Lord for the prayer to be answered.
Passages for Further Study
2 Chronicles 29:25–30
1 Timothy 2:1–2