This is the first post in a series looking at various elements of worship. In each post we’ll examine one element and look at biblical foundations for them.
As we start a series looking at different elements of worship it seems most appropriate to begin with looking at prayers of invocation. A prayer of invocation is often used to open a service. In them we ask for God’s presence and blessing as we gather to worship Him.
It should be no surprise that when looking at prayer we find biblical foundations in the Psalms. Many Psalms begin with an invocation. For example, look at the way David opens Psalm 4.
Answer me when I call, O God of my righteousness!
You have given me relief when I was in distress.
Be gracious to me and hear my prayer!
And then look at how he opens Psalm 5.
Give ear to my words, O LORD;
consider my groaning.
Give attention to the sound of my cry,
my King and my God,
for to you do I pray.
O LORD, in the morning you hear my voice;
in the morning I prepare a sacrifice for you
It’s a common pattern that we see repeatedly in the Psalms. A pattern of asking for God to hear us, and bless us with His attention and presence.
Isn’t God already present?
Yes, He is. When we ask for God’s presence in our gatherings it is not because He has been absent. It is a demonstration of our position in our relationship with Him and an expression of our dependence on His mercy. God is already present, but we want to know His presence more fully and we only experience that by His loving attention.
So in these prayers we acknowledge our position of weakness. Note David’s words in Psalm 4 “Be gracious to me and hear my prayer!” and in Psalm 5 “Give ear to my words, O LORD; consider my groaning.” David is stating his powerlessness and humbly seeking God’s gracious aid. Because his hope is that God is with him. And if God is not with him, then his groaning will be in vain.
These invocations are also mixed with praise. In Psalm 4 David recounts how God has already given relief when he was in distress. And in Psalm 5 David says that God has heard his voice. These praises show confidence that these invocations are not merely an incantation said without hope. But they declare assurance that God has indeed been with Him in the past, and has heard him in the past, so he can be confident that God will continue to do as He already has done.
And thirdly, there is reverence for the fact that he is making his requests to God. It may seem bold that Psalm 4 starts “Answer me when I call” but it is followed immediately with “God of my righteousness!” It is indeed a bold request, but it is made in recognition that God is the source of David’s righteousness. In Psalm 5 David acknowledges that God is his King and the one that he prepares sacrifices too. He does not flippantly entreat God, but with humility and reverence and praise asks God to be present.
Now we have a framework for what a biblical prayer of invocation should be. It should humbly and reverently praise God while we ask for his presence. If prayers of invocation are a regular part of your service, ask these questions of them in your preparation and in your reviews afterwards.
- Does this prayer praise God?
- Are we humbly approaching His throne (acknowledging our insufficiency and His sufficiency)?
- Are we revering Him (recognizing His authority)?
- Have we sought God’s blessing?
Are you following the theme?
This is a key question in all aspects of service planning. From songs to readings to prayers, every element should match the theme of the main passage being preached. This helps illuminate the consistency of scripture and its one Author. It helps us to see God’s constant and unchanging nature. So if you’re preaching on Luke 15:11-32, it would probably be helpful to pray that God would open our eyes to our greed and self-righteousness.
Look to history
As we already saw, the Psalms are full of invocations. But their presence in the Bible is not limited to the Psalms alone. Many benedictions can serve as invocations if they are requested of God.
For example, consider the priestly blessing in Numbers 6:24-26.
The LORD bless you and keep you;
the LORD make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you;
the LORD lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.
We can ask God for these things (and we should!) because these are blessings available to us in His word.
Lord, as we gather together,
we ask that you would bless us and keep us;
make your face shine upon us and be gracious to us;
lift up your countenance upon us and give us peace.
There are also many saints who have gone before us and left us with helpful prayers that we can use. Read through The Book of Common Prayer, Spurgeon’s Prayers, The Valley of Vision, and the prayers in whatever hymnal your church uses – did you know there are prayers in it? We learn to pray by the Bible and by hearing, reading, and praying the prayers of more mature believers. I’ll leave you with this prayer from The Book of Common Prayer.
O Almighty God, who alone can order the unruly wills and affections of sinful men; Grant your people, that they may love the things which you command, and desire that which you promise; that so, among the sundry and manifold changes of the world, our hearts may surely there be fixed, where true joys are to be found; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.