Lent Bookclub Part 20: The tricky subject of praying out loud

Chapter 9: Voice and Body; Part 2: Praying out loud

This may just be my most controversial podcast so far! Yes, I’ve gone there … I’ve talked about how prayer meetings can be intolerably boring because of the way we do our out-loud praying. It’s not that I want to evoke “prayer shame” … it’s just that I think there are little things we can all do to help praying together to become a less dull, more connected experience. It saddens me so much that, when I ask people about their worst prayer experiences, they so often cite the boring sitting-round-in-a-circle, please-just-bean-me-up-now prayer times. These moments of corporate conversation with God should be some of the most exciting moments of our lives, shouldn’t they?

Anyhow, I’ll stop ranting now and let you listen. And please please please share your own ideas and thoughts on how we can “do better” at praying out loud.

(But do not for one moment let any of this put you off speaking out your prayers. It’s not that God needs you to pray differently. He loves your voice and every prayer you make with it. This is more about how we can alter our group prayer dynamics to make things a bit more engaging and enjoyable.)


The Ark of the Covenant

Today I had the privilege of preaching at St. Andrews United Reformed Church here in Canterbury. I felt prompted to talk about what it means for us to be a church which carries God’s presence in this world, and I found myself taking a closer look at the Ark of the Covenant, the ornate chest which the Israelites carried with them as a sign of God’s presence in their midst

You can find the description of the Ark in Exodus 25:10-22, and here are the thoughts I shared this morning:

The Ark was first and foremost a box made of wood. God didn’t beam down a special box for them to use, he got the Israelites to use what they had … and what they had was very ordinary wood. We do often feel ordinary, but that’s the perfect place to start.

The wood was Acacia, the most common wood in the desert where they wandered, and a hard, dry wood which was very durable. One of the reasons it lasted so long was that insects didn’t like eating it. They didn’t like it because whenever it was “traumatised” in any way, it would excrete substances which they didn’t like the taste of. We may think that our struggles make us less durable, but in fact they build strength in us so that we are less prone to being nibbled away at.

Inside the Ark were three things: the stone tablets with the law on them, Aaron’s rod which had budded and blossomed and a gold pot of manna. Those speak of three different “emphases” which we often have as Christians: the stone tablets as the Word, the budding rod as the worship/prayer life of the church (it budded when God established Aaron’s tribe as the priestly tribe to oversee worship), and the golden pot of manna as the practical work of the kingdom (food and the meeting of everyday need). Though we all believe in all three, our personalities draw us more towards one than the others, and this can create tension in a congregation.

But the whole lot: the ordinary wood, the tablets, the rod and the pot of manna … they were all included in the Ark and they were all covered in gold, and gold symbolises God’s glory. When we stand together as a church, committed to unity despite our diversity, then God covers us with his glory and shines through us by his Spirit. It’s not always easy … church can feel more like wood than gold sometimes, but we need to remember that each of us is covered in gold, and we need to treat one another as valuable and precious, regardless of our differences.

The whole box was covered by the Atonement Cover – a beautiful prefiguring of the sacrifice of jesus which covers our imperfections, our brokenness and our pain, and makes us worthy to carry God’s presence.

The cover was also sometimes known as the Mercy Seat. I have been part of The Salvation Army all my life, and the Mercy Seat has an important place in our history as a physical place in every Salvation Army where people can stop and meet with God. This was particularly relevant in the early days of the movement, when Salvation Army buildings were bustling and busy places, but there was always a space to meet with God.

As church, do we offer a “mercy seat” – space where people can always meet with God? As individuals, do we create “mercy seat” spaces in our lives to help people meet with God?

The cherubim on top of the cover were a sign of this being a place where God would “show up”. As we commit to making mercy seat spaces in our everyday lives, helping people to connect with Jesus in whatever way we can, God promises to show up.