Saturday, August 8, 2009


There are plenty of Christians out there, in case you hadn’t noticed, who say that they have no need or use for going to church on Sundays. They explain their position something like this: “I’m a religious (or spiritual) person, and I believe in God, but I don’t need to go to a building somewhere with other people to pray. I can read the Bible and say my prayers just about anywhere.”

On the other hand, there is another group of the faithful who will state their case in almost the reverse. They sound something like this: “I get myself to church every week…well, when I can. And I really get a lot out of it, so I don’t have to do much in the way of piety or prayer during the week.”

We tend to set these two approaches in opposition to one another. It’s “private” versus “public” worship; or “solitary” rather than “with others”; or “personal” and not “general.” When we do that, we make a serious mistake.

Rather than see them as separate, we should look at them as two parts of the whole worship experience. Our personal devotions, our quiet times contemplating a passage of Scripture, the privacy of our most personal prayers have a direct relationship to our worship with the gathered community on the Lord’s Day. What we do on our own, apart from the fellowship of believers, is our “homework” to prepare ourselves for involvement in the church’s common worship. Both parts are essential.

This is not a new idea. John Calvin (and he probably wasn’t the first) wrote about it nearly five centuries ago: “…we must hold that he who declines to pray in the public meeting of the saints knows not what it is to pray apart, in retirement, or at home. On the other hand, he who neglects to pray alone and in private, however sedulously he frequents public meetings, there gives his prayers to the wind, because he defers more to the opinion of man than to the secret judgment of God.” (See Institutes, Book 3, Chapter 20, Section 29.)

There are many different ways of doing our “homework,” a variety of disciplines, numerous spiritual exercises. Reading Scripture and meditating on the text is a good way. So is just finding time to be quiet and listen to the breath of life, in one’s own body, in the world around. Many find scheduled prayer does the trick. Prayerful reading of the newspaper can even be good preparation, as is remembering family, friends and strangers and their particular needs.

When we do this kind of homework, we come to church on Sunday equipped to make the most general prayers personal, filling them with content from our own lives and experiences.

What are other ways to do “homework” that prepares one to worship with the community and celebrate God’s grace given in Jesus Christ in the most personal way?

1 comment:

  1. I have found in our family that praying together, while not solitary, is home-work, and prepares us to a degree.

    We found years ago that the kids were saying grace at dinner by rote, and it was not meaningful. While bedtime prayers were more thoughtful, the dinner prayer was something to get out of the way. So I found a book published by a local church with a grace for ever day of the year. We started reading each day, allowing the kids to read as soon as they were able the prayers that were within their abilities. This slowed us down at dinner, brought us together as we explained complicated language or discussed the meaning of a particular phrase. Often one child or another says something that my husband and I find ourselves thinking on hours or days later.

    We've been using the book almost 10 years now, and I'm pleased to report that on days when we can't locate the book, our children make up prayers very easily. I think reading all the different prayers has helped provide them a language to express themselves in prayer. This is only a small portion of our home faith lives, but a part that opened the door to other things.


Thanks for joining in the conversation!