Sermon Preparation Part 8 - Preparing the Order of Worship and Public Prayer - by C. Matthew McMahonSermon Preparation and Guidelines for Expository Preaching
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“God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth,”” (John 4:24).
“Oh, worship the LORD in the beauty of holiness! Tremble before Him, all the earth,” (Psalm 96:9).
Ancient rabbinical services in any given synagogue (houses of assembly) were generally identical in the basics of worship. (Make special note of how the service revolves around the Word of God). The synagogue (not the temple) were the precursors of the church (the ekklasia gathering together).
There was an initial blessing / invocation surrounding worship and the attributes of God.
Next the “psalms” section occurred where they were sung, and also used for prayer.
Next was the Amidah (meaning standing) where there would be given the 18 blessings, and then a silent prayer was personally encouraged.
Then came the reading of the Torah, and a prayer.
Then came the sermon.
Then finally the blessing.
In some cases there would be a subsequent Kiddush which was a blessing over the wine in the sabbath hall for a fellowship.
In ancient worship services, we have the following from Justin in A.D. 67:
On the day called Sunday there is a gathering together in the same place of all who live in a given city or rural district. The memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read, as long as time permits. Then when the reader ceases, the president in a discourse admonishes and urges the imitation of these good things. Next we all rise together and send up prayers.
When we cease from our prayer, bread is presented and wine and water. The president in the same manner sends up prayers and thanksgivings, according to his ability, and the people sing out their assent, saying the “Amen.” A distribution and participation of the elements for which thanks have been given is made to each person, and to those who are not present they are sent by the deacons.
Those who have means and are willing, each according to his own choice, gives what he wills, and what is collected is deposited with the president. He provides for the orphans and widows, those who are in need on account of sickness or some other cause, those who are in bonds, strangers who are sojourning, and in a word he becomes the protector of all who are in need.
We all make our assembly in common on Sunday, since it is the first day, on which God changed the darkness and matter and made the world, and Jesus Christ our Savior arose from the dead on the same day. For they crucified him on the day before Saturn’s day, and on the day after (which is the day of the Sun) he appeared to his apostles and disciples and taught these things, which we have offered for your consideration.
—First Apology, 67
The Order of Christian Worship (1647 WCF)
- Let all enter the assembly, not irreverently, but in a grave and seemly manner, taking their seats or places without adoration, or bowing themselves towards one place or other.
- The congregation being assembled, the minister, after solemn calling on them to the worshiping of the great name of God (the invocation), is to begin with prayer.
- The word of God is to be read from both testaments. How large a portion shall be read at once, is left to the wisdom of the minister. (When the minister who readeth shall judge it necessary to expound any part of what is read, let it not be done until the whole chapter or psalm be ended.)
- A Psalm is to be sung.
- A Prayer of Confession and Supplication is given for the congregation.
- The Sermon is to be given (having been put together painfully, not negligently) and is to be preached faithfully, wisely, gravely, with loving affection, and as taught by God.
- There is a Prayer after the sermon for the success of the message and work of the Gospel.
- A Psalm is to be sung.
- Dismissal with blessing (Benediction).
A Typical Reformed Worship Service
Welcome and Announcements
Call to Worship
Invocation / Prayer
A Psalm is Sung
OT Scripture Reading
Confessional / Pastoral Prayer
NT Scripture Reading
Prayer of Illumination for the Sermon
Reading the Scripture Text and the Sermon
Prayer of Application
Closing Prayer and Benediction
[Administration of the Lord’s Supper and/or Baptism]
The Cohesive Whole
In dealing with both the choice of the Psalms to be sung, the nature of the prayers, and the reading of the Scripture, all of these must be set down in accordance with prudence in relation to the sermon. The order of worship is a cohesive whole and the parts should compliment one another. The job of the minister is to conduct the service with reverence and godly fear.
This means the minister must conduct a service he has practiced beforehand. This is more than simply choosing a text for reading, or in some random fashion choosing a psalm to be sung.
Consider the importance of reading the Scripture well. Many preachers exalt the sermon at the expense of worship. The main responsibility falls on the preacher in the service. In this, William Taylor said, “It is pertinent to remind you that the first grand indispensable qualification for the leading of public devotion is a filial heart.” This should show in leading worship and reading Scripture.
Robert Leighton said, “This is one great cause of our wandering, that we do not, at our entrance into prayer, compose ourselves to due thoughts of God and to set ourselves in His presence; this would do much to ballast our minds, that they tumble not to and fro, as is their custom.”
The minister is to bring people to the throne of grace, the place he has visited all week long in his closet and study. In this, the minds and hearts of the worshipers may be rightly affected as they draw near to God.
In considering this, the public reading of the Scriptures should be both practical and doctrinal. Neither should be overlooked. The minister should give his whole attention to the passage he is reading. Remember that it is God’s word you are dealing with, and that greater results may be expected from that than from any of your own preaching. William Taylor says,
“Michael Angelo said, “Little things contribute to perfection, and that is not a little thing.” Besides, their apparent minuteness, coupled with the undoubted light which attention to them sheds upon the several passages, suggests the inference that great attention should be given to preparation for the public reading of the Scriptures. You ought to study the passage carefully beforehand, if possible, with the original at your side, and you should, by the help of every exegetical appliance at your command, make up your mind as to the meaning which it bears, so that you may indicate that perfectly to those who hear you. Do not delude yourself into the belief that it is an easy thing to read thus. In truth, there are few things so hard, and it has come to be much harder than otherwise it might have been, because preachers generally persist in thinking that it is easy.”
I quote Taylor at length in this very important section:
Extempore preaching may do for some, but extempore reading is impossible for anybody. Of course it is easy to name the words correctly, but that is not reading. That is only accelerated spelling. Reading is the presentation through the voice of the thoughts which the sacred author has put into words: and for that, study is indispensable. You might as well expect an actor to give a perfect presentation of a character, on his first reading of a play, as imagine that a preacher can, without previous preparation, give a proper rendering of any passage in any author, how much less in a book so many-sided and suggestive as the Bible. Always prepare yourself for this exercise, therefore, and at length your reading of the Scriptures may be as effective in the conversion of sinners, and the edification of the people of God, as any sermon.
The minister should read the passage distinctly and intelligently, that it may stand clearly before the minds of the people in its own unapproachable sublimity.
Every earnest minister will tell you that the prayer gives the tone to the entire service. It is the key of the position. It holds in itself the success or the failure of the day. Prayer is exertion, and it is a hard work. The minister should not pray simply to allow his hearers listen to his soliloquy. Prayer is a direct address to God, and any reflex action of the soul as it muses on some phase of its own experience, or moralizes from it, is out of place in such an exercise. Prayers should be definite, direct and real; not artificial.
Hear William Plumer on this aspect of writing out your prayers to be well-prepared:
Praying is an important part of public worship. It embraces adoration, thanksgiving, confession, supplication, intercession, and filling our mouths with arguments before God in behalf of our requests. A scriptural phraseology is usually the best. It is desirable that there should be fluency (not flippancy) in prayer. Hesitancy distracts or diverts attention from the substance of what is offered. Nor should prayers be tedious. The longest prayer in the bible recorded is in 1 Kings which runs 51 verses. It generally takes eight to nine minutes to read aloud. Consider this in your prayers.
Is it best to study our prayers, and even at times to write them? The answer to this question may easily be abused. The minister ought not to be hasty to utter any thing before God needlessly. His words should be few and well ordered. This requires thought and care. And as some men do not know how loose and disconnected their thoughts are until they see them in writing or in print, so the rambling character of many addresses to the Almighty would be cured if it had been written down with care. Dr. Chalmers wrote many of his prayers even for his class-room.
Samuel Miller wrote an excellent work called Thoughts on Public Prayer, where he says the following in summary:
One of the most essential excellencies in public prayer is that it abound in the language of the word of God. This language is always right, always safe, and always edifying. Another excellence of a good public prayer is, that it be orderly. That is, that it have a real and perceptible order. Not that it be characterized by formality; not that it be always in the same order; but still that its several parts of adoration, confession, thanksgiving, petition and intercession, should not be jumbled together in careless, inconsiderate mixture. A suitable prayer in the public assembly is dignified and general in its plan, and comprehensive in its requests, without descending to too much detail. The whole manner of uttering a public prayer should be in accordance with the humble, filial, affectionate, yet reverential spirit, which ought to characterize the prayer itself throughout.
No minister can hope to attain excellence in the grace and gift of prayer in the public assembly, unless they abound in closet devotion, and in holy communion with God in secret. One means of attaining excellence in public prayer is the habit of devotional composition.
An Example of Worship
Since we have been using Luke 16:1-8 as our sermon example, I apply this sermon and choices of worship from that preparation. The Psalms to be sung will surround mercy, as will the texts to be read.
Call to Worship
“But as for me, I will come into Your house in the multitude of Your mercy; In fear of You I will worship toward Your holy temple.” (Psa. 5:7).
Invocation / Prayer
Mighty God and Everlasting Father, may your Spirit speak to us on this day you have made, that we might be glad in it, that we may commune with you and worship you before your holy throne. We have no goodness or merit, so let the goodness and merit of Jesus stand for us. We are undeserving, but we look to your tender mercy. We are full of infirmities, needs and sin. You are full of grace.
You have given us a Master and Lord, Your Son, Jesus, and now our heart is turned towards holiness, our life speeds as an arrow from a bow towards complete obedience to you. Help us in all our worship, that we might rise above our sin and humble our pride. Aid us to cast off the love of the world and the pride of life, from everything that is natural to fallen man, and let Christ’s nature be seen in clearly this morning by us all. Grant us grace where we may honor the Lord Jesus Christ, and worship in the beauty of holiness on your majestic mount Zion. In Christ name we pray, Amen.
A Psalm is Sung – Psalm 100 A (The Book of Psalms for Worship)
OT Scripture Reading – Psalm 136:1 (A Psalm of God’s Merciful Work in Creation and History)
Confessional / Pastoral Prayer – This prayer would be composed based on the needs of the congregation and the current Providences in the church.
NT Scripture Reading – 1 Peter 2:1-10 (Living Stones who Have Received Mercy)
A Psalm is Sung – 9b (The Book of Psalms for Worship)
Prayer of Illumination for the Sermon
Almighty God, in you are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. Open our eyes that we may see the wonders of your Word; and give us grace that we may clearly understand and follow the way of your wisdom. We do not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from your mouth; make us hunger for this heavenly food, that it may nourish us today in the ways of eternal life; that we may feast on Jesus Christ, the bread of heaven. Aid your servant in bringing forth the word of God that he may glorify you, and aid your people to hear these words of life, as they are, the words of God. In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.
Reading the Scripture Text and the Sermon – Luke 16:1-8, The Undeserving Mercy of the Master
Prayer of Application
Eternal Father, you are indeed, infinitely merciful, overflowing and filled with all-mercy, and you desire your people to cast themselves upon your abundant and merciful provision of Jesus Christ, our Master. You show us your amazing love, in that Christ came to bring your people mercy, to send your Son to suffer in our place, and apply the everlasting benefits of Christ to our weary souls. Permit your just stewards to be ever active for your glory, and to rely steadily on your grace, that they may rejoice in the victory of Christ’s salvation. Send your Spirit to motion us toward a zealous resolve to be wiser than the children of this generation, and cause us to hold steadfastly to your word that we might be strengthened by it; help us to be sons of light. Enable us to to receive your word with meekness and correction and joy, that we may rightly discern your providential leadings in our everyday life. Make your word to us a spiritual advantage, and press us to consider how we might imitate the unjust steward, justly, for your glory. In Christ’s name we pray, Amen.
A Psalm is Sung – Psalm 103A (The Book of Psalms for Worship)
Closing Benediction – “The LORD bless you and keep you; The LORD make His face shine upon you, And be gracious to you;
The LORD lift up His countenance upon you, And give you peace. So they shall put My name on the children of Israel, and I will bless them,” (Numbers 6:24-27).