I t was in First Reformed Church of Chatham, Ontario, that I first thought of world prayer as missional. I had been a pastor for about seven years at that point, serving several years in a church in Holland, Michigan, and then returning to Canada to work for the Reformed Church in America’s Regional Synod of Canada.
One of the joys of my current position is to travel to the Reformed Church in America’s Canadian churches to worship with them, to hear the stories of God’s grace, and to offer resources and support for mission and ministry. I truly feel that I am part of a giant spiritual family that spans the entire country, as I am warmly welcomed into every church “household” that I visit. It is a great honour. It is also a great learning opportunity.
On this particular Sunday, Pastor Barry Wynveen prayed a moving prayer for the needs of the world, referring knowledgeably to current global events, world leaders, and cultural needs. It was not the first time I had heard him pray like that. But this time, something touched me differently. I remember thinking that prayers like this move me to think and pray differently about the needs of the world and to become more involved in helping to meet those needs myself.
As it turns out, setting the Prayers of the People* in the context of mission is both deeply scriptural and deeply Reformed. The scriptural pattern of Romans as reflected in the Heidelberg Catechism (in the thematic progression of guilt, grace, and gratitude) is also seen in the three-part flow of the worship of the Reformed Church in America: Approach, Word, and Response. It is in the “Response” section of the service that we are invited out into a life of mission: “Our service does not end with the benediction but rather continues into the week and into the world through lives of faith … Reformed worship does not embrace mission as an optional component but perceives our commitment to ‘be sent’ as essential to our call. It is not by accident that it is in the “Response” section of the service that the Prayers of the People are located.
This is because the Prayers of the People are not only intercessory but they are also formational, and they are missional. They both shape us for, and compel us into, mission. As both Mother Teresa and R.C. Sproul said, “Prayer changes us.” Of course, it’s true that through God’s power, prayer changes things outside of us too, “all kinds of things. But the most important thing it changes is us” (Sproul).
Many of us already celebrate World Day of Prayer, which dates back to the 19th century when Christian women of United States and Canada initiated a variety of cooperative activities in support of mission at home and in other parts of the world. Others of us use resources like www.worldinprayer.org, Operation World, or The Worship Sourcebook. Some simply write their prayers, as Karl Barth recommended, with a Bible in one hand and a newspaper in the other. However we do it, let us continue to see the Prayers of the People as missional, forming us for, and compelling us into, God’s mission of restoration and renewal for all people.
Let us pray, using these words adapted from the Liturgy, or the order of worship, of the Reformed Church in America.
God of compassion,
grateful for your gifts and mindful of the communion of your saints,
we offer to you our prayers for all people.
Today we remember before you
the poor and the afflicted,
the sick and the dying,prisoners and all who are lonely,
the victims of war, injustice, and inhumanity,
and all others who suffer from whatever their sufferings may be called.
O Lord of Providence,
who holds the destiny of the nations in your hand,
we pray for our country.
Inspire the hearts and minds of our leaders
that they, together with all our nation,
may first seek your kingdom and righteousness
so that order, liberty, and peace may dwell with your people.
O God the Creator,
we pray for all nations and peoples.
Take away the mistrust and lack of understanding
that divide your creatures;
increase in us the recognition that we are all your children.
O Savior God,
look upon your church in its struggle upon the earth.
Have mercy on its weakness,
bring to an end its unhappy divisions,
and scatter its fears.
Look also upon the ministry of your church.
Increase its courage, strengthen its faith,
and inspire its witness to all people,
even to the ends of the earth.
Even so, come, Lord Jesus, we pray.
* Prayers of the People is the part of worship when a congregation asks God to make things whole again in the church, community, and world, and offers itself to God to be part of that reconciling work.
This article was also published in RCA Today, the Reformed Church in America’s denominational magazine.