The story of the Pharisee and the publican is one that I have heard since I was a little boy. One man stands up and says a prayer that if posted on social media might be followed by #HumbleBrag. He proclaims his accomplishments and piety in the guise of a prayer of thanksgiving. The other man quietly and privately prays, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” Jesus follows the story by telling his listeners that the humble tax collector went home justified, while the pious Pharisee did not. He then says that those who exalt themselves will be humbled, while those who humble themselves will be exalted.
Prayer is a fascinating interaction. Sometimes it seems a little overwhelming. I have a direct line to the creator of the universe?! Talk about pressure. I get nervous when I have to talk to important humans! Of course, I am joking, but sometimes I take prayer for granted. I forget that I am the creation and God is the creator. I forget that God wants to commune with me, and I simply use prayer as my magic lamp. I forget how personal yet powerful prayer can be.
With that in mind, let me expound upon the music being played and sung this Sunday. I plan to open our worship with a setting of “Be Thou My Vision.” This is a prayer that I need to pray every day – a prayer asking God to be everything to me, a recognition that nothing else really matters.
Be thou my vision, O Lord of my heart,
Naught be all else to me, save that thou art;
Thou my best thought by day or by night,
Waking or sleeping, thy presence my light
Several years ago, a friend of mine asked me to arrange “Dear Refuge of My Weary Soul” for her to sing as a solo. I immediately fell in love with both the lyrics and the music and eventually arranged it for SATB choir. I have found so much comfort in this song’s reminder that no matter what trials arise, God longs for us to seek God’s refuge. One of my favorite lines says, “the ear of sovereign grace attends the mourner’s prayer.” This song is really a prayer of that gives thanks for prayer. It reminds me that prayer is a beautiful, comforting gift from God.
Dear refuge of my weary soul, on you, when sorrows rise,
On you, when waves of trouble roll, my fainting hope relies.
To you I tell each rising grief, for you alone can heal;
Your word can bring a sweet relief for every pain I feel.
Have you not bid me seek your face, and shall I seek in vain?
And can the ear of sovereign grace be deaf when I complain?
No, still the ear of sovereign grace attends the mourner’s prayer.
O may I ever find a place to breathe my sorrows there.
O gracious God, where shall I flee? You are my only trust;
My weary soul will cleave to you, though prostrate in the dust.
Your mercy seat is open still, here let my soul retreat;
With humble hope attend your will, and wait beneath your feet
For the offertory, I am playing a piece that was not actually written as a prayer, but paints an amazing picture of the many emotions one feels before, during and after prayer. There are feelings of angst, worry, and anger, but also relief, surrender, and peace. I truly believe that God longs to hear from us honestly. God wants us to be willing to show our vulnerability and doubt. God longs to show us God’s faithfulness and ever-present, unconditional love.
Finally, the postlude is a prayer for God to put a song of praise in our mouths. Then we can proclaim God’s unending and unchanging love to any who will listen!
Come, thou fount of every blessing,
Tune my heart to sing thy grace:
Streams of mercy, never ceasing,
Call for songs of loudest praise.
Teach me some melodious sonnet,
Sung by flaming tongues above;
Praise the mount! I’m fixed upon it,
Mount of God’s unchanging love
Music for Sunday:
“Meditation” from Celtic Suite by Charles Callahan
(Be Thou My Vision, lyrics from an Irish poem, trans. By Mary E. Byrne; music from a traditional Irish ballad.) © 2016 Birnamwood Publications.
“Dear Refuge of My Weary Soul,” lyrics by Anne Steele; music by Matthew Merker; arranged by Shelton Ridge Love. © 2016 Sovereign Grace Praise/Matthew Merker Music.
“Adagio” from Sonatine for Organ Pedals Alone by Vincent Persichetti. © 1955 Elkan-Vogel, Inc.