When Do We Pray at the Window?

This may or may not surprise you, but pastors don’t have all the answers–even when it comes to what the Bible means and when it comes to how we apply Scripture to our present day lives and circumstances.

But sometimes it’s just as important to ask good questions as it is to provide good answers.

Case in point. One evening when my family and I were doing our Advent devotions, the story we read was from Daniel 6. At this point in the story, Daniel–who was an exile in pagan Babylon–had become very important to King Darius and was about to be placed in a position of even greater authority. But he had also made some enemies. These enemies conspired to trap Daniel by convincing the king to sign an edict which stated that for 30 days prayers could only be offered to Darius. Anyone caught praying to any other god would be thrown into the lions’ den. Essentially, they wanted to catch Daniel praying to the God of Israel in order to have reason and opportunity to get rid of him. Here is how Daniel responded to the situation:

When Daniel learned that the document had been signed, he went into his house. The windows in its upstairs room opened toward Jerusalem, and three times a day he got down on his knees, prayed, and gave thanks to his God, just as he had done before. 

Daniel 6:10

The passage strongly implies that after learning of the edict, Daniel proceeded to pray as he had always done: at his window which faced the city of Jerusalem. Whatever edict Darius had signed, Daniel was going to practice his faith exactly as he had always done.

My family had quite a discussion about this passage. Since that evening I’ve not been able to get this story out of my head. In particular, I was left wondering whether Daniel could have prayed differently. Did he have to pray in front of the window? Is that how he was found out? Did he do so knowing he could be caught and be thrown into the lions’ den? Were his actions not only an act of faithfulness to the God of Israel but also an act of defiance in relation to the nation of Babylon? Could he not have prayed differently, out of view?

Unfortunately, the text doesn’t seem to tell us. And my limited commentary selection indicates that Daniel–who was probably around 80 years of age by this time–knew what he was doing. Daniel faced a dilemma: be faithful to God or obedient to Babylon. And so he knelt in front of the window in his home facing Jerusalem and prayed three times a day just as he had done before.

Perhaps doing it any other way wouldn’t even have occurred to Daniel. And if it did, he clearly chose to go ahead anyway and pray just as he had done before.

Here are some questions that have been on my mind because of this passage.

Could Daniel have prayed faithfully without engaging in the specific physical posture of kneeling before the window? Why or why not?

Is it only explicit calls by governing authorities to deny what we believe–that is, deny that Jesus is Lord and Savior–that we are called to disobey? Or is it also possible to deny our Lord via our actions? How do we know when that is happening? Can I deny Christ with my body as well as with my beliefs, thoughts and words? Under what conditions do we, like Daniel, practice our faith just as we had done before?

Plenty of Bible passages and historical liturgical practices point to the physicality of worship, to postures and actions that are assumed to be inseparable from the beliefs which underlie them. There are also direct commands in Scripture to lift our hands, to bow, to kneel, to sing, and to come together in fellowship. Is it always possible and right to separate our worship from our bodies? What connection exists–and should exist–between our faith and our physical actions?

Put another way: When do we pray at the window?

Those are my questions. I’m not sure how to answer them. Maybe you don’t agree that all of my questions are relevant or fair ones to ask. Maybe you have more clear answers than I do. If so, I’d love to hear from you.

Music to My Ears

During the two COVID shutdowns in our province, when we couldn’t gather in our church building for worship, my family live-streamed a worship service from our living room. Last year we did it live on Facebook and this year we’ve been going live on YouTube. We’ve been calling it “Homemade Worship.” We play songs, say prayers, read Scripture, and share a message of biblical truth to teach and encourage those who watch.

One of the blessings of “Homemade Worship” is having everyone in our family play an instrument. My wife usually plays piano or ukulele. Our boys often play various percussion instruments, like the cajon, boom-whackers, and egg shakers. One of our sons sometimes plays a little bit of violin. Our daughter will alternate between boom-whackers and ukulele. I play guitar (more or less). Dogs occasionally bark. 

Tomorrow (Sunday, June 20) may well be the last time we have “Homemade Worship.” The COVID guidelines have changed and we will be returning to our building as a congregation the following week. When we do, we will take a little bit of “Homemade Worship” with us since we will bring a bunch of our instruments to the church with us. 

And, honestly, it’s been our times of lockdown that got us playing together more as a family at home and at church. I’ve really enjoyed it. Practices aren’t always smooth. There are occasional creative differences. Not everyone brings the needed enthusiasm each time. In the end it more or less comes together. While never perfect, being able to do this as a family has been music to my ears.

Preparing for Sunday Worship

For the last two weeks I have been on vacation. It’s been very nice to have the rest. When I am back to work on Monday, my family and I will have had the chance to visit two other churches on a Sunday morning. One blessing, of course, is that I have been much more relaxed on Saturdays for the last couple of weeks. Even though I usually have my sermon done before the weekend, on Saturdays I sometimes still have some last minute preparations for the worship service.

And that’s what I want to touch on here: Preparing for Sundays. Because I bet most Christians don’t think about preparing for Sunday worship. That’s what the pastor, worship leader, and Sunday school teachers have to do. The rest of us can just show up.

You see, we often think of Sundays as a time of worship and fellowship that prepares us for the rest of the week. It’s where we get our spiritual fill-up. It’s our boost so we can face life’s trials on the other six days. And of course there’s truth to this.

But maybe we can also think of it another way.

What if the other six days are also preparation for Sunday? What if the quality of our experience on Sunday morning in part depends on the quality of our prayer lives the rest of the week? What if our heart’s receptivity to Scripture during the pastor’s sermon depends in part on reading the Bible between Monday and Saturday? Indeed, what if experiencing God’s presence and leading in our lives depends not only on our attendance in church, but on whether or not we are intentionally attending to God’s presence in our lives beyond that one hour or so on Sundays?

Bottom line? Each and every believer has to prepare for Sunday worship.

Here are a few suggestions about how to prepare.

  1. Read your Bible. Yes, yes, I know. Every pastor and church leader says this. But maybe we say it over and over because it’s true. That said, it helps to have a plan. Choose a book of the Bible to read through. Alternate between the Old and New Testament. Don’t be intimidated. Start simple. Read prayerfully through a shorter book, like 1 John. Read a Psalm or a chapter of Proverbs a day. Read it at your pace. Take notes, if that helps. There are resources to use if you come across confusing or hard to understand portions of Scripture. Ask God to open your eyes to the simple truth of his word.
  2. Pray for Sunday morning. Ask God to prepare your heart and the hearts of the congregation to meet with him together in worship. People arrive on Sunday morning with a mixture of expectations and emotions. Maybe some feel anxious. Others could feel complacent and distant. Some might feel guilt and shame. Pray that God would meet people where they are with the good, liberating, powerful news of Jesus! We can also get so used to our worship services that we don’t expect anything of spiritual significance to happen. Pray that God would move in a special way during your time together. Pray for those who lead the service.
  3. Think about who you can invite or encourage to come to church. Who do you know who hasn’t been in a long time? Who do you know who might be open to coming to church? Maybe you can pray during the week for someone you’d like to invite. Ask God to place someone on your heart and mind and to give you the courage to talk to them about joining you. What an encouragement to your pastor (and to everyone else) it would be if you showed up with a friend!
  4. Ask your pastor how you can help during the service. I’m serious about this. Pastors are busy, whether they pastor with other leaders or are a solo pastor. There’s a lot to think about for a Sunday morning. It could be something as simple as volunteering to read Scripture, to lead in prayer, to share a testimony about how God has been at work in your life, or to greet people at the door. Or perhaps you have a gift that would really bless people on a Sunday morning: poetry, a song, a dramatic reading of Scripture, or fresh baked goods to pass around. But take some initiative.

Taking time to prepare for Sunday worship is about recognizing that you are a member of the Body of Christ. Whether or not your church’s Sunday morning worship is life-giving and encouraging depends not only on how hard your pastors and leaders work but on how God is working through you.

How can you prepare for joining your brothers and sisters for worship tomorrow?

Here are two collect prayers from The Book of Common Prayer (2019) that you may find helpful as you reflect on attending your church’s worship service tomorrow:

“O God, the source of eternal light: Shed forth your unending day upon us who watch for you, that our lips may praise you, our lives may bless you, and our worship on the morrow give you glory; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”

“Almighty God, who after the creation of the world rested from all your works and sanctified a day of rest for all your creatures: Grant that we, putting away all earthly anxieties, may be duly prepared for the service of your sanctuary, and that our rest here upon earth may be a preparation for the eternal rest promised to your people; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”

I pray that your time of congregational worship tomorrow would be encouraging and life-giving, because our Lord Jesus has met you, and those around you, through one another by the power of his Holy Spirit.

Experiencing More of the Church

My three kids are, obviously, pastor’s kids. Yes, that alone is enough to keep them in prayer. But for them, church has been a certain way all their lives. While not necessarily a bad thing, it does mean they have had a pretty narrow experience of church. Not only are they mostly familiar with Baptist churches, they are mostly familiar with our Baptist church. I know, I know. I can just hear you, “What? Not all Baptists are the same? Get out!”

Beyond that, of course, they have had very little exposure to other Christian traditions such as Anglican, Lutheran, Roman Catholic, Pentecostal, etc.

However, a few weeks ago my wife and I took our two sons (Alas, we couldn’t convince our 16 year old daughter to join us) to an Ash Wednesday service at the nearest Anglican Church. It was the start of the Lenten season of the church and we wanted to begin it the right way.

For our sons, who are 12 year old twins, it was a very strange experience. The priest wore liturgical vestments (which they called robes). They thought that was cool (and for this reason said I should get some robes for myself). There was an altar at the front of the church rather than a pulpit or music stand for the pastor’s sermon notes. Much more of the service felt formal, of course. And we had to go forward twice, once to receive Communion and once so the priest could place ashes on our foreheads.

It was not at all Baptist-like.

Now, since I have been on vacation during our kids’ March break, yesterday we had the unusual opportunity to attend another church on Sunday morning. We could have gone to any number of churches that would have been very similar to our own, where we would even have known the pastor and some of the people in the congregation, but we really wanted to do something different. Both for ourselves and for our kids. So we went back to this same Anglican church yesterday for a regular Sunday service.

Interestingly, the priest of this particular Anglican Church was raised a Southern Baptist. Given that I was raised Roman Catholic Church and am now a Baptist pastor, it made me wonder how his journey of faith would compare to my own.

Here’s the thing: Our own experience of church–mine and yours–can often be so limited. Understandably, since we can only visit churches of other traditions and styles so often depending on where we live and the opportunities we have. But this can mean that our vision of what church means and what being a Christian means is also narrow. Sometimes by virtue of our limited experience we can reduce what is right, good, and true to our own tradition. We can go from having a limited experience of church to thinking that our experience ought to be normative. How we do church is how church should be done.

Looking back at my own life, I am grateful that I have had the chance to experience a variety of churches. In addition to being raised Catholic and now being Baptist, I’ve worshipped in Lutheran, Anglican, Pentecostal, Presbyterian, United, Wesleyan, and plenty of non-denominational churches.

For me, there are at least three ways in which this valuable. First, just like I came to faith in Christ in large part outside of the church in which I was raised, I need to be open to the possibility that it can happen in the same way for my kids. Or that a wider variety of experiences can help them see past the limitations of their own. Christianity is much, much larger than the congregation they know most personally. I don’t want their spiritual journey to be shaped only by their experience of our Baptist church.

Second, there are spiritual riches to receive, and ways to encounter God, by experiencing other church traditions. This is because different traditions have different emphases. I remember, for example, hearing my first sermon in a Baptist setting. I was blown away. I was used to 5 minute homilies. It was such a refreshing change. Indeed, sometimes God can reach our stubborn hearts more easily when we are out of our comfort zones and familiar settings. That’s certainly how God initially got a hold of me.

And lastly, experiencing other church traditions can help us see our own in a fresh light, good and bad. Maybe we (especially if we’re pastors) will see ways of augmenting our approach to worship with practices not typical of our own tradition (in our case Baptist). Most recently, I have made more use of responsive readings and confessions of faith in our worship. I also think it can help us have a deeper appreciation for our own tradition. It gives us fresh perspective.

I don’t know about you, but I can be blessed by God through hymns accompanied by organ or worship songs accompanied by guitars and drums. Both deeply exegetical sermons and more succinct homilies have spoken the word of God into my life. I appreciate quieter, comtemplative worship and more energetic, vibrant worship. I hold in many respects to what one might call “mere Christianity,” the faith that was delivered to the saints once for all (Jude 1:3). Churches that are orthodox, affirm the earliest creeds (The Nicene Creed and the Apostles’ Creed, for example), and the authority of Scripture, are ones I feel able and welcome to worship in. Whatever else is true of the particular church beyond that, I can rejoice that I have a much larger family of brothers and sisters in Christ than I am usually aware of.