On the rhythm of church liturgies and the life of faith.
Having been born and raised — and now privileged to pastor — in the Baptist church, I am confident in stating that there is a pronounced aversion to the notion of following a church calendar. You will not find many Baptist congregations celebrating “All Saints’ Day,” remembering “Maundy Thursday,” or practicing Lent. Neither would you find any sort of lectionary being followed throughout the year from which the preacher is aided in selecting sermon texts. A large swath recoil at such ideas, deeming them too “Catholic,” too “high church.” Whether or not such disgust is warranted or not, I believe that there remains a vast misunderstanding as to what the seasons of the orthodox church calendar are intended to inspire.
God, indeed, has fashioned his creation to function according to rhythms and seasons. “There is an occasion for everything, and a time for every activity under heaven,” the Preacher declares in Ecclesiastes. (Ecc 3:1) As much as we baulk at it, our lives are ruled by seasons that operate according to the Maker’s design. “He has made everything appropriate in its time,” the Preacher continues, “[and] there is no adding to it.” (Ecc 3:11, 14) War and peace. Laughter and lamentation. Birthing and dying. These are not season to be resisted; they are to embraced. “Time,” writes professor and pastor Zack Eswine, “offers a repeated rhythm of beginnings and endings. Learning to receive rather than resist these rhythms, we draw nearer to God and his purposes for the life and lot he has given us.”1 And there is no better way to draw near to God and receive his pattern and purpose for us than through prayer.
Prayer is undoubtedly the greatest Christian privilege. The good news of free access to the Father’s throne of grace is an incomprehensible benefit of Jesus’s gospel. (Rom 5:1–5; Heb 4:14–16) But prayer is also one of the hardest spiritual disciplines, primarily because prayer, in and of itself, necessitates a self-abnegation of the throne of our hearts. And that is something with which the Old Adam continually struggles. Rather than giving us swords and spears with which to take down the bastions of Satan’s influence, though, prayer reminds us that the primary posture of those “in the Lord’s army” is that of kneeling. (2 Cor 10:3–5) “The primary way,” writes Derek Prime and Alistair Begg, “to overcome Satan is on our knees.”2 We do not fight but rather submit to and rejoice in Christ’s victory for us. Christus Victor is the language of every prayer, public or private. We pray to bear our soul, to voice our suffering, to align our hearts to the One who is our Ransom. (1 Tm 2:1–6) “God’s house is a place of prayer,” continues Eswine, “a place where God draws near to listen to the plight of human beings under the sun with their lot and their seasons, their disquiet and their delights.”3
The extent to which you are not engaged in prayer is the extent to which you are relying on your own strength.4
And so it is that both the corporate liturgy held by a church body and the individual prayer life of its minister have the same design: to engage the Christian both publicly and privately into the rhythm and humility of the life of faith. Liturgical services should not be avoided or discarded because they are liturgical. Instead, liturgies help us assimilate to both the rhythm of the church and the rhythm of the redemptive narrative of Scripture. The annual services of the church and the life of prayer, in the sanctuary and in the closet, are solemn reminders that we are not the rulers of our own lives. We are not the kings of our own kingdoms. Rather, we have been gloriously and graciously grafted into a better Kingdom by a King who invaded our realm and scandalously shed his own blood in order bring foreigners inside, and bring them close. (Eph 2:12–13) Prayer and annual worship remind us that our times are in Someone else’s hands. (Pss 31:15; 37:23; Job 14:5) Hands that still bear the scars of our redemption.
Zack Eswine, Rediscovering Eden: The Gospel According to Ecclesiastes (Phillipsburg, PA: P&R Publishing, 2014), 118.
Derek J. Prime and Alistair Begg, On Being a Pastor: Understanding Our Calling and Work (Chicago: Moody, 2004), 66.
Jared C. Wilson, The Gospel-Driven Church: Uniting Church-Growth Dreams with the Metrics of Grace (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2019), 77.