This service was submitted by Philip Stel, pastor of First Christian Reformed Church, Lansing, Illinois. It was a joint service of three churches: Bethel Christian Reformed Church and First Christian Reformed Church of Lansing, Illinois, and Munster Christian Reformed Church, Munster, Indiana.
Processional and Scripture Readings
The Altar of Incense Prayer: Exodus 30:1-8
“Old Testament” Prayer: Luke 1:8-10; Psalm 141:1-2
New Testament Prayer: Hebrews 4:14-16; James 5:16b;
John 14:6, 13; Matthew 18:20
Prayer Before the Throne: Revelation 8:2-5
As the service was about to begin, the lights were dimmed. Four men dressed in burgundy choir robes walked down the middle aisle carrying an “altar of incense” (traditional wooden baptismal font) with rings mounted on the sides through which poles had been slipped. A voice read the Old Testament explanation of the symbolism of the altar from Exodus 30:1-8. All eyes were on the procession. The platform/stage/pulpit area had been extended into the congregation seating and the “altar” was placed at the end of the extension.
During the “Old Testament” Scripture reading (Luke 1:8-10; Ps. 141:1-2), a young person walked in holding a burning incense candle and stood on stage at the front of the sanctuary. Then a second young person entered with a burning incense candle as another voice read the New Testament Scripture reading (Heb. 4:14-16; James 5:16b; John 14:6, 13; Matt. 18:20). As the third burning incense candle was brought forward, a voice read Revelation 8:2-5.
The candles were then placed on the “altar.”
At this point a pastor explained the symbolism of the altar and the incense. The smoke from the altar symbolizes the prayers of God’s people. The incense represents the purifying, mediating work and prayers of Jesus that make our prayers acceptable to God as a sweet-smelling savor. For our prayers to be heard and answered by God, they need to be offered in Jesus’ name.
Prayers in Jesus’ Name
Prayer of Invocation
A pastor opened with prayer and we began a four-part service using the acrostic ACTS to structure our prayers. The first part, Adoration, was mostly singing songs of praise and adoration. We concluded each section of our service with the chorus of “Be unto Your Name (Lynn DeShazo and Gary Sadler © 1998 Integrity’s Hosanna! Music).”
Songs of Praise and Worship
“Jesus, Your Name” CH 119, WR 361
“He Is Exalted” CH 36, SNC 41, SWM 138, WR 122
“There Is Strength in the Name of the Lord” CH 299, WR 125
“All Hail the Power of Jesus’ Name” CH 43, PH 142, 143, PsH 470, 471, TH 296, 297, WR 100, 106
“Be unto Your Name”
Call to Confession
When the Israelites, journeying from all over Palestine, arrived at the courtyard of the tabernacle or temple, they were met by a priest, who said, “Stop. You cannot go any further. You are a sinner. You are entering into the presence of a holy God. Your sins are an offence and an abomination that separate you from God, and if you go any further, you will be incinerated.”
At that point the worshiper would confess his sins and give an animal as his sin offering.
You could not enter into the presence of God without confession and without a sacrifice for a sin offering.
In the next few moments, I will lead you into a prayer of confession, after which we will have time to bring our honest confession of sin to God, individually, in the quiet of our hearts.
We know that God will forgive us because the sacrifice has been offered. Jesus died to pay for our sins. And we know that God will hear us because we are praying in Jesus’ name. God wants us to be honest with him and with ourselves.
Prayer of Confession
Individual Silent Prayers of Confession
Prayer from Psalm 51
Have mercy on me, O God,
according to your steadfast love;
according to your abundant mercy
blot out my transgressions.
Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,
and cleanse me from my sin.
For I know my transgressions,
and my sin is ever before me.
Against you, you alone, have I sinned,
and done what is evil in your sight,
so that you are justified in your sentence
and blameless when you pass judgment.
You desire truth in the inward being;
therefore teach me wisdom in my secret heart.
Hide your face from my sins,
and blot out all my iniquities.
Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and put a new and right spirit within me.
Do not cast me from your presence,
and do not take your Holy Spirit from me.
Song: “Be unto Your Name”
The Thanksgiving section began with a children’s choir drawn from the three churches, followed by children leading in prayers they had written. (This could be a good Sunday school project.) At this time we brought our gifts of money and song.
Prayers of Thanksgiving
Songs of Thanksgiving
“For the Beauty of the Earth” CH 793, PH 473, PsH 432, SWM 54, SFL 89, TH 116, WR 40
“Be unto Your Name”
For the final section, we used two microphones set up in front. Ahead of time we created a list of some 40 topics for prayer and recruited members to pray one- or two-sentence prayers on each of these topics. Those people were invited to the front and asked to alternate between the mikes. These were powerful moments. Forty thoughtful, well-composed prayers were offered in nine minutes from members of all ages. Each prayer ended with “in Jesus’ name.”
Song of Response: “ Be u nto Your Name ”
God Responds to our Prayers
[During the reading of Revelation 8:2-5, a fast drum roll was crescendoing in the background.]
“And I saw the seven angels who stand before God, and to them were given seven trumpets. Another angel, who had a golden censer, came and stood at the altar. He was given much incense to offer, with the prayers of all the saints, on the golden altar before the throne. The smoke of the incense, together with the prayers of the saints, went up before God from the angel’s hand. Then the angel took the censer, filled it with fire from the altar, and hurled it on the earth; and there came peals of thunder, rumblings, flashes of lightning and an earthquake.”
Doxology: “Jesus Shall Reign” CH 375, PH 423, PsH 412, TH 441, WR 341