Simple prayer ideas for use in worship

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“Teach me to pray, Lord, teach me to pray” is the opening line of a revival hymn by Albert Simpson Reitz:

“This is my heart-cry day unto day;
I long to know Thy will and Thy way;
Teach me to pray, Lord, teach me to pray.”

Hymn texts are often overlooked as potential prayers that can be used in a number of different ways within worship or for private reflection.

One website has selected hymns that suggest themselves as prayers for specific occasions. For example: Jesus, love of my soul (StF 355) is chosen as a “shelter from the storm” prayer, and Dear Lord and Father of mankind (StF495) as a “stress relief” prayer.

Simply by naming Isaac’s Watts’s O God, our help in ages past (StF 132) as a “prayer to God our help”, we may approach this text with fresh eyes. Likewise, by reading through the words of Amazing grace (StF 440) in silence we re-experience the deeply personal nature of these words and are uplifted by the journey that John Newton takes us on over the course of the hymn’s six verses.

Below are suggestions for using hymns as prayer in different ways. The suggestions listed – and how or when they might be used – offer a small sample of what is possible. You will want to take the ideas mentioned and use them with other hymns appropriate to your worship.

1. Singing a prayer
2. Spoken hymns as prayer
3. Sung responses to prayer
4. Using the music only

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1. Singing a prayer

There’s a case to be argued that all hymn singing is praying (St Augustine said that hymn singing is “praying twice”.) But in worship we tend to hedge our bets by including spoken prayer as well as singing.

However, there are occasions on which a sung hymn can stand alone as a prayer. A quiet hymn of confession such as Shirley Erena Murray’s Because you came and sat beside us (StF 420) or Nick and Anita Haigh’s Empty, broken, here I stand (StF 421) does not require to be followed by a spoken prayer of confession – each of those texts stand on their own. In this way, avoid “double prayers”.

Another good example is Look around you, can you see? (StF 525)

Suggested use:

• Encourage people to learn the four parts of the Kyrie refrain. Then have a single voice or small group sing the first two verses and have everyone join in the final verse, beginning “Forgive us, Father; hear our prayer.”
• The Kyrie eleison refrain can also be sung by itself and interspersed with spoken prayers (see below).
• This is a hymn that lends itself to being accompanied with images relating to the words.

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2. Spoken hymns as prayer

Some contemporary hymn writers insist that when their texts are first published they be laid out as words only, like poems, as well as shown interleaved with the music. The writers know that, in many cases, a hymn can be valuable simply when spoken – either by an individual in private prayer or by a congregation. (The Methodist Prayer Handbook includes a hymn for each day of the year, which many people choose to read on their own.)

The following are some examples that also lend themselves to being spoken by a worshipping congregation.

Alleluia, alleluia! The word of the Lord lasts for ever (StF 757)

• Verses that can be spoken either side of the Gospel reading as a prayer of praise

Almighty God, we come to make confession (StF 419)

• Have a worship leader read verses 1 and 4 (on behalf of “we” in the first line of each verse) while the members of the congregation read the second and third verses with their more personal “I” first lines

Dear Lord and Father of mankind (StF 495)

• Methodist minister and hymn writer Andrew Murphy has used this text as the basis for prayers of confession, interleaving the verses of the hymn (to be read by the whole congregation) with additional short prayers. Read here.

I will speak out for those who have no voices (StF 702)

• Suitable as a closing prayer of commitment – try dividing up the lines between two halves of the congregation, left and right as below. Perhaps have them face each other as they exhort each other to action for justice:

L: I will speak out for those who have no voices;
R: I will stand up for the rights of all the oppressed;
L: I will speak truth and justice;
R: I’ll defend the poor and the needy;
All: I will lift up the weak in Jesus’ name.

L: I will speak out for those who have no choices;
R: I will cry out for those who live without love;
L: I will show God’s compassion
R: to the crushed and broken in spirit;
All: I will lift up the weak in Jesus’ name.

Praise to the God who clears the way (StF 183)

• Suitable as a spoken opening prayer of praise on many occasions, including Advent

• There may be an opportunity for a congregation to process into worship speaking these words; alternatively, the worship leader(s) may process in speaking verse 1, while the rest of the congregation speaks (or sings) verses 2-4

Think of a world without any flowers (StF 92)

• Select one or two verses as a spoken prayer, with plenty of space between each line to imagine and reflect

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3. Sung responses to prayer

Many hymns – or parts of hymns – are suitable for singing as a repeated response, either to conclude a single prayer or to be woven into a series of prayers (such as prayers for others).

For example:

Abba Father, let me be (StF 439)

• Suitable for use between prayers of intercession or confession

All I once held dear (StF 489)

• Use the chorus only between spoken prayers (“Knowing you, Jesus, knowing you”)
• Also suitable as a response to the absolution at the close of worship

Be still and know that I am God (StF 18)

• Like many other shorter hymns and songs, this is easily sung unaccompanied (see Singing unaccompanied – some tips)

Come all you people (StF 22)

• Add a drum beat (e.g. with an improvised instrument such as plastic tubing) and encourage children to take part – but you will need someone who can teach a repeated rhythm first (see Let the children sing)

Come, Holy Spirit, descend on us (StF 374)

• Consider a lower key to assist congregation, especially if it is sitting down

Dear Lord and Father of mankind (StF 495)

• Intersperse the verses with prayer but keep the spoken words to a minimum in order to make space for the “still small voice of calm”

Father, we love you, we worship and adore you (StF 6)

• The three verses of this hymn lend themselves to being interspersed with any prayer built around the persons of the Trinity – God the Creator, Son and Holy Spirit. One example is the opening prayer of the Methodist Covenant Service in The Methodist Worship Book, during which these verses can be used instead of the given spoken response, “Blessed be God for ever”

Light of the world, you stepped into darkness (StF 175)

• Use the chorus only as a sung response during prayers of praise or thanksgiving: “So here I am to worship…”

Lord Jesus Christ, you have come to us (StF 594)

• Suitable for interspersing with Eucharistic prayers during Communion – the congregation responding by singing the verses

My song is love unknown (StF 277)

• Intersperse the verses with prayer (maybe selecting a few only) but keep the spoken words to a minimum, allowing the words of the hymn to speak for themselves

O come, all ye faithful (StF 212)

• Use the refrain only as a sung response during prayers of praise or thanksgiving: “O come, let us adore him…”

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4. Using the music only

The music of hymns is often suitable for playing gently underneath spoken prayers. This may be because the words evoked by the music are suitable for the occasion, or because spoken prayer is following on directly from singing a particular hymn. Praise bands often have an advantage of being able to drop down to single instrument such as a plucked guitar, but organists and keyboard players can be just as flexible in the way they play a hymn melody.

For example:

Alleluia, alleluia! The word of the Lord lasts for ever (StF 757)

• Sing just the Alleluias, and play the verses under spoken prayer – the refrain, especially, works well as a response to the Gospel reading

Be still and know that I am God, and there is none beside me (StF 19)

• Play the music as an accompaniment to a meditation or Scripture reading

Behold the Lamb of God (StF 234)

• Play the music as an accompaniment to a meditation or Scripture reading

Great is the darkness that covers the earth (StF405)

• Sing the hymn, or just one verse, and then play the chorus at a lower volume as background and pray over the music
• This is especially suitable for use during Advent or after a national disaster

Look around you, can you see? (StF 525)

• Simplify the chord sequence of the verse and chorus and play gently underneath spoken prayers

Categories: Hymns as prayer.

5 Responses to Simple prayer ideas for use in worship

  1. Frank W Smith says:

    When the Worship Book was in draft form I wish I had suggested the deletion of ‘Hymn’ in Orders of Service with the addition of a paragraph about the insertion of hymns, for the very reason that some hymns are prayers. I’ve often wanted to scream when, after singing the first hymn we hear, ‘Let us turn to God in prayer’. ‘What have we been doing in the past few minutes?’

  2. Mrs N Singleton says:

    I have two elderly sisters in a home now they cannot get to church as they used to. I gave them a copy of S T F for Christmas for them to read some of the hymns as prayers, they really appreciated that. They both did plenty of church choral singing and playing when they were younger.

    • Editor says:

      Thank you Mrs Singleton. I’m sure you know, also, that the Methodist prayer handbook now has a suggested hymn from Singing the Faith for each of its daily sets of prayers.

  3. Christine Jackson says:

    Thank you for some excellent ideas. I shall certainly be using some of them in the future.

  4. Editor says:

    A group of further suggestions has been received from a church musician in Coventry. He has used the following hymns:

    Give thanks with a grateful heart (StF 78) – a prayer of thanksgiving
    Giving it all to you (StF 551)
    In the Lord I’ll be ever thankful (StF 776) – a prayer of thanksgiving
    Lord have mercy (StF 751) – a response for prayers of confession or intercession
    My soul rejoices in God my Saviour (StF 60) – a response for prayers of intercession
    The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases (StF 66)

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