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Religious Essays

Variety in Worship

To pray as Yeshua's early followers did we must include variety in our prayers.

Variety in Community

There is a different dynamic when praying alone, with one other person, as a group, and when listening to another pray. We must pray individually, for each other, and as an entire assembly.

Spontaneous prayer is fundamental to relating to God. Scripture contains very few examples of liturgical formulas, compared to countless instances of spontaneous prayer where people pour their hearts out to God in humility and honesty. But not all prayer should be spontenous. Using verses from the Psalms or liturgy as prayers is useful to provide structure. These can help us progress through the scriptural steps of prayer and ensure that we do not overlook any important ways of thinking about Adonai, his Kingdom, his covenants, and our relationship with him.

Variety in prayer also includes who is speaking. Most groups of people find it most worshipful if there is an (unequal yet purposeful) balance between when individuals taking turns praying spontaneously, when everyone recites a prayer together, responsive reading, and when a designated leaders recites liturgy that highlights Adonai's holiness.

A third type of variety involves the size of a group praying. Most groups of people find it most worshipful if a service includes a time of praying silently by one's self, a time of praying in pairs to encourage each other, as well as the typical majority of time spent praying as the entire group.

Variety in Sharing

During the first century, prayer events were not rigidly organized. Paul writes in First Corinthians 14:26:

When you come together, let each one of you have a psalm, a teaching, a revelation, a message in tongues, or an interpretation. Let all things be done to build each other up. -First Corinthians 14:26

Shared items allow God's Spirit to work in an beneficial and impressive way. If people in a congregation have been dilligently praying during the week about what to share when they next gather then what they share will fit together as led by God's Spirit.

What can be shared to "build each other up"? Psalms and other passages of scripture, spontaneous prayers, short teachings, revelations, songs, dances, intercessory prayers, confessions, and accounts of God's recent activity.

Notice that Paul did not say every person attending a worship service would have time to share. The point is for each person to be prepared to share and then sensitive to whether and when God's Spirit says to share.

Variety in Posture

People who pray intensely often change their body position during prayer. Most liturgies specify a few traditional times to stand and pray. Beyond this, people praying should always have the freedom to change their posture since the optimal posture at any moment often relates to how God's Spirit is working with each person individually.

There is scriptural precedent for worshiping in many postures. The following list has only a few verses for each posture although scripture usually includes many more.

About the only posture not mentioned in scripture for worship is sitting down!

Variety in Texts

The worship Yeshua and his disciples participated in at the Temple or at a syngagoue primarily drew from three texts.

The book of Psalms was the primary text. People read entire psalms. A verse or two could also be recited as a prayer. Archeological evidence records that the worship services for at least some of the annual appointed times had certain Psalms traditionally associated with them.

Jewish culture of that time was also beginning to develop liturgy. The point of liturgy is to lead the worshippers through all many ways of thinking about Adonai, his Kingdom, his covenants, and our relationship with him. If the liturgy fills this role any other activities during the time of worship are freed from this responsibility and may simply enhance the worship by their own merits.

Prayers aside from the Psalms that scholars have found used in first century liturgy include:

Liturgy in the first century was organized, but it was not fixed. Even the Talmud, written later, records multiple debates about whether fixed prayers that are not verses of scripture have any merit.

Recovered copies of the Amidah from this time have the final sentence of each blessing standardized but different sentences earlier in each blessing. Scholars do not know if the eighteen paragraphs were improvised with standard concluding sentences or if different geographical areas each had their own established traditions.

The Kaddish was said only once in a first century service, after the sermon. It was probably only the first paragraph of the modern version of that prayer.

The third text used during worship services was the repertoire of b'rachot (traditional blessings) established since the days of Ezra. Please refer to the concept essay about "blessing" for more information about the b'rachot.

Eventually the followers of Yeshua composed their own texts. As examples, their oldest known hymnal is the Odes of Solomon, and their oldest known congregational manual is the Didache.

Finally, it should be noted that the early followers of Yeshua were a multilingual community. The languages used during worship services changed from place to place to reflect the native languages of the worshippers. Even the greeting Paul commonly used acknowledged this fact: his phrase "Grace to you and peace..." referred to the words charis and shalom used by the Greek-speaking and Hebrew-speaking members of Paul's audience. (Some scholars believe Acts 15:21 records an expectation in that time for any followers of Yeshua who did not know Hebrew to learn it, to better study scripture.)