What is Worship?

The Whole World in God's Hands - Prayers Rooted in Providence

World_in_black_and_white_hands Years ago, when I worked as a chaplain at Central College, I had a colleague who used to get together with me regularly to pray for our students.  We did so not only because we believed it would make a difference for them, but because we knew it made a difference for us.  Praying for Jennifer and Scott as they worked through the pain of their parents’ divorces in anticipation of being married themselves, praying for Kim as she struggled with anorexia, with Mark as he battled addiction – these prayers helped remind us that though we are to be faithful and diligent in the ministries God has given us, in the end the sun does not rise, and the crops do not grow, and people are not made whole, and the kingdom does not come by dint of our own effort.

No, the world belongs to God.  It has been entrusted to us, yes, but it is ultimately in God’s hands.  What a good thing for type A people to remember every day!

I let this lesson guide our evening prayer a few weeks ago as I led worship at the hard-working General Synod of the Reformed Church in America.  We decided each night to let a particular song shape and direct our evening prayers.  So we would sing a verse and then let that verse prompt particular petitions and thanks.  So, for example, one evening we sang verses from Bless the Lord, My Soul, the setting of Psalm 103 from Taizé.  Another evening we sang four verses from All Praise to Thee, My God, This Night.  But my favorite was the evening we began and ended with the old gospel favorite “He’s Got the Whole World In His Hands.” 

Planning the service, I wanted to get rid of the repeated masculine pronoun, and thought to change the lyric from “He’s” and “his” to “You’ve” and “your” (a far less clunky tweak than alternating genders or using “God’s” throughout). This had the surprising – and wonderful – effect of altering the character of the song altogether.  It shifted it from testimony to prayer; from speaking about God’s providence to speaking to God, rooting our petitions, both spoken and silent, in a confident declaration of God’s power and love: “You’ve got the whole world in your hands.” 

Musically, I played a James Taylor-esque accompaniment (think “Secret of Life” -- Key of A, capo III), and even wrote a couple extra lines, riffing on the old hymn “Sing Praise to God who Reigns Above” as a break leading into the final chorus.

For the shape of the prayer itself, we allowed the song’s verses to suggest thematic areas for prayer (“tiny little baby” = family concerns;  “wind and the rain” = creation care, etc.)  I then augmented those verses, following my own advice to speak with emotional specificity for the lost and the lonely, the weak and the wounded, the whole and the hopeful.

Full text of the prayer, lead sheet (click on the thumbnail), and MP3 demo after the jump.

SUNG: You’ve got the whole world in your hands…
Gracious God, we pray today for this whole world,    
  created good and beautiful,       
     lost and broken by our sin,          
        loved and redeemed by you in Jesus Christ.

*** silence ***

Creation
Creator God, we bless you tonight for your care of the natural world –
  for the wind and the rain, 
     for the sunshine and water that sustains the earth,
         for the food that sustains our bodies,
            for your presence that sustains our souls.
You’ve got the wind and the rain

*** silence ***

Family
On this special day of worship and rest, we pray for our families at home –
spouses and children, grandparents and tiny little babies;
You know their particular needs…
Bring us back to those we love later this week,
sustain them in our absence, and us in theirs.
You’ve got the tiny little baby…

*** silence ***

Grief and Loss
We pray tonight for those who grieve losses,
the hurt and helpless, the lost and the lonely—
   for fading friendships and the diminishment of aging,
      for those mourning broken promises and crushed hopes.
We pray for the comfort of your Spirit.
You’ve got the lost and the lonely…

*** silence ***

Anxiety
We pray tonight for those who live in fear,
  for the weak and the wounded--
     for those who are anxious about their churches,
        for those who are afraid of losing their job,
        or worried about the results of medical tests;
           for those who do not know, or are afraid to embrace, the work you have given them to do;
               for those who never feel safe;
                   for those threatened by violence, cruelty, illness, poverty.
We pray for rescue, and for peace.
You’ve got the weak and the wounded…

*** silence ***

Joy
We pray tonight for those who know joy, the whole and the hopeful –
  for all those who are given healing and good health;
      for all those with friends and families, for satisfying work and consoling rest.
We bless you as the source of all good things
   and pray that you will use us to sow and reap joy in this world.
You’ve got the whole and the hopeful…

*** silence ***

General Synod
We pray tonight for the work of General Synod and for the RCA, for everybody here.
   For strength to continue our work tomorrow,
     For patience and courage to really listen to what others are saying,
       For discernment to hear the prompting of the Holy Spirit
          For confidence in your providence,
             For the particular needs each of us has…
You’ve got everybody here…

You’ve got the whole world in your hands...

Sung break: You’ve got the whole world -- sing praise to God who reigns above
The whole world -- the God of power, the God of love
You’ve got the whole world in your hands.

**********************************************************

Wholeworld_2 Click on the thumbnail for the leadsheet,
and right here for a rough MP3 demo to hear what it sounds like.

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