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.