Bob Webber writes,
“In the early church the public worship of the church was a prayer of praise and thanksgiving directed not to the people but to God. Seeing worship as prayer is a paradigm shift from the current presentational notion of worship. Today worship is frequently seen as a presentation made to the people to get them to believe in the first place, to enrich and edify their faith, and to bring healing into their lives. But the ancient church did not design (a contemporary word) worship to reach people, to educate people, or to heal people. Yet in their worship, which was a prayer of praise and thanksgiving offered to God, people were indeed nourished by offering God’s mighty acts of salvation as a prayer to God for the life of the world. The point is, of course, that worship as prayer shapes who we are. But how so?
“First, worship as prayer focuses on historical events. God is known to us in this world, in the revelation of himself in creation, in the salvation history of Israel, and ultimately in God made visible in Jesus. Worship prayer focuses on God’s self-giving love through which he recapitulates the human condition, restores our union with God, and promises a restored creation in the new heavens and the new earth. This history that we pray is not dead but alive and active, for it is God’s activity, God’s presence, God’s reality working within history to redeem and restore the world.
“Second, the prayer of worship is done not with the language we mortals create but with the language of God. Worship prayer does God’s history in this world using the language that is particular and peculiar to the Christian story. The language of prayer is the language of creation, fall, covenant, Passover, tabernacle, prophetic utterance, incarnation, death, resurrection, church, baptism, Eucharist, eschaton. These words are necessary because they speak God’s voice and presence. They are not common to the other religions of the world, and they are not generic. They are the specific words of God, and consequently, they constitute the language of worship, prayer, contemplation, and participation. There are no comparable words, no substitutes, no adaptations. The relationship between God and humanity must be articulated with these words, for they constitute the only true relationship between God and creation and, therefore, are the language of Christian prayer.
“Third, the prayer that we do is situated in God’s story and discloses this story. Prayer does not proceed out of an inner language that we create in the depth of our own person, as if we have the capacity to form and establish our own personal prayer detached from the story of God. No. The church prays, instead, God’s story in the language of God’s voice; our prayer is always anchored in the public voice of the church. Our personal prayer is dependent on the faithfulness of the church to articulate for us what we can only say in a fumbling way. The personal praying of the public prayers of the church is a necessary component of our prayer. The public prayer is the bridge to the personal prayer. There is a process through which this public prayer takes place.
“Augustine refers to that process as memoriaâ€”intellectusâ€”voluntas. First, the prayer of the church makes an impression upon our mind. We recall through memory the particular story of God and the world. The story itself grasps our intellect, envelops it, overwhelms it with wonder and astonishment (contemplation), and then produces within us the determination of the will to find our place within the prayer, to let that prayer define the meaning of the self, of human existence, of the world, of human history, of the cosmos. The prayer urges us to enter into the historical flow of God’s story, to find our personal meaning within God’s story of the worldâ€”especially in the climax of world history in the divine embrace of Jesus Christâ€”and to live in the world in the embrace of the one who shows us the fullness of human meaning. Then prayer engages the will as we act (participation) as the continuation of Jesus in the world, the affections become engaged, and we love as Jesus loved.
“Yet one more thing: in the prayer of the church that does the saving acts of God in history, it is not the acts of God that constitute our personal prayer but the wonder and astonishment of the God who reveals his nature through this historical action culminating in the God who becomes incarnate, suffers for us, and is risen for us to reclaim us and the world to himself. We marvel in the kind of glorious God whose overwhelming love leads to these actions that reveal his very nature. And our nature, lifted .gyp into the nature of Jesus in prayer, is through him united to God and -hanged, transformed, and transfigured into the original nature created .n the image of God, for in him we are to live, to move, and to have our Being. What wondrous splendor is the prayer of the church, which we gray and through which we contemplate and participate in God.”
Christianity Today, April, 2007