If your congregation is streaming a service/sermon, then by all means, you should watch that and participate as you are able. If your congregation is unable to stream services/a sermon on the Lord’s Day, because of the Corona Virus, here is what you can do to hold a time of prayer and Scripture reading in the morning and in the evening:
- Open with prayer. Since before the Reformation Christian worship services have begun with the recitation of Psalms 124:8–
“Our help is in the name of the LORD, who made heaven and earth.” Amen.
- Sing a Psalm of Response, e.g., Psalm 100B1 (“the old hundredth”), which is well known and easily sung a cappella (without instruments).
- Pray for God’s presence and blessing thus:
to whom our hearts are open,
our desires are known,
and from whom no secrets are hidden:
cleanse the thoughts of our hearts
by the gracious power of Your Holy Spirit,
that we may perfectly love You
and worthily magnify Your holy name;
through Christ our Lord. Amen.2
- Read God’s Holy Law:
“You shall have no other gods before me.
“You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.
“You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain, for the LORD will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain.
“Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.
“Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the LORD your God is giving you.
“You shall not murder.
“You shall not commit adultery.
“You shall not steal.
“You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
“You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male servant, or his female servant, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor’s.” (Exodus 20:3–17;ESV)
- Confess your sins thus:
Almighty and most merciful Father,
we have erred and strayed from Your ways like lost sheep,
we have followed too much the devices and desires of our own hearts, we have offended against Your holy laws,
we have left undone those things which we ought to have done,
and we have done those things which we ought not to have done, and so we are helpless without You.
O Lord, have mercy upon us, miserable offenders, spare us, as we confess our faults,
restore us, as we are penitent,
according to Your promises declared to us in Christ Jesus our Lord, and grant, O most merciful Father, for His sake,
that we may hereafter live a godly, righteous, and devout life,
to the glory of Your holy name.
- Read a promise of forgiveness thus:
“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9; ESV).
- Read a song of thanksgiving: e.g., Exodus 15:1–21
- Read a prayer for the illumination of the Word, thus:
BLESSED Lord, who hast caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning: Grant that we may in such wise hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that by patience and comfort of thy holy Word, we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which thou hast given us in our Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.
- Read a passage of Scripture, e.g, Exodus 14.
- Say a prayer of thanksgiving and intercession, e.g.,O God, the Creator and Preserver of all mankind:
We humbly intercede on behalf of all people, that You would be pleased to make Your ways known to them, Your saving grace to all nations. [Specific prayers may be added for missions / missionaries and church plants / church planters.]
More especially, we pray for the universal church, that it may be so guided and governed by Your Holy Spirit, that all who profess to be and call themselves Christians may be led into the way of truth and embrace the faith in the unity of the Spirit, in the bond of peace, and in righteousness of life.
Finally, we commend to Your fatherly goodness all those who are in any way afflicted or distressed in mind, body, or any other way. We especially pray for [specific needs are mentioned]. May it please You to comfort and relieve them, according to their particular needs, giving them patience in their sufferings and a blessed deliverance out of all their afflictions.
All this we ask for Jesus Christ’s sake. Amen.
- Read from the Heidelberg Catechism, e.g., Question and Answer 1.Q. What is your only comfort in life and in death?A. That I am not my own,
body and soul,
in life and in death—
to my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ.
He has fully paid for all my sins with his precious blood,
and has delivered me from the tyranny of the devil.
He also watches over me in such a way
that not a hair can fall from my head
without the will of my Father in heaven;
in fact, all things must work together for my salvation.
Because I belong to him,
Christ, by his Holy Spirit,
also assures me of eternal life
and makes me wholeheartedly willing and ready
from now on to live for him.
- Sing a Psalm of Praise and Thanks, e.g., Psalm 23A (tune: Crimond), which is widely known and easily sung a cappella.
- Close with prayer, e.g.,
Our heavenly Father,
we ask You to look upon us in grace,
as we look away from ourselves into the face of Your Son, whom You have
appointed our Mediator and Savior.
As all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are in Your Son, guide us by
Your Holy Spirit into the true understanding of the doctrines of Christ.
May our meditation upon His truth produce in us the fruit of righteousness to the glory and exaltation of His name, the instruction and edification of this congregation, and the salvation of the lost through our witness.
We pray this in the name and favor of Your well-beloved Son, Jesus Christ, in dependence on His Holy Spirit. Amen.
- Our Father who is in heaven,
hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come.
Your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread,
and forgive us our debts,
as we forgive our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.
For yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory, forever. Amen.
You can follow the same pattern for a time of evening prayer. E.g., Heidelberg Questions 26–28 seem especially relevant right now:
26 Q. What do you believe when you say,
“I believe in God, the Father Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth”?
A. That the eternal Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who out of nothing created heaven and earth and everything in them,1 who still upholds and rules them
by his eternal counsel and providence,2 is my God and Father
for the sake of Christ his Son. I trust God so much that I do not doubt he will provide
whatever I need for body and soul, and will turn to my good whatever adversity he sends upon me in this vale of tears. He is able to do this because he is almighty God; he desires to do this because he is a faithful Father.
27 Q. What do you understand by the providence of God?
A. Providence is the almighty and ever present power of God1 by which God upholds, as with his hand, heaven and earth and all creatures, and so rules them that
leaf and blade,
rain and drought,
fruitful and lean years,
food and drink,
health and sickness, prosperity and poverty — all things, in fact, come to us
not by chance
but by his fatherly hand.
28 Q. How does the knowledge of God’s creation and providence help us?
A. We can be patient in adversity, thankful in prosperity, and for the future we can have
good confidence in our faithful God and Father that no creature will separate us from his love. For all creatures are so completely in his hand that without his will they can neither move nor be moved.
May the Lord bless you and yours today and especially tomorrow on the Lord’s Day as we gather as those who bear the name of Christ, who rest in his all-wise providence, and who rejoice in the grace of Christ and the salvation that he has earned and freely given to all his people.
1. The numbering is taken from the Trinity Psalter Hymnal (Great Commission Publications/United Reformed Churches in North America, 2018). These Psalms and tunes are found widely, however.
I am indebted to Mike Abendroth, pastor of Bethlehem Bible Church, who sent out a letter to his congregation explaining why they are suspending services tomorrow and encouraging them to hold devotions at home, for inspiring this post.
2. The prayers are taken from URCNA Forms And Confessions.
- Your Only Comfort In Life And In Death
- URCNA Forms and Prayers
- Heidelcast 143: How Churches Are Responding To The Present Crisis
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