After Sunday’s service, a friend emailed me a confession: He kept his eyes open during Prayers of the People, which I led this week. It was a Lenten prayer about finding beauty in dry places, the hand of God in the desert.
We had just sung a beautiful new hymn text penned by Andrew Daugherty, which spoke of journeys through the desert: “May our souls breathe free with beauty and the strength to bear a song, Thro’ the dark night of our suff’ring though a thousand winters long. We will walk with Christ to Calv’ry on the stony road he trod, Not alone to face our sorrows, friend of Jesus, child of God.”
And then we prayed: “Grant us grace this day, Lord, as we walk in dry places, to have eyes to see your beauty even in the desert. Reveal to us your glory in unexpected places, and shine your light on our dusty path.”
That’s the part where my friend kept his eyes open. He admits he probably should be scolded for peeking, but what he saw made him glad for his small rebellion.
He wrote: “I saw something beautiful. Your prayer to God was heard by us all, but your gaze went up to heaven. My eyes widened as if to watch you speak to God, and by all accounts, you did. For a moment, it took my breath away. As I quickly glanced around, a young boy leaned his head on his father’s shoulder, a grieving couple embraced each other, a broken heart wiped away tears, and a loving hand grabbed my hand as others sat quietly and nodded in silent agreement.
“Like a family gathered before a feast, all from different places, together for the briefest of moments, your prayer to God spoke for us all. It was a solemn, awesome, touching moment I wasn’t expecting.”
I’m smart enough to realize this comment isn’t about the merits of my prayer but instead is about the work of the Holy Spirit when we gather for worship. This is why we call such prayer in worship “corporate” prayer. It was not my prayer; it was our prayer. And in these moments, the Spirit works beyond the words that are spoken.
So here’s a shout out to all of you who lead in worship, whether clergy or laity, and wonder if your words are like dust falling on desert sands. We can’t fully see what the Spirit is doing amid the church — even when we have eyes wide open. “We will walk with Christ to Calv’ry on the stony road he trod, not alone to face our sorrows, friend of Jesus, child of God.”