Every worship leader should be actively looking for resources. Some of us, however, are better at this than others. I am not one of those “better” people, which is why I have a blog that pushes me to find worship resources that will be of use to others as well as myself. While I write many of the liturgies and prayers for our church myself, I currently have a number of good books on my shelf to which I refer when I’m looking for a prayer or a quote that I can use to frame songs or provide food for contemplative or congregational prayer. When I want to use one of these books, however, it means embarking on a long hunt through indexes of various qualities. Enter Logos Bible Software. Logos has recently released a series of e-books in its Pastorum Series that provides quotations and prayers “for pastors.”
I’ve been asked to review the first two resources in this collection 300 Quotations for Preachers and 400 Prayers for Preachers, but it should be noted that there are five additional volumes in the collection that provide quotations from different periods and groups in Christian history: the early church, the medieval church, the reformation, the puritans, and the modern church. These give you an additional 1500 quotes to peruse.
300 Quotations for Preachers spans hundreds of years of church history. You can search by author, theme, or Scripture reference. 400 Prayers for Pastors contains written prayers by mothers and fathers of the Christian faith, as well as prayers found in scripture. Prayers may be searched by theme, type (intercessory, confessional, etc.), Scripture reference, or author. Both resources contain bibliographic information for each quote and prayer, making it easy to track the excerpt back to its source.
What I like about these resources is how easy they are to use. This Sunday, for example, the message at Bon Accord Community Church will be from John 6:1–15, the healing at the pool. A search for this scripture passage pulls no result. I can, however, also search for “healing.” Among other results, this yields: “A Prayer for the Sick in Hopes of a Recovery, by Richard Baxter; a beautiful prayer by Clement of Rome entitled “Be Our Help and Relief”; an excerpt from Psalm 30; and a quote by John Newton about how assurance grows through repeated conflict. If I hadn’t already written a prayer to read this Sunday (in addition to asking a member of our congregation to write a prayer for mother’s day), I would definitely consider concluding our service this Sunday (perhaps I still will) with “Be Our Help and Relief.” I will mentally file away the John Newton quote for future use—perhaps when we come up against the inevitable question: why do Christians suffer. My experience with these resources thus far is that your difficulty when you choose to use it will be which quote or prayer to use—not whether you can find one.
Most of the quotes and prayers included in this collection are over a hundred years old. G. K. Chesterton is, as far as I can tell, the youngest of the bunch. This is probably my main criticisms of the series. It may be more difficult to find “enduring” quotes and prayers in current times, but it would be helpful to have some current options available. I would encourage Logos to pursue “300 Quotations from the Post-Modern Church,” if they have not begun work on it already, including authors such as Frederick Buechner, Corrie ten Boom, Mother Teresa, Billy Graham, Annie Dillard, Henri Nouwen, Elizabeth Elliot, John Stott, Anne Lamott, and N. T. Wright (I’m going to think of at least twenty additional people for this list as soon as I post this review).
This is not to say that the quotes and prayers included in the collection are not pertinent for today’s congregations—you just might have to work at it a bit. Although archaic language has been somewhat updated, many of the quotes and prayers are still quite dense and will be difficult for the average congregation to grasp in a single reading. For example, for the season of Easter (the seven Sundays between Easter weekend and Pentecost Sunday) I have chosen to begin each service with the lighting of a “Christ candle” and a congregational reading of the following prayer:
Almighty God, who by the death of your dear Son Jesus Christ has destroyed death, by his rest in the tomb has sanctified the graves of the saints, and by his glorious resurrection has brought life and immortality to light; receive, we ask you, our unfeigned thanks for that victory over death and the grave which he has obtained for us and for all who sleep in him; and keep us in everlasting fellowship with all that wait for you on earth, and with all that are around you in heaven; in union with him who is the resurrection and the life, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen.
It’s a beautiful prayer. A rich, dense prayer. However, the first time we used it my mother cornered me after the service and asked if we couldn’t change the punctuation to make it make more sense. You see, congregations tend to read quite rhythmically, and there are a few phrases that become confusing without clarifying punctuation (i.e. when read congregationally, it sounds as if Christ has obtained a grave for us—a somewhat disturbing idea, to say the least). As we have adjusted the line-breaks to ease the reading, and as we have repeated this prayer over seven Sundays (our final reading of it being this Sunday), it has become a weighty and meaningful entrance into worship. One would do well, however, before using a prayer congregationally, to attempt to read it aloud in that sing-songy voice that congregations inevitably slip into. Some prayers will work. Others will not, and may need to be parcelled up between the congregation and a lead reader.
My advice should you use these resources (and I do recommend them), is to give your congregation time to absorb them. Use the slides Logos provides and put quotes and prayers up on a screen so absorption can happen through ears, mouth, and eyes. Embrace repetition. Take denser quotes and tease out their meaning by feeding them to your congregation line-by-line, interspersing congregational response, musical response, or congregational prayer. Be creative. A quote can be more than a simple sum-up of thought. It can be a prayer, a response, an invocation. A prayer can be more than a stiff congregational reading. It can be a song, an antiphonal rejoicing, a layered text that is uncovered bit-by-bit.
If you already use Logos, I would encourage you to explore this series further. If you don’t use Logos – you might want to think about doing so. And keep your eye on additional offerings by Pastorum. It’s not just for pastors anymore.