One thing I've been trying to do in our church is build some ritual into our music. I'll save for another time the discussion of this concept, but during this process I've discovered something I really like: singing a short song to begin the congregational prayer.
I can't say for sure that we did this in our church when I was growing up; I simply can't remember. But as I was paging through the hymnal a few weeks ago, I came across the song "Hear Our Prayer, O Lord" sitting near the back of the book, with the doxologies (which, incidentally, is what I was looking for; see earlier post). As happens so often, an onrush of memories and images washed through my brain. Since then, I've added a preparatory song to our order of worship, immediately preceding the prayer.
There are a couple reasons I like this practice. First, it "quiets" our hearts as we begin to bring our offering of prayer to God. Obviously, singing is not literally as quiet as, say, silence, but silence in a church service has a certain ineffable loudness to it that I find distracting. It's unfocused, and, at least for me, that alone is a problem. Now add to that ceiling fans, breathing, fidgeting, progeny, and straight up mind wandering, and silence doesn't bring me anywhere near ready to talk to God. Singing is much more effective for "quieting" my heart and mind.
Secondly, singing together reinforces the idea that the prayer is corporate. It can be easy to forget that the person leading the prayer is speaking on behalf of the entire congregation. He or she is speaking for each one of us. It's good to be reminded of that, and I think a preparatory song helps.
There are a few things that make this practice more effective. The spoken prayer needs to begin right after the song. The first few times we did it, the person praying started with a full introduction: "Hi, my name is Bob. I'm one of the elders at this church. Let us go to God in prayer together." Well, that completely stopped the flow from the song into the prayer. So make sure there's no break between the two.
You may also need to drop the "Amen" from the end of the song. Even though amen doesn't really mean "the end", it feels a little strange to sing it and then continue with the prayer. It's up to you, and you can try it both ways to see which you like.
You also want to choose a good song, and change it up regularly. Ideally the song will be short, reverent, and relevant. "Hear Our Prayer, O Lord" is pretty much perfect, but you probably don't want to sing that one song every week, forever. I've thought of a few other songs that I think will work well:
"Sanctuary" - John Thompson/Randy Scruggs
"Into My Heart" - Harry Clarke
"Cares Chorus" - Kelly Willard
"Be Still and Know" - Lift Up Your Hearts #907
"Lord, Listen to Your Children Praying" - Ken Medema
We have not tried most of these so I can't say from experience that they will suit this purpose. Are there other songs you've used? Whether you do it every week or just occasionally, I think a song is a good way to start the prayer. Please share any song ideas or experiences you've had with this.