Church as Prayer

There are all kinds of reasons why people go to church. Some go to church in search of a mate. Some go because that’s how they were raised. Some because they think it will be good for their children. Some go because the music is emotionally satisfying. Some because the preaching is intellectually stimulating.

These reasons aren’t enough on their own; they miss out on the fundamental function, the essence, of church.

We’ve already talked about how church is community, not just a country club; and how building that community requires hard work on the part of the one who would seek it. So while community is also a part of why I go to church, I want to focus on how church, better than any other habit in my life, provides communion through prayer.

I go to church because I can walk in discouraged or distracted and walk out reassured by God’s presence. God is, of course, present everywhere, and I can seek him anywhere, but the order of a church service creates spaces that slow me down, allowing me to quiet my mind and calm my anxious thoughts. And going regularly means I don’t wait until the anxiety or despair are overwhelming before I finally cast my cares upon the One Who Cares.

“The literal space of the building is also a prayer… The architecture points both to the cross and upward to heaven.”
“The literal space of the building is also a prayer… The architecture points both to the cross and upward to heaven.”

The whole church service is a prayer. Some prayers are offered in song or in quiet reflection of a lyric or melody. Some prayers are said while standing; most are uttered from the worn and creaky kneelers. Some, together as one voice and one body; others in quiet, personal response. Everywhere I look, I see the cross, and physically seeing the cross in this sacred space while sacred words are spoken or sung, I am compelled to look to Jesus: Yes, Lord. Let this message ring true in my life. I need you. The literal space of the building is also a prayer and helps me to pray, helps me in my unbelief. The architecture points both to the cross and upward to heaven.

This is the journey of Christ and the path of those who seek to follow the Way: the prayer of agony always precedes the prayer of ecstasy. Agony because we are sinful beings living in a fallen world. Because we harden our hearts in pride or simply in order to survive. And the pain of having our hard hearts softened. Like Aslan removing Dragon-Eustice’s scales, a painful process that leads to the joy and ecstasy of being human again, being more fully who we were meant to be all along.

I go to church because I need this Good Word. There are countless competing narratives in the world, especially, perhaps in the academic world where I live right now. I need the Life-giving story. I go because I need holy communion. I belong to Christ. His body, my hands and feet. His blood, the life in my veins. Having come and received, I am able to go and give.