We would do well to remember that we are embodied beings. For many, the connotation of “quiet time” conveys a kind of passive stillness to private worship, where the body is almost uninvolved. The prayer is silent and mental. The body is motionless, sitting in a chair. The only thing moving is the eyes. But pretty soon something else moves – the mind –, for it wanders far afield.
No need for Plato’s view of the body as inferior to the spirit here. The Hebrews prayed out loud. The Hebrews sang out loud. Even the Hebrew word for meditate means to mutter – to repeat Scripture verbally and speak in low tones to yourself about it.
When we try to worship without our bodies, the result is a kind of unreal, disembodied experience that starts to feel more like studying for an exam or doing thought experiments than it does like engaging with another person. We know God does and can hear our thoughts, but in no other situation do we communicate with a person entirely with thoughts. Most often we have to physically verbalise, gesture, speak, or get into a certain posture.
In corporate worship we use our bodies. Our tongues and lungs and lips and teeth verbalize songs, which our ears take in. We listen to prayers and say Amen. We hear the Word verbally read into our ears. We hear the Word preached. We stand up and sit down in reverence. In some churches, there are kneelers. At communion, we eat and drink. Our eyes take in the appearance of other believers worshipping, the sight of the text, and the music before us. Perhaps this is why for so many, corporate worship is more engaging than private.
Neglecting our God-given physicality can only make our times of private worship more vulnerable to distraction. Pray out loud, if it helps. Pray with your eyes open, if it helps. Get up off your knees and pace, if you must. Read the Scriptures into your own ears. Sing or hum those hymns most dear to you. Use your lips, and your hands, and your knees, and your ears as you speak with God as person to person. Use your hand and your pen to write responses, prayers, or poems. Anything but a disembodied, vague phasing in and out of distracted thoughts, and mumbled meditations.
Confession and Private Worship
As we commune with God in the Word and prayer, the Holy Spirit will be pleased to communicate something of God’s beauty on the face of his Son through the reverent interrogation of the Scriptures. Though this will lead to adoration, as we have already seen, it will also lead to conviction.
Prayers of confession respond to God’s conviction, calling sin sinful, and claiming ownership for our own evil. In that posture of repentance, we agree with God about what is to be shunned in advance, future temptations to flee from.
Meditation on God’s Word inevitably intersects with our lived experience. The Holy Spirit will show us God’s beauty in light of our own inner and outer lives: our ambitions, goals, priorities, desires, thoughts, and our speech, relationships, habits, work, stewardship and so forth. In meditation we are not only reflecting on God’s beauty in the abstract, but God’s beauty as it dawns over the remaining darknesses in our own lives.
Again, Scriptural prayers of confession may aid us. The written prayers of Christians in history may assist us. Launching off those, our confession must ultimately be our own, for this is private worship, and the confession is as private as the communion.
Many Christians have found that they can give specific focus to the actions of confession and consecration with a closing time of private worship in the evening. William Law wrote, “Again: an evening repentance, which thus brings all the actions of the day to account, is not only necessary to wipe off the guilt of sin, but is also the most certain way to amend and perfect our lives.”1
- A Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life (Grand Rapids, MI: Christian Classics Ethereal Library, 2000), 184. [↩]