On Liturgy, Providence and Rest

By Matt Sapp

By Matt Sapp

Each morning when I sit down at my desk to fill out my daily calendar, I complete a sentence that begins, “If I could live today over again…” It’s a neat little trick I got from author Donald Miller—starting your day by imagining what you’d do differently if you could live your day over again. 

Lately, I’ve been completing that sentence by saying, “If I could live today over again, I would rest more comfortably in God’s providence.” Our lives, I hope, are records of God’s guiding and sustaining influence, and the idea of God's providence has become increasingly comforting to me.

The concept of God’s providence is deeply rooted in scripture. In Genesis 22 when God provided Abraham with a ram to sacrifice in place of Abraham’s son, Isaac, Abraham named the place, “The Lord will provide.”

The Lord’s Prayer encourages us to rely on God’s providence, too. When we pray, “Give us this day our daily bread,” we are acknowledging that we rely on God’s providence to make it through the day.

Resting comfortably in God’s providence can be a challenge, though. It requires faith and trust, but it’s not blind faith. Faith in God’s providence is informed by our experience. Grace has brought me safe thus far, and grace will lead me home as the song goes.

The God who guides me through today has seen me through more than 13,000 others, so I believe God will see me through tomorrow, too. That doesn’t mean every day will be perfect. Some days—even some weeks, months and years—are downright dreadful. But things have a way of working out, at least they have for me.

And while everyone may not have experienced the same blessings in life that I have—every close call of mine may have been a direct hit for you—most of us can say the same. Things do have a way of working out. All of us have experienced more in the way of grace, forgiveness and second chances than we deserve. 

So maybe it’s time to stop being surprised when we experience God’s guiding and sustaining influence in our lives. Maybe it’s time to start resting more comfortably in God’s providence. 

Resting comfortably in God’s providence is much easier to say than it is to do, though. So where does this ability to comfortably rest come from?

I’m discovering that a return to more practiced habits of devotion—a return to liturgy—is helping me. I wonder if the same thing could help you, too.

Providence is about trusting God to lead us. Liturgy can be both the way we see God leading AND the way we learn to trust.

Liturgy literally means “the work of the people.” In more liturgical traditions of worship, the liturgy is the portion of worship in which the people participate, reciting creeds and scriptures and prayers. Liturgical elements of worship like the Lord’s Prayer, the Doxology, the Apostle’s Creed and the Prayer of Confession might be familiar to you.

For years, liturgy has sounded old, repetitive, boring, and dead to me. But I think I’ve been wrong. Or at least I am beginning to sense that I’m entering a season in my personal life where liturgy is becoming more important to me.

Evangelical traditions—Baptists, for example—have emphasized independence and spontaneity in worship because we believe in local church autonomy and the guiding of the Holy Spirit. And, we come from a tradition that embraces scripture alone, instead of the often man-made prayers, confessions and creeds of other Christian traditions. So we have traditionally eschewed more liturgical forms or worship and prayer.

But there’s something powerful about prayers and confessions that connect us with people who are praying those same words all over the world. There’s something deeply grounding about repeating words that have proven effective in forming faithful Christians for centuries or even millennia.

In Water to Wine, Brian Zahnd shares the daily office of prayer that he follows. I've started following it myself. And I’ve borrowed his prayer practice to provide a suggested series of prayers for our new midweek prayer service called REST.

REST is my attempt to share my return to liturgy with you. It is an opportunity to allow God to form all of us into more faithful and faith-filled Christians through the intentional practices of prayer and presence. It is an effort to use liturgy to lead us to rest more comfortably in God’s providence.

Our journey begins on Wednesday, September 7th at 6:30. I hope you’ll join us.

See you Sunday.