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Home » Blog » Our Calling to Call Upon God: From Church History (part 1)

Our Calling to Call Upon God: From Church History (part 1)

The Holy Scriptures, the Word of God written for our learning and edification in faith and life, is always the source of prayer, our calling upon God. We call upon God because He has called us His own; we call upon Him because He has revealed to us in His Word that He will hear our prayers. The prayers that we pray are based off His promises to us from His Word. His Word guides and gives structure to our prayers. The Church throughout history has understood that and utilized that for Her benefit. The Church has passed down Her prayers through the generations that we would not only have a model for calling upon God, but that we would add our voices (and our “Amen”) with those who now rest in the Lord. The Church has also passed down Her prayers that we would pass them on to a generation yet to come (Psalm 102:18).

Prayers from the Early Church

From Acts 2:42, we know that Christians gathered to hear the Word of God (“the apostles’ teaching”), a communal meal (“the breaking of the bread”), and the prayers. At that time, the Church used words from Scripture written down (“the Old Testament”) to call upon God. As the letters of Paul and the Gospel writings circulated, the Church began incorporating those words into the gathering and prayers. These patterned behaviors became the “liturgy” for the Church —the routine and pattern of worship, both receiving from God and offering praise to God. From there, particular prayers began to emerge as regular parts of the communal worship. Many of those prayers are still used by the Church in historic “liturgies” to help form and shape our prayers today.

Kyrie Eleison – Lord Have Mercy

Perhaps the oldest of the prayers in the worship life of the church and the home of Christians is the Kyrie – shortened from Kyrie Eleison. Those words are literally translated Kyrie = “Lord” and eleison = “have mercy.” This simple yet profound prayer is one repeated in Scripture – especially to Jesus – on multiple occasions: Matthew 9:27; Matthew 15:22; Matthew 10:29-31; Mark 10:46; Luke 17:13; (in the Greek translation of the Old Testament, the Septuagint, the phrase occurs even more times addressing YHWH, the Lord). This calling upon Jesus to have mercy became a standard, memorizable, and simple prayer for those in communal worship and during daily life. This prayer became more formalized with particular requests in the Litany (see below). 

This calling upon Jesus to have mercy became a standard, memorizable, and simple prayer for those in communal worship and during daily life.

The Kyrie that remains in congregations and homes today is one of the easiest ways to call upon God and one of the easiest methods to teach to young Christians. The most basic form of is simply to say: “For ___(whatever need or  request)___, Lord, have mercy.” For example, “For the safety of my children and that they would continue to grow in faith toward God and love toward one another, Lord, have mercy.” If with others, after the request, you can invite those with you to pray by saying, “Let us pray to the Lord,” to which everyone responds, “Lord, have mercy.” 

So why call upon the Lord Jesus, the Lord God for mercy? Overly simplified, mercy means not getting what you deserve. (Grace would be getting what you do not deserve in this scheme). More thoroughly though, mercy is goodness that extends from a place of higher authority to a lower – be it by rank, position, or “right” as in accord to law. Mercy is compassion to do something for someone who is unable to do it themselves. Most specifically, from God, mercy is reconciliation to Him on account of Jesus Christ. Mercy is forgiveness won by Christ that God would not let our sins get in the way of His relationship to us. Mercy is God’s goodness coming to meet our needs —spiritually, materially, temporally, eternally. To ask God for mercy is to call upon Him to work in situations that are beyond our control, but always within His.

Mercy is God’s goodness coming to meet our needs —spiritually, materially, temporally, eternally. To ask God for mercy is to call upon Him to work in situations that are beyond our control, but always within His.

The Litany

The Litany is found in various church bodies with various wording, reflecting sometimes particular celebrations. As early as the fourth century, congregations used a Litany for prayers in worship. Pieces of those early Litanies carried through to this day. What is called “The Litany” today is generally a longer, more formalized and more structured version of the Kyrie. However, what makes it unique is what we call upon God for in using it. 

The Litany also calls upon God for His provisions in a multitude of areas. For example: 

From all sin, from all error, from all evil; From the crafts and assaults of the devil; from sudden and evil death; From pestilence and famine; from war and bloodshed; from sedition and from rebellion; From lightning and tempest; from all calamity by fire and water; and from everlasting death:  Good Lord, deliver us.

…and…

To grant all women with child, and all mothers with infant children, increasing happiness in their blessings; to defend all orphans and widows and provide for them; To strengthen and keep all sick persons and young children; to free those in bondage; and to have mercy on us all: We implore You to hear us, good Lord.

These requests are helpful in teaching and reminding us of all for whom Christ and His Word encourages us to pray: leaders, good weather, pregnant mothers, those who travel, orphans, widows, enemies and persecutors, and more. The point is, as Christians, we can never exhaust our calling to call upon God. There is never a time or place —even as we lie in a hospital bed — that we cannot call upon God for someone’s needs. 

Here is a version of the Litany set to music:

Collects 

Collects (pronounced “COLL – ects”) are a form of prayer that have been used in the church formally for over 1,500 years, but have informal usage earlier than that. The Collect is a prayer that “collects” the prayers and desires of a congregation and places them before God. While they are used in formal worship settings and group gatherings, they can be used for individual and family prayer. The structure is extremely simple and teachable – something we as fathers and husbands must do for our families. 

The structure of the Collect has five parts.

  1. Address – Calls upon the name of a Person of the Holy Trinity to whom the collect is addressed
  2. Rationale – provides an attribute, work, or promise of God (the Person addressed) that serves as the foundation for the prayer
  3. Petition – the request, what we are calling upon God for
  4. Benefit –  describes for what purpose or outcome we calling upon God (usually begins with “that”)
  5. Termination – the conclusion, which can be simple or a fuller, trinitarian termination

The earliest form of the Collect can actually be seen in one prayer found in the New Testament, Acts 1:24-25 – “And they prayed and said, “You, Lord, who know the hearts of all, show which one of these two you have chosen to take the place in this ministry and apostleship…” (ESV). 

Address: “Lord”
Rationale: “who know the hearts of all”
Petition: “show which one of these you have chosen”
(The benefit is implied earlier in the passage – that one might fill the place in ministry of Judas who “went his own way.”)

Consider this example from Clement of Rome (c. 35 AD – 99AD):

“May the All seeing God and Master of spirits and Lord of all flesh, who chose the Lord Jesus Christ, and us through Him for a peculiar people, grant unto every soul that is called after His excellent and holy Name faith, fear, peace, patience, long-suffering, temperance, chastity and soberness, that they may be well pleasing unto His Name through our High priest and Guardian Jesus Christ, through whom unto Him be glory and majesty, might and honor, both now and for ever and ever. Amen.” (1 Clement 64:1, First Epistle of Clement to the Corinthians, translated by J.B. Lightfoot, Adapt. and mod. (c) 1990. ATHENA DATA PRODUCTS)

Address: The All seeing God and Master of spirits and Lord of all flesh
Rationale: who chose the Lord Jesus Christ, and us through Him for a peculiar people
Petition: grant unto every soul that is called after His excellent and holy Name faith, fear, peace, patience, long-suffering, temperance, chastity and soberness,
Benefit: that they may be well pleasing unto His Name
Termination: through our High priest and Guardian Jesus Christ, through whom unto Him be glory and majesty, might and honor, both now and for ever and ever.

The “Amen” is always added by those who hear and believe these words to be true and to be for them.

The Collects over time were then used to address specific occasions and dates – tailored to particular readings for the day or events that were happening (e.g. Holy Days such as Christmas and Easter). Here are a couple more Collects that follow the same structure and help us give voice to our own needs.

Collect for the Word (Prayers used when hearing/reading/studying the Bible):

Blessed Lord, you have caused all Holy Scriptures to be written for our learning. Grant that we may so hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that by patience and comfort of Your holy Word, we may ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, through Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

Collect for the Word

Collect for the Second Sunday in Lent

O God, whose glory it is always to have mercy: Be gracious to all who have gone astray from your ways, and bring them again with penitent hearts and steadfast faith to embrace and hold fast the unchangeable truth of your Word, Jesus Christ your Son; who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

There are numerous collections of prayers from the early Church that still help us to call upon God today. Moreover, they help form our own calling upon God – that we would remember His mercy and grace toward us; that we would let the Holy Spirit guide us. Here are a couple additional resources for further exploration:

https://www.bcponline.org/

https://www.gutenberg.org/files/48247/48247-h/48247-h.htm

May these prayers encourage and help shape your calling upon God. Amen.

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