The Beauty of Liturgy

liturgy

The Beauty of Liturgy

Every once in a while, I take a few minutes to stand in front of my bookshelf and scan the books I’ve read throughout my two decades of following Jesus.

I’ll admit I’m a bit of a nostalgic person. The people who know me best would be quick to agree that I love recalling moments in friendships that were formative, challenging, fun, and meaningful. There’s just something about looking into the past that helps a person push toward the future with even more vigor.

Standing in front of my bookshelf has the same effect on me. As I trail my fingers along the spines of the many books I’ve collected over the years, my heart is filled with fanciful memories of meeting with Jesus between the pages of a good book.

I can remember the first time I finished East of Eden nearly 20 years ago. I sat stunned, but moved as I read, “Timshel!” I was speechless, yet ready to spill my thoughts onto lined sheets of Moleskine paper. I love the tattered spine of that book, worn from the many months it rustled within my backpack during my college years. East of Eden now sits on the third shelf from the bottom, in between two other Steinbeck books.

I also recall the first time I read Knowing God by J.I. Packer. My first year of walking with Jesus was shaped by the wisdom found within that blue hardback. The book’s gold-embossed cover is barely legible, but the words inside it are forever etched in my heart as I still seek to know God as my Savior and my friend.

I found my first prayer and devotional book, a leather-bound copy of My Utmost For His Highest by Oswald Chambers, over a decade ago. It contains 365 daily readings and prayers. If you were to pick up the book from my bookshelf today, you would find 365 corresponding handwritten journal entries from 1997 when I scribbled prayers and thoughts in the margins.

That book was, and is, an absolute treasure to me, not because of the materials from which it was made, who gave it to me, or the fact that it’s nearly 20 years old. What moves me is not just nostalgia, or warm fuzzies—like you may experience when picking up an old yearbook from high school. No, that book is a treasure because it reflects the stunning two-way relationship with Jesus I savor to this day. Seeing that book on my shelf, knowing it’s filled with the promises of God, is like finding an old box of love letters between great-grandparents—tangible proof of their love, their journey, their devotion to each other.

Words matter. Paragraphs and prose have a way of sticking with you. Prayers take root in our hearts and souls. Daily devotion stacks up like pearls on a strand. As days become months, and as years turn to decades, consistency turns into enjoyment, and enjoyment turns into deep, unbridled affection for Jesus.

This is the beauty of liturgy.

While our culture hurtles toward anxiousness and inconsistency, liturgy reminds us that simplicity, order, and rhythm possess a unique ability to tune the heart toward God.

Liturgy creates order and flow in an ever-changing world. How many times have we been guilty of rushing through something, or throwing out orderliness because we’re hurrying toward the next thing on our schedule? How often have we completely missed the sanctity of each present moment, simply because we don’t take time to still our hearts and souls to savor the simplicity right in front of us?

Throughout human history, liturgy has been used to sturdy the distracted human heart. Whether in the daily routine of a disciple, or the calendar year of the church, liturgy is one of God’s helpful designs. It brings order from chaos for both individuals and communities of believers.

I think of how intentional and honest the psalmist David was. He often prayed morning and evening. In Psalm 55:17 he says, “Evening, morning, and noon, I cry out in distress and He [God] hears me.”

I think of early Christians who met consistently for evening prayers and the Christian mystics who often recited the same prayers every morning of the week, too. It’s as if they were teaching their hearts to catch up with what’s true about the Living God.

I also think of the liturgical church calendar. It reminds the global church to observe Advent (the first coming of Christ) and Lent (a season of preparing the heart to celebrate the resurrection on Easter Sunday).

I think, too, of how liturgy has helped me as I aim to love the Lord with all my heart, mind, and soul. For many years, I’ve tried to spend a moment every day in Scripture, saturating my heart and mind in its riches. Daily prayer and Scripture reading have become the centerpieces of my everyday life.

Each week, my wife and I push everything aside and go on a date night. Why? Because the routine of dating her is the lifeline of our love for each other. Without it, we could easily become stale roommates or long-lost lovers, too distant to truly enjoy a friendship. But the regularity of dating one another is a discipline and constant reminder that there’s always more to discover about ourselves and our relationship. It keeps our relationship thrilling.

So it is with God.

There is no such thing as an accidental love relationship with God. We don’t stumble into knowing Him in a personal way.

We are sinful and half-hearted creatures, but the common grace of liturgical prayers, devotional guides, and written text can become wonderful tools in the hands of God. He can use them to shape our hearts, language, and lives.

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Aaron Ivey is the Pastor of Worship and Creativity at The Austin Stone Community Church, based in Austin, Texas, where he leads a team of nearly 300 worship leaders, artists, storytellers, and musicians. Excerpted from Words for Winter, a collection of liturgies for Advent, Christmas, and the new year. Copyright ©️ 2020. Used by permission of The Austin Stone Institute.