January 25, 2021

Lenten Prayer Services: A Temple in the Wilderness

Lent 2012: A Journey through the Wilderness
Lenten Prayer Services: A Temple in the Wilderness

During Lent, I’ve had the privilege of leading prayer services at our church on Wed. evenings. Our pastor asked my wife and I to do this, using mostly contemporary music accompanied by piano and guitar. Each week I put a service booklet together and we follow it. The service lasts about 30 minutes.

I thought you might like to see what we’ve been doing. Perhaps you can get some ideas for simple services in your own context for this and other seasons as well.

We’ve been using Genesis 1 as our text. Why? Because the first chapter of the Bible describes how God turned the wilderness into his temple.

In my view, Genesis 1 has two primary subjects:

  1. God created everything that exists (Gen. 1:1)
  2. God prepared a good land to be his temple in the world (1:2-2:3)

The land began as a wilderness — an uninhabitable place, covered with water and thick darkness. In the first three days, God formed the land by providing the elements basic to life. The the second three days, God filled the land with living creatures. On the sixth day, in addition to the living creatures who inhabit the land, he created humans in his image to be his priests and to represent him (this is what “in his image” suggests). He blessed them so that they would fill the earth with his blessing. On the seventh day God rested, which in ancient near eastern parlance suggests that he took his throne and commenced his rule from his temple. In this way Genesis describes how God transformed the wilderness into his temple that his glory and blessing may fill the earth.

I think this theme of God transforming the wilderness is appropriate for the Lenten season. For the story of our salvation is the same. In Christ, God has inaugurated his new creation. He has taken the wilderness of our lives, formless and empty because of sin, and is transforming them into his temples of light and life. He has called us, his sons and daughters, to be his priests. He has blessed us and given us his Spirit that we might be fruitful and multiply his blessing throughout the entire world. Christ, who died to make this possible, has been raised and exalted on high, where he has sat down at the right hand of the Father. He has taken his place of rest and he reigns over all. We have been raised up and seated with him in heavenly places by grace through faith. Our wilderness is transformed in Christ, and the Lord reigns!

After the jump, I will give a basic outline of how we pray through this emphasis in our services each week during Lent.


GATHERING SONG: Each week we sing a gathering song that emphasizes God’s goodness and rule over creation. Here are the songs we have been using:

  • Week One: “Shout to the Lord” (Zschesch)
  • Week Two: “He Is Exalted” (Paris)
  • Week Three: “Let All Things Now Living” (Davis)
  • Week Four: “How Great Is Our God” (Tomlin)
  • Week Five: “God of the Ages, History’s Maker” (Clarkson)

GATHERING PRAYER: We pray a gathering prayer litany responsively. Most weeks it was this:

LEADER:  O God, you are my God, I seek you,
my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you,

PEOPLE: As in a dry and weary land where there is no water.

LEADER: So I have looked upon you in the sanctuary,
beholding your power and glory.
Because your steadfast love is better than life, my lips will praise you.

PEOPLE: So I will bless you as long as I live;
I will lift up my hands and call on your name.

On weeks four and five we used different entrance litanies: one based on Psalm 8 for week four and Psalm 96 for week five.

SONG OF INVOCATION: Each Wednesday we use “Sanctuary” by Thompson and Scruggs, a simple prayer chorus.

Lord, prepare me to be a sanctuary
Pure and holy, tried and true
With thanksgiving I’ll be a living
Sanctuary for You

LITANY OF CONFESSION: Each week, with some variations, we express our penitence in words like these:

LEADER: The Lord be with you.
PEOPLE: And also with you.

LEADER: From the beginning, God has been turning the wilderness into his sanctuary. At creation he turned the uninhabitable land into a good and abundant creation. In Moses’ day, he led his people through the desert to the Promised Land. God was David’s Rock in the wilderness, saving him from his enemies. Later, John’s voice came crying in the wilderness, announcing the coming King. When Jesus arrived, God led his own Son into the desert, where he overcame the devil’s temptations. In Lent, we recognize the wilderness in our own hearts and lives.

Merciful God,

PEOPLE: We confess that our hearts are barren and dry. Exiled from the Garden, we dwell in desert places. Seeking our own provision, we hunger and thirst. Trying to make our own way, we find ourselves lost and wandering. Hear our desperate cries, and lead us home to you.

LEADER: Jesus said, ‘I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.’

PEOPLE: Lord, we come to you. For you alone have the words of eternal life.

PSALM OF TRUST: We sing “Shepherd Me, O God” (Haugen), followed by a time of silence and reflection.

SCRIPTURE READING: Each week we read a passage from Isaiah 40-44 that speaks of God transforming the wilderness.

  • Week One: Isaiah 40:3-5
  • Week Two: Isaiah 41:17-20
  • Week Three: Isaiah 42:5-9
  • Week Four: Isaiah 43:18-21
  • Week Five: Isaiah 44:1-5

MESSAGE: At this point in the service, I give a brief message from Genesis 1:1-2:3.

  • Week One: The Original Wilderness (Gen 1:1-2)
  • Week Two: The King Forms His Temple (Gen 1:3-13)
  • Week Three: The King Fills His Temple (Gen 1:14-31)
  • Week Four: The King Appoints His Priests (Gen 1:26-31)
  • Week Five: The King Takes His Throne (Gen 2:1-3)

PRAYERS & THE LORD’S PRAYER: I lead us in prayers of the people, leaving a moment of silence during which congregation members can speak out the names of those for whom they are interceding, and then we pray the Lord’s Prayer together.

FINAL SONG: We conclude the service with a song that picks up on the themes of the night, to seal them in our hearts and send us on our way.

  • Week One: “Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah” (Williams)
  • Week Two: “Be Thou My Vision” (trad. Irish)
  • Week Three: “This Is My Father’s World” (Babcock)
  • Week Four: “Give Thanks” (Smith)
  • Week Five: “All Heaven Declares” (Richards)

Go in peace and serve the Lord.

Thanks be to God!


  1. Hey CM, this is the stuff I was talking about when I asked if you could release Lent stuff a month before lent for us Pastor types. This is gold dude! I so want to rip this off and use it next year.

  2. That definitely sounds like a Lenten service I would want to attend! But, you’re missing one of the best Lenten hymns out there:

    Forty days and forty nights
    Thou wast fasting in the wild;
    Forty days and forty nights
    Tempted, and yet undefiled.

    Sunbeams scorching all the day;
    Chilly dew-drops nightly shed;
    Prowling beasts about Thy way;
    Stones Thy pillow; earth Thy bed.

    Should not we Thy sorrow share
    And from worldly joys abstain,
    Fasting with unceasing prayer,
    Strong with Thee to suffer pain?

    Then if Satan on us press,
    Jesus, Savior, hear our call!
    Victor in the wilderness,
    Grant we may not faint nor fall!

    So shall we have peace divine:
    Holier gladness ours shall be;
    Round us, too, shall angels shine,
    Such as ministered to Thee.

    Keep, O keep us, Savior dear,
    Ever constant by Thy side;
    That with Thee we may appear
    At the eternal Eastertide.

  3. Dana Ames says

    Nice job, CM.

    Interestingly, the daily Lenten readings in the EO services of the hours are from Genesis (history of God’s creation, and his preparation of a people), Proverbs (how God’s people should act, and why, which should bring one up sharply as one hears, seeing that one is not so acting…) and Isaiah (what God is going to do to get us out of the predicament we are in, and how and why). The readings pretty much cover an overview of all three books.

    I’ve liked Haugen’s “Shepherd me O God” since I first heard it.


  4. David Cornwell says

    I really like the order of service, and especially the content you are providing for it.

  5. I saw this today on another blog and thought I’d share.

    The Calvinist version of the Parable of the Lost Sheep in Matthew 18:12-14 and Luke 15:3-7

    Then Jesus told them this parable:

    “Suppose a shepherd has a hundred sheep and he loses all of them. Doesn’t he go out into the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds one? And when he finds one, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. And having rescued one sheep he leaves the ninety-nine sheep lost in the wild. He calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me! I have found one of my lost sheep.’

    Got to give credit where it is due….


  6. I second Pastor Brendan. This is pretty good, but it would have been even better 5 weeks ago. Any chance on a head start with some Easter season ideas?

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