June / July 2018 - Vol. 98
charismatic praise and worship gathering
Worshiping Together in the Holy Spirit
by Jim Cavnar

"...We are gathered as a community in prayer. Let us respond to the Lord with joyful praise. Immediately there is a burst of spontaneous prayer from all sides. Nearly everyone is praying out loud."
It is difficult to adequately verbalize the experience of worshiping God, but it can be readily experienced in a prayer meeting. Worship means an explicit turning to God. Our prayer meetings must be God centered if they are to be worshipful; we must have that profound sense that we are gathered not just for ourselves, but for God. We must look to God, recall his nearness, and yield our hearts to his movement. If we allow our minds to wander, we will find it difficult to worship.

The prayer meeting is a time to put aside other concerns and to think of God himself; it gives us the chance to do something that we almost never do turning aside from other concerns, looking to God himself, and then expressing in word and song our appreciation of his greatness, power, love, and might.

Like many others, I had never been able to make much sense of the concept of worship. It was not that the idea was an unfamiliar one: as a child I had learned that Worship was the purpose of the services at church. When I first seriously committed my life to Jesus, I  was told that worship and adoration were the most important forms of prayer. Yet Sunday services and my personal prayer seldom seemed to express worship.

Some told me that worship was accomplished by regular attendance at church, by faithfulness to meditative prayer, or charity in daily life, and was not a unique identifiable experience. Others felt that the notion of worship should be abandoned altogether.

When I was first baptized in the Spirit and began to experience prayer in tongues, I had a very distinct sense that the prayer, unintelligible to me, was an act of praise. It was the first time that I had experienced what it was like to worship God. Not very many weeks after I found myself reflecting, "Somehow I feel that for the first time. I am doing what I was created to do. I feel like the round peg that just got placed in the round hole." I do not imagine that anyone could previously have explained to me the centrality of worship. But when I experienced it, almost no explanation was needed. As the Scriptures say, we indeed have been formed to "live for the praise of his glory" (Eph. 1: 12).

When the leader of a prayer meeting says "Let's worship the Lord," we know that he is speaking about something very definite, some¬thing different from the dozens of other activities that make up our Christian life. He is talking about a conscious turning to God and expressing in word and song a heartfelt awe, reverence, thanksgiving, and praise a love of God for his own sake.

Worship during a prayer meeting should be predominant. We are so unused to worship that many cannot continue it for more than a few minutes without feeling "Okay, now let's do something." But worship is something. It ought to be seen as the purpose of the prayer meeting, and not a preliminary exercise to get started. it is a concrete way that we can respond to the words of Jesus: "This is the first and greatest commandment: "that you shall love the Lord your God with all your mind and all your heart and all your strength." Psalm 150 says:
"Praise the Lord
Praise God in his sanctuary..
Praise him for his mighty deeds…
Let everything that breathes praise the Lord."
We should always be aware that this, the joyous praise of the Lord, is at the heart of the prayer meeting. But, in addition to hearts that are turned to the Lord, there are several other elements that are involved in this worship. Without losing sight of the central purpose of the prayer meeting, I would like to elaborate on the various elements that contribute to worship and praise.

Word of Prayer

I suppose I shall never forget the evening that the first group from Notre Dame to be baptized in the Spirit met in the home of Ray Bullard, the president of the local chapter of The Full Gospel Businessmen's Fellowship. Ray had gathered about twenty men from the area to meet with the new group of Catholic Pentecostals that had called and asked to pray together with him and a few friends.

We unsuspectingly entered Ray's basement and found ourselves surrounded. Once we were all comfortably settled Ray said, "Well, let's begin with a word of prayer." What a shock to us when suddenly everyone in the room simultaneously burst into loud and enthusiastic prayer. I was accustomed to spontaneous prayer but nothing like this. I was about ready to say, "Wait a minute, I can't tell what you're saying,” So strange did this kind of prayer seem to us (along with the many other strange things we were to hear that night) that one of those present later remarked, "If this charismatic renewal were merely a human fiction, or even a form of religiosity created out of the wills of men, I really believe it would have crumbled to dust that evening " Far from crumbling to dust, God's Spirit taught us many things about prayer. That evening we began to learn how to join in a "word of prayer."

The word of prayer, unusual as it may seem, has become a hallmark of the charismatic prayer meeting for good reason. This kind of prayer enables a group to pray together in an active, participative way that builds a spirit of unity and praise. If in our meetings we were to pray only silently when we pray as a group, or only used recited prayers, we would be greatly impoverished. When the leader says, "Let's all pray together," how natural it seems  that we should do so vocally, in a way that demonstrates the reality of our prayer.

In the word of prayer the object is not to share a prayer with others so that they can understand our prayer and join with it in their minds. Rather, the word of prayer allows for a form of group personal prayer. Each of us prays individually to God in our own words or in tongues, praying aloud in a moderate tone of voice (generally), so that others can hear that we are praying and be built up and encouraged to pray more fervently themselves. In this form of prayer no single voice is supposed to dominate. Rather, the voices ought to blend together in volume so that one’s individual prayer becomes part of the whole prayer of the community.

The word of prayer should not be allowed to become mechanical. Each one ought to sincerely intend the prayer that he makes. One must bear in mind that the measure of the sincerity of our prayer is not emotion or feeling, it is intention. Even on occasions when one finds it difficult to pray or finds himself unenthusiastic about praying he can pray sincerely, meaning the words of the prayer, and keeping before his eyes the purpose of worship it is for God, not for us.

Shared Prayer

Shared prayer, as the name implies, is the prayer of one person made aloud while others listen and join themselves to the prayer. A priest offering the collect at Mass or a minister speaking out a prayer at the Sunday service, is offering a shared prayer. In meetings, shared prayer is usually spontaneous. The Holy Spirit frequently inspires shared prayer, and it can have a powerful effect upon the whole meeting. A psalm when read sincerely as a prayer can effectively build the worship of the meeting, too. The Holy Spirit provides appropriate occasions for shared prayer. A period of silence or quiet prayer together is usually the most opportune time. When everyone is praying together at any volume, trying to shout over the word of prayer does not contribute to the peace or sense of order in the meeting. We can wait, for the Spirit will give the opening.

In our meetings in the last year there has developed a form of shared prayer that has been especially effective as an instrument of worship. Frequently people will begin to praise the Lord in a series of short acclamations. "You are the creator," one will say. "We praise you, the Lord of glory," another will pray. And then another, "Jesus, you are the good shepherd." Sometimes these acclamations of praise will come one after another for several minutes, resulting in a beautiful litany of praise.

Silent Prayer

There are times too in a prayer meeting when silence is indeed a way of worship. Often, after a period of vigorous praise and song, there will suddenly be a strong silence in which one feels the presence and holiness of God. Such a silence is alive, so different from the dead silence of lifeless worship. At such moments, silence is the expression of our awe and reverence for God's holiness and is as filled with the presence of the Spirit as singing in tongues. There will be such special moments in a prayer meeting and we should not be afraid of them, but silence does not seem to be the primary mode of participation in the prayer meeting. The prayer meeting is not really for group meditation in silence nor for personal prayer. The prayer meeting’s genius is precisely in its participative and expressive character.


Singing is one Of the most effective means of expressing community worship. Our meetings invariably begin with song, and for good reason: music and song immediately unite us in prayer, lifting our spirits and opening us to the working of God.

Many of us have experienced moments in our prayer meetings when the singing was unified as one voice and the Spirit of the Lord was so powerfully present that we were overwhelmed. We have experienced it perhaps with a song or during a time of singing in tongues. But when we have worshiped the Lord with unity of Spirit and oneness of voice, something has happened and the Holy Spirit has worked deep within us.

Singing with one spirit means yielding to the Holy Spirit in our singing of a song. The main emphasis is on turning to the Lord in song rather than on producing musical excellence. If the Holy Spirit is to form us as he works in each particular song, we must be sensitive to the spirit of the song. Some songs are quiet and worshipful; others are lively and exciting. We should yield to the Spirit of joy, peace, worship, or praise which is appropriate to that song.

Singing can be so much fun that we sometimes get carried away with it. Music can get in the way of what the Lord is doing. Often, a song intrudes on the period of quiet reflection after a prophecy, teaching or exhortation. We sometimes tend to become uncomfortable with any lull in the prayer meeting. We should be wary of this tendency, for moments of silence are frequently from the Lord.

Singing with one Spirit also means singing in a spirit of love for our brothers. St. Paul says in Romans 15:1 2:
We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves; let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to edify him.
This ought to be true in our singing too. Many people, especially those with good voices, often sing as loud as they can to hear themselves. But singing in unity means our voices should be united to the one voice of the body. Our voice should blend with the voices of our brothers. Our ear should be attuned, not to our own voice to see how we are doing, but to the one voice which the Lord is forming among our brothers and sisters. If you are singing so loud that you can hear yourself, you are probably singing too loud. Remember that we are not singing to please ourselves.

On the other hand, singing in unity may mean that some people should sing louder. Many people are afraid to sing at all because they feel that they do not have a good voice or are afraid that they might not be on pitch. For those afraid to sing, love means dying to our fears and lifting our voice in song. If we are attuned to the one voice the Lord is forming in the group, the Lord will join our poor voice to it. I have met many people who thought they could not sing until they began to sing to the Lord in their prayer meetings. Many of these people not only sing, but even start songs. Some people I know say they still cannot sing at all except at a prayer meeting. Then, something happens. The Lord gives them the ability to sing far beyond their natural talent.

The music of a prayer group or community begins to be formed in the proper selection of the songs. When we first heard some of the traditional Pentecostal choruses, we could not imagine ourselves singing such songs. But we have since discovered what a valuable help such choruses are. Their simplicity seems especially suited to the periods of worship in a prayer meeting. Anyone can start them, and everyone can learn them. To this repertoire of choruses, most groups have added many other songs of worship, usually putting together a song sheet so that everyone can sing. If the song sheet is to be used mainly at prayer meetings, only songs appropriate for prayer meetings, especially songs of worship or praise, should be included.

One frequent problem, however, with the music of the pentecostal movement is sentimentality. Sentimental songs, those which express excessive or even false emotion, do not support an emotionally healthy relationship with the Lord. They also frequently "turn off" new people who come to a prayer meeting, especially men. Sentimentality often depends on the manner of singing. Some groups sing a song in a healthy, genuine way while another group will distort the song so that it emerges as excessively sentimental. To avoid sentimentality, remain faithful to the spirit of the song.

Other songs are simply weak or empty from a spiritual point of view. Many songs commonly sung in religious settings have trite or meaningless lyrics. Others have confused and unsingable melodies. Some songs are not explicitly Christian. Such songs simply do not support the prayer of the community; they leave the community feeling distracted or aimless, We can thank the Lord for bringing so much strong and expressive music in the charismatic renewal. We can continue to expect him to provide the kind of songs we need.

Singing in the Spirit

Singing in the Spirit is one of the most beautiful ways of worshiping the Lord. In this kind of prayer each person sings to the Lord in tongues (or English) and in a free melody as the Holy Spirit leads him. The many songs blend together in beautiful harmony. Sometimes the singing in the Spirit can be very soft and peaceful, but at other times very loud and powerful. Singing in the Spirit should be begun when we feel the Lord leading us, rather than just when we feel inclined to. Because it is part of the worship of the meeting, we can count on the Holy Spirit to lead us to begin at the appropriate times.

When the singing in the Spirit begins, each one should hesitate a moment before joining in. Each should look to the Lord and yield his own spirit to the one Holy Spirit to lead him into the song. Each voice should blend with the other voices. (It happens naturally when each one is looking to the Lord and listening to the song which the Spirit is forming.) We can begin to sing softly, letting the Spirit blend us with the song of the community. But we must also step out in faith when singing in the Spirit, having the courage to trust that God will help us, and begin to sing with the expectation that God will form our song. Singing in the Spirit is a high point of expressive worship. It brings us all together to respond actively to the Lord in a way that unites us. In fact, it is something of a barometer of the unity in a prayer meeting the greater the unity, the more harmonious and unified the singing in the Spirit.

Whether in silence or singing, praying aloud or singing in tongues, the most important thing we should remember is that we are worshiping the Lord. We are keeping our minds and hearts on him. He is worthy of our praise!

"Praise him for his mighty deeds; praise him according to his exceeding greatness! Let everything that breathes praise the Lord!" (Psalm 150)

This article is excerpted from the book Participating in Prayer Meetings, Chapter 1, copyright © 1974 by James J. Cavnar and published by Servant Books, Ann Arbor, Michigan,USA. Used with permission.

 Jim Cavnar has served in leadership in the charismatic renewal since its inception in 1967. He wrote Participating in Prayer Meetings in 1974, published by Servant Books in Ann Arbor. He was a worship leader for many years and led the music group for The Word of God community in Ann Arbor for many years. Jim and the Word of God music group produced a series of Songs of Praise music books and audio cassettes (Servant Publications) which circulated widely throughout the charismatic renewal worldwide.

Jim Cavnar is President of Cross International, a Christian ministry that serves the poorest of the poor internationally by channeling aid through existing churches or church-based ministries. Jim and his wife Betsy have five children.

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