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  • Parallelism

    An alternative, collective, worship activity for your Life Group.

    Parallelism - primary image

    In our Life Group, we have sometimes looked for different ways to express our passion for God together. Songs are the best way to do this (and I think should be the most common type of corporate worship) but we need to be careful that singing songs doesn’t just become the easy, default option. Another this to be mindful of is the tendency for some ‘alternative worship’ activities to become solo exploits; it’s massively important that there is an element of collaboration and collective expression in any corporate worship. What we’ve got here then is a step-by-step guide for an alternative, collective, worship activity:


    Step 1
    With a winning smile, say something like, “Here we go then!” and then read out this introduction (missing out this first paragraph if you don’t like to attempt humour):
    If someone had asked me last year what ‘parallelism’ meant, I might have guessed that it was some kind of mental condition where someone thinks they are living in a twin universe, or maybe the irrational fear of a tricky parking manoeuvre. Then, last summer, I read a book called, ‘Praying the Psalms of Jesus’, by James W. Sire, and I can now pass on that ‘parallelism’ is in fact an ancient poetic technique used throughout the Bible but especially in Psalms!

    In a nutshell, parallelism mainly refers to the use of pairs of lines in poetry. It’s one of the only poetic devices that can be translated into any language and still maintain it’s beauty and power; and that makes me want to praise God for His plan for people from every tribe and tongue to know Him and worship Him.
    There are lots of different types of parallelism, and it’s all about the relationship between different lines; sometimes the second line has the same meaning as the first, other times the second says the opposite; often the second is an expanded or developed version of the first or maybe one of the line states figuratively what the other line states literally (e.g. Psalm 42:1, ‘As the deer pants for water, so my soul thirsts for you, O God.’)

    Step 2
    Ask everyone who has a Bible to turn to Psalm 34, and point out that it’s full of pairs of lines that relate to each other in different ways.
    Read Psalm 34, maybe reading a verse each around the room (read up to verse 10 if you’ve got limited time).

    1 I will bless the LORD at all times;
      his praise shall continually be in my mouth.
    2 My soul makes its boast in the LORD;
      let the humble hear and be glad.
    3 Oh, magnify the LORD with me,
      and let us exalt his name together!
    4 I sought the LORD, and he answered me
      and delivered me from all my fears.
    5 Those who look to him are radiant,
      and their faces shall never be ashamed.
    6 This poor man cried, and the LORD heard him
      and saved him out of all his troubles.
    7 The angel of the LORD encamps
      around those who fear him, and delivers them.
    8 Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good!
        Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him!
    9 Oh, fear the LORD, you his saints,
      for those who fear him have no lack!
    10 The young lions suffer want and hunger;
      but those who seek the LORD lack no good thing.
    11 Come, O children, listen to me;
        I will teach you the fear of the LORD.
    12 What man is there who desires life
      and loves many days, that he may see good?
    13 Keep your tongue from evil
      and your lips from speaking deceit.
    14 Turn away from evil and do good;
      seek peace and pursue it.
    15 The eyes of the LORD are toward the righteous
        and his ears toward their cry.
    16 The face of the LORD is against those who do evil,
      to cut off the memory of them from the earth.
    17 When the righteous cry for help, the LORD hears
      and delivers them out of all their troubles.
    18 The LORD is near to the brokenhearted
      and saves the crushed in spirit.
    19 Many are the afflictions of the righteous,
        but the LORD delivers him out of them all.
    20 He keeps all his bones;
        not one of them is broken.
    21 Affliction will slay the wicked,
      and those who hate the righteous will be condemned.
    22 The LORD redeems the life of his servants;
      none of those who take refuge in him will be condemned.

    Ask the group to identify the relationships between the lines. Here are a few pointers:
    • Verse 1 is a simple repetition using a bit of rephrasing
    • The second line in Verse 4 is a climatic development of the first
    • In verse 8 the second line is a development of the first
    • In Verse 10 the two lines state the opposite to each other, and also one line is figurative whilst the other is literal.

    Now we’re going to write our own Life Group psalms!

    Step 3:
    Give out a piece of lined paper and a pen to everyone and then explain that in a moment you’ll ask them to write something. Before that though, take a moment to reflect. Lead the group in a short prayer of praise and then just spend a few moments in silence. After a little while, encourage everyone to write one line; the first line of a psalm; something that amazes them about God; the first thing that comes to mind when they stop and consider who God is. Here’s an example:

    The Lord created the seen and unseen

    Don’t be restricted by this example though, just keep it fairly short and make sure it comes from the heart!

    Step 4
    Wait for everyone to finish, then ask them to pass their piece of paper to the person on their left (or right, whichever feels…right). Now ask them to write a line that parallels the one on the page. Remind them that it can just be a rephrasing of the first, or maybe stating the opposite, or developing it in some way, perhaps even using the figurative-literal relationship. Let’s go back to my example line and write a parallel for it:

    The Lord created the seen and unseen,
      In Him all things are held together.

    (Notice how I borrowed a verse from Colossians 1:17 there? Always a safe option to use another Bible verse!)

    After they’ve written their parallel line, ask everyone to write another line that will be the first of a new pair.

    The Lord created the seen and unseen,
      In Him all things are held together.

    Your Spirit pumps life around my body,

    Step 5
    Repeat Step 4 for as long as you like, and then announce the final round by asking everyone to just one, finishing, line. (I recommend ‘3 ‘passes’ to give you a nice 6-line, 3-verse psalm).

    Step 6
    Ask each person to read out the psalm that they end up with, and then finish with some corporate prayer or a song.

    NB: If your group might be intimated by step 1 or are a bit impatient, then you might want to skip straight to step 2 (though you would miss some good stuff on the multi-cultural heart of God!)

    Please leave a comment below to let me know how it goes, and maybe you could post a psalm or two if your group consents to it.

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