Tag Archives: worship

So, What are We Praying for?

Prayer and worship are chief among the means of grace. New life in Christ begins with prayer and is sustained and strengthened by prayer. But genuine Christian prayer is informed and transformed by the word of God. The Bible is essential and indispensable to prayer and all the other means of grace and spiritual disciplines. The Bible should inform and transform the content and direction of our prayer and our worship with the help of the Holy Spirit. The Bible reveals to us that Jesus is Lord (Romans 10:9-10); the Spirit enables us to believe the message of the Bible and confess Jesus as Lord (1 Corinthians 12:3). The Spirit also helps us in our weakness to pray as we ought to pray.  In other words, the Holy Spirit inspires and guides us to pray according to the word of God, which reveals the will of God. The Spirit even picks up where we fall short and prays for us.

Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. ~ Romans 8:26-27 NRSV

In our weakness we easily forget what Jesus said should be the focus of our prayer lives. For that matter, we easily forget what should be the focus of the entirety of our lives as Christians, including all the other means of grace and practice of spiritual disciplines. Jesus warned that our focus should not be on worldly riches and acclaim and our own personal comfort and convenience (Matthew 6:19-33; Luke 12:13-34). Instead of allowing our lives and prayer lives to be consumed by the worry over our own comfort and security in this world, “about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will wear” (Matthew 6:25 NRSV), Jesus tells us to “strive first the kingdom of God and his righteousness” (Matthew 6:33 NRSV).

In other words, our personal desires for pleasure, comfort, and security in this world should not be focus of our lives; neither should they be the focus of our prayer lives. God and God’s will for us should be at the center of our prayers. In all things, especially in prayer we should seek first God’s kingdom and his righteousness. We should pray for God’s kingdom and God’s righteousness to come and reign supreme in our own lives, and flow through us into the lives of others and the rest of the world. Jesus said:

  “Pray then in this way: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And do not bring us to the time of trial, but rescue us from the evil one.” ~ Matthew 6:9-13 NRSV

This is how the Holy Spirit inspires and guides us to pray according to God’s will revealed in God’s word, especially in the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus, the Word of God in the flesh (John 1:1-18).praying hands on bible

The Spirit will also inspire and guide us in our worship of God together in the church where prayer and the reading and preaching of the Bible together with the liturgy and songs and hymns of the church, and especially the sacraments of Holy Baptism and Holy Communion, conform us to the image of Christ. In worship also we seek first the kingdom and God and his righteousness to renew us into the image and likeness of God so that we will be blessed to be a blessing to our communities and our world for the glory of God’s name among the nations. Prayer, Bible study, and worship are all means to this goal, a goal that will be brought to completion at the resurrection of the body when Jesus comes again. This is what Christians are called to pray for.

It’s not that we should never pray for our own needs. Jesus did say to pray “gives us this day our daily bread.” Indeed, we are to pray for our needs, the greatest of which is for God’s kingdom to come and God’s will to be done in our lives and over all the earth. Jesus is not warning about praying for our need; he is warning about praying according to our greed. Where our will is opposed to God’s, we must pray for our will to be transformed to be in harmony with the will of God. James tells us that praying according to our own desires without regard for the will of God is a mistake. “You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, in order to spend what you get on your pleasures” (James 4:3 NRSV). But when we pray according to God’s will, when we pray for God’s kingdom to come and for his righteousness to be ours, he hears us and will grant our requests.

And this is the boldness we have in him, that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have obtained the requests made of him. ~ 1 John 5:14-15 NRSV

The primary focus of our prayer life should be the truly good things that God wants us to have. We should pray for faith, hope, and love. We should pray for God’s wisdom (James 1:5) so we can know the difference between good and evil and have the courage to do what is right. We should pray for the fruit of the Spirit, love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control Galatians 5:22-23), to be abundant in our lives in in our churches. We should pray for the works of our sinful nature in us to be removed from our hearts (Galatians 5:24; Colossians 3:5-9) and be replaced by the godly, Christ-like character that God wants to give us.

So if you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth, for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life is revealed, then you also will be revealed with him in glory.

Put to death, therefore, whatever in you is earthly: fornication, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed (which is idolatry). On account of these the wrath of God is coming on those who are disobedient. These are the ways you also once followed, when you were living that life. But now you must get rid of all such things—anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive language from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have stripped off the old self with its practices and have clothed yourselves with the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge according to the image of its creator. In that renewal there is no longer Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and free; but Christ is all and in all!

As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. ~ Colossians 3:1-17 NRSV

In other words, we should pray to be the kind of people that Jesus said we should be in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7). This is the will of God for us, and it is the most important thing for us to ask for in prayer. And Jesus promised regarding these good things that God wants to give us:

“Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for bread, will give a stone? Or if the child asks for a fish, will give a snake? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” ~ Matthew 7:7-11 NRSV

It is the presence and power of the Holy Spirit that makes these virtues and holy character possible in our lives (See Luke 11:1-12). These are the good things that God wants us to pray for. This is what is means to seek the kingdom of God and God’s righteousness first.

A man set his sights on winning the lottery. One day he bought a winning ticket that brought him tens of millions of dollars. He thought it was the answer to his prayers. But winning it all caused him to lose everything that really mattered. His prayer life was focused on all the wrong things. He had millions of dollars, but little to no love. He bought a mansion, but did not secure a place in the house of the Lord. He had lots of fancy cars, but no true friends. He desperately tried to fill the void in his soul with all the shiny things money could buy, but still felt empty. Eventually he blew all the money, he had to sell most of his things, and he lost all hope because he had put his hope in the uncertainty of temporal riches rather than in the eternal God. He gained the world, but lost his soul (see Mark 8:36; Luke 12:13-21).

God wants us to have something so much better than anything this fallen world has to offer us. He wants us to have the things that make for an eternal home with him. Our prayers, our worship, and everything we do should be according to what God wants. And what God wants is the absolute best for us. If God get’s everything he wants, which is all of us, we who trust God with our lives will eternally have everything we could ever need.

So, what are you praying for?


Just a Little More Time

Several years ago on a Sunday afternoon, after the worship service was over at the United Methodist church I served, I walked across the road to the African Methodist Episcopal Zion church. The two churches shared a long history going back to colonial days in America. The church I served had been founded as a congregation of the Church of England in 1762. During the height of the Revolutionary War, the congregation broke from the Church of England and joined with the fledgling Methodist movement. In 1784 it was one of the original churches in the newly formed denomination called the Methodist Episcopal Church. Here whites and blacks would gather weekly for worship, although the African American slaves would not be allowed to come inside; they would have to listen in on the service from outside. From what I understand, after the Civil War, land was granted for the newly freed slaves to build their own church, which became part of the AMEZ denomination.

I walked over there that day to meet their new pastor. Most of the congregation knew me already because I had preached there, and their previous pastor had preached at our church. That was the first time one of their pastors had preached in the church that some of their ancestors were not even allowed to enter for worship. We had also worshiped and fellowshiped together during holy week before.

When I walked in around 20 after noon, I was greeted and welcomed by one of their faithful attendants. Their new pastor was in the midst of prayer. After he finished praying, someone told him who I was, the pastor of the UM church across the road. Later in the service, now about 1:00 o’clock, he sent word via one of the attendants to ask me if I would like to speak to the congregation. Initially I said: “No, that’s okay. I know you all have been here a long time already.” The gracious attendant said, “Pastor, that really doesn’t matter, ’cause we don’t put a time limit on the Lord here.”

United Methodist Bishop Will Willimon had a similar experience when he preached at an African American church. After the service, he asked the pastor why they take so long to worship. The pastor said they need a good two hours each week to counteract the lies of the world that tells his people they are nothing all week with the message that they are royalty as God’s very own people, bought with the precious redemption price of God’s very own Son. He said it takes that long “get their heads straight” (book Pastor: The Theology and Practice of Ordained Ministry, p. 73). In light of the demise of Christendom in America, and the fact that the church can no longer rely on the culture, if it ever could or should have, to help inculcate a Christian ethos, Willimon says he suspects “that more of us pastors will need more time to get our congregations’ heads straight.”

Indeed, one has to wonder how an hour on Sunday, sometimes  only once every four to six weeks for an increasing number of attendees, can counteract the effects of secular bombardment through popular culture, media, entertainment, and public education, which is often subtly if not openly hostile to Christianity. We really need to give God more time to work with us, to transform our hearts, and renew our minds.

Romans 12:1-2 says:

“Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.”

In worship we are called to present ourselves as a living sacrifice. We offer ourselves to God placing our lives in God’s hands to be transformed into a masterpiece of divine workmanship. To give God more of ourselves, we must also give him more of our time, to work with us. When we offer God more of ourselves, we receive more and more of him as we are conformed more and more into the image of his Son (Romans 8:29).

If we are going to be filled with all the fullness of God (Ephesians 3:19) we can’t allow our schedules to be so full that we have very little time left to offer ourselves fully to God. The one who gives us eternal life through Jesus Christ, asks for a little more of our time, for our good and his glory. To quote Chairman of the Board, perhaps God is saying to his bride, the church, “give me just a little more time, and our love will surely grow.”