Weekly Prayer Meeting as Prayer Liturgy

Jesus said to them, “When you pray, say: Father, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come . . .” (Lk 11:2).

The weekly, public prayer meeting of the church seems to be going the way of the Sunday evening service – they are disappearing.  Among churches that still advertise one, many of them end up being Bible studies instead of times of prayer. Now there are probably tons of reasons for this, but at the root, I think it comes down to the simple fact that public prayer is difficult and uncomfortable for many, if not most. As I mentioned last week, some have suggested there is a real problem in the church today with people approaching prayer self-centeredly and pragmatically, to which I agree. However, many are uncomfortable speaking publicly, let alone, praying publicly. Some have had tough days at home, school, or work and are distracted. Some come out of a sense of duty, instead of devotion and delight. Some have not been spending time in private devotion or practicing the presence of God throughout the day, which makes it difficult to come in the evening and suddenly enter into worshipful dependence on God. If there is a temptation to self-centered, pragmatic prayers in individuals, how much more when you get in a group?  If we can’t express our worshipful dependence on God in private, we probably won’t be able to do it in public either.

The result of all this? Many just don’t value the weekly prayer meeting and see it as a waste of time. As a pastor I long see myself and those in my congregation enjoy the blessing of praying to God as worshipful dependence, especially communally. So, to help this time be centered on God and not just ourselves, to help those who are shy and lack confidence to pray out loud, to promote our requests to be set in the context of worship, to help those quiet their hearts from a long day, to assist those who have not been praying throughout the day, to help those who are there more out of duty than devotion, the session of the church I pastor has changed the format of the weekly prayer meeting to a weekly prayer liturgy. The liturgy is arranged to help us worship, includes all the elements of adoration, confession, thanksgiving and supplication, and has sections for corporate and private prayers. In addition to using it during the prayer service, it also provides families something to use at home to help their family worship.

Here is what we prayed last night (I have removed the specifics from the individual prayers of intercession): Continue reading

Praying God-Centered, Scriptural Prayers

Is your church committed to prayer? Are you committed to prayer? These can be difficult questions, as Robert Murray McCheyne noted, “You wish to humble a man? Ask him about his prayer life.” I do not wish to humble you about your prayer life, but to encourage you in your prayer life.

As I have been preaching through Romans 8, I have been thinking and reflecting quite a bit on prayer. In Romans 8, one of the ways the Apostle Paul describes the Spirit-filled life is as a life of prayer. “Living by the Spirit,” “being led by the Spirit,” and having “the Spirit of adoption” are expressed in our Christian pilgrimage as we cry out “Abba! Father!” (13-15). The Spirit leads us to glory by uniting us to Christ so that we follow his path of suffering that leads to glory (17), a suffering that leads us to “groan inwardly” as we endure and wait for our redemption (23). Throughout the struggle of our pilgrimage, the Spirit helps us in our weakness by interceding for us when we are so confounded that we don’t even know how to pray for ourselves (26).

As Iraneaus once said, “We live in a veil of tears that is an engine of soul-making. In this life, we Christians are being made into saints, and it takes suffering to make saints.” The life of faith – the Spirit filled life- is a life of prayer. And a life of prayer is a Spirit empowered, persevering, patient, engagement with the world, the flesh and the devil, that is encouraged by the knowledge of God’s purposes for his people. If we are going to find any aid, if we are going to find any help, if we are going to find any comfort, we must look outside ourselves – we must look to Christ. And one way to do that is through prayer. Continue reading

Prayer and the New Creation: An Eschatological Event

For those who were not able to attend the prayer service last night, I am including the homily I gave on prayer and the breakdown of the service itself. The homily is based on Psalm 104 and Colossians 3.1-4; 4.2.

In his primer on prayer titled A Method for Prayer, Matthew Henry states that, “Prayer is a principal branch of religious worship, which we are moved to by the very light of nature, and obliged to by some of its fundamental laws,” (p. 11). By this, Henry means that by the very fact of our being created by God, there is a natural obligation for mankind to acknowledge the creator. For when we do not, we live as though God is not real. Since we have been created, we are the lesser creature, and therefore, we should acknowledge the one who is greater than we. Prayer, then, would seem to have its starting point grounded upon creation—God as the creator and man as the creature.

Although Henry refers to the Greek philosopher Pythagoras for this understanding of prayer, it is certainly true that the Bible teaches it as well. Continue reading

>Raised Up With Christ and Devoted to Prayer, Colossians 3.1-4 & 4.2-4

>What is the relationship between the plot line of the Bible, missions and prayer? In today’s sermon I attempt to show how these three things come together. Back in June, the 76th General Assembly requested that today, September 13, 2oo9, be set aside for a special season of prayer for the work of Worldwide Outreach of the OPC. In the OPC, Worldwide Outreach speaks of more than just foreign missions, it also includes home missions and Christian education. Given this call to prayer for the mission of the church, I thought it would be helpful to look at what God has to tell us about prayer and missions.

In order to do this I look at Colossians 3.1-4 and 4.2-4 together. Here is a preview:

. . . Missions is not something that the church attempts in and of her own strength, wisdom and strategizing for God; rather, missions is about God’s plan and his activities, and the church’s privilege to participate in what he is doing. And one of the main ways that the church participates in missions is through prayer. Praying for the church’s work, then, is not peripheral, but is central. It is central to the nature of missions as God’s work and it is central to who we are in Christ.

. . . The Bible is an integrated and true story with a plot line. And the plot line centers on a God who is on a mission to glorify himself, through his Son, by creating a people for his name’s sake. From the beginning, God has been on a mission to bring a people to experience and enjoy the eternal fellowship experienced and enjoyed among the three persons of the Trinity.

. . . Paul calls us to understand our place in the drama of redemption, our place of sharing in the role of the main protagonist, Jesus Christ, so that we might know how to live out our new roles in this continuing drama.

. . . And hear me, God will accomplish his ends . . . God is on a great unstoppable mission to glorify himself through the Son by saving a people for his name’s sake. When this understanding of God, his purposes, and our new identity in Jesus Christ grips us, how can we do anything other than pray for his mission in which we are participating?!

. . . Those who preach and teach the gospel, those who administer the sacraments and church discipline, those who plant churches here in America, those who go to foreign lands across the globe, those who write and publish studies to help people to be nourished in the their faith and trained for gospel ministry, they are not the only ones who are called to participate in world wide outreach. The congregations, you, Grace Church, also have been called to share in the work by your prayers. Not everyone will be a preacher–but everyone has a role in God’s unfolding drama of redemption. When you pray, you participate in the forward advancement of the gospel and the forward advancement of the plot that leads to the ultimate consummation of the story. And therefore we pray.

What a privilege it is to be redeemed and to play a role in God’s continuing mission of redemption as we find ourselves bound up and united to the main protagonist of the unfolding drama, raised up with him and devoted to prayer.

You can listen to the entire sermon here.

Invocations for Worship at Pilgrim OPC in Raleigh, NC

Here are my two invocations for tomorrow as I fill the pulpit again at Pilgrim OPC in Raleigh, NC. The one for the morning service comes from the call to worship from Psalm 48.1-2, 11.

Call to Worship:
Great is the Lord and greatly to be praised in the city of our God! His holy mountain, beautiful in elevation, is the joy of all the earth, Mount Zion, in the far north, the city of the great King. Let Mount Zion be glad! Let the daughters of Judah rejoice because of your judgments!

Invocation:
Most Gracious heavenly Father, who from all eternity have searched us out that we might know you and be to you a pleasing aroma; receive us now into the courts of your Temple in the name of Jesus Christ; accept us into your heavenly city atop your holy mountain. Grant to us the grace and strength to rejoice as Christ’s disciples, and to hear his Word, that we might celebrate his mighty acts of redemption and be nourished in our faith. To you, O gracious Father, enthroned above, and to the Son, sitting at your right hand, and to the Holy Spirit, dwelling in our hearts and uniting us to you before your heavenly throne of grace, be all glory, wisdom, power and dominion, now, and again, and forevermore, world without end, Amen.

For the evening service, the invocation comes from the call to worship, which comes from Psalm 145.1-3:

Call to Worship:
I will extol you, my God and King, and bless your name forever and ever. Every day I will bless you and praise your name forever and ever. Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised, and his greatness is unsearchable. Psalm 145.1-3

Invocation:
O Father Most High, whose dwelling place is exalted above the heavens and adorns your eternal majesty and the unsearchable riches of your greatness; O Lord, you are far beyond our loftiest thoughts and innermost desires; and yet, you have condescended to draw near to us in your Son, Jesus Christ. Assemble us, therefore, in his name, whom the angels adore as the Son of the Most High, forever worshiping him, as his name is exalted above all names. Lead us, then, to take our place in that eternal worship and participate in the never ceasing praises offered to the Lamb. Guide us in all that we do, that it might be undertaken at your bidding, filled with your grace, directed by your wisdom, informed by your truth, empowered by your Spirit and accomplished to your glory. Through Christ, our Lord, whom with you and the Holy Spirit, O Father we constantly bless and magnify. To you, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, one God from all eternity and to all eternity, Amen.

>Praying for a Rookie President

>Over at Real Clear Politics, Thomas Sowell has an interesting article comparing the costly mistakes that rookie athletes make with the potential for even costlier mistakes that our rookie President has already and may continue to make. Sowell says,

We now have a rookie President of the United States and, in the dangerous world we live in, with terrorist nations going nuclear, just one rookie mistake can bring disaster down on this generation and generations yet to come.

Now, obviously any first term President is in a sense a “rookie.” But this is not what concerns Sowell, rather, he is concerned that President Obama does not have any previous executive responsibility in an organization in which he was personally responsible for the outcome of his decisions. Sowell’s conclusion is, “We can lose some very big games with this rookie.”

Although as a citizen of the city of man, I agree with Sowell’s assessment, and am not in agreement with man of the decisions and policies of our current President; however, as I am also a citizen of the city of God, I have been commanded to pray for those in leadership over me,

I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way, (1 Tim 2.1-2).

To me, this is one of truly helpful aspects about the Two Kingdoms perspective–on the one hand I can disagree with our President and stand in opposition to his ideals, and yet on the other I can pray for his success as a govenor without expecting him to change his ideals.

Too many today intertwine their faith with their politics and find themselves confused about how to maintain their faith as pilgrims in a land that that is not their home, while simultaneously wisely maintaining the rights, privilges and responsibilities as citizens in America. This confusion often leads persons who pray for leaders with whom they disagree only to pray that the leaders change their beliefs to agree with them.

If our President is indeed a rookie as Sowell asserts, then we should pray that God provide him the wisdom to govern well, no matter his idealogy, that he not “lose some very big games.”

Read Sowell’s entire post here.

>Praying According to God’s Will

>And this is the confidence that we have toward 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 the requests that we have asked of him. 1 John 5.14-15

“Prayer to God is the chief part, yea, the the main thing in religion. For the design of the whole truth respecting salvation, is to teach us that our life depends on God, and that whatever belongs to eternal life must be hoped for and expected from him.” John Calvin

One of the great privileges and responsibilities I have as a licentiate is to lead the congregation in prayer during worship. Prayer is a means of grace that aids the believer to set his heart and mind on the things of God for the encouragement of faith. The gospel itself promises that God hears us when we pray. Faith rests in communing with God, while at the same time is encouraged in that communion.

And what is even more remarkable to me, is that in addition to having the great promise and comfort that God hears me when I pray–there is the even greater promise that he acts on behalf of those whom he hears. He does more than just listen–he acts. He provides the things we need for faith and life. In fact, apart from his acting, we would not have what we need, for we are completely and utterly dependent upon God for everything that pertains to eternal life and communion with him. So prayer encourages our faith and is an expression of our communion with and dependence on God.

Yet, there is an important condition to be met, in order to lay hold of the great promise that God will hear us and grant our requests–prayer must be offered according to his will. God guards us against our idolatrous tendencies (even in prayer) to make ourselves the focus of our prayers. Instead, our prayers are to be God-centered, they should be focused on his will not our own. In fact the very dependence that underlies prayer comes to expression when we seek to align ourselves and our plans and purposes with his plans and purposes.

Therefore, given the great promises of prayer, as well as, the condition of praying according to God’s will, I seek to fill my prayers with the revealed will of God as found in the scriptures. To do this well when I lead the congregation in prayer in Sabbath worship, I spend time during the week preparing myself for prayer. One thing I have begun to do in the past several months is to write out prayers that are based on and filled with scripture. For example, here is the first paragraph of a prayer that is based upon Peter’s first epistle:

O Holy and Gracious Father; Faithful and Righteous Son; Regenerating and Sanctifying Holy Spirit, you are our God, most high and exalted, the creator and sustainer of all that exists. May we bless your name forever for the wondrous salvation you have procured for your people. We praise and thank you that you have regenerated us to a living hope. That in your sovereignty and for your glory, you have caused us to be born again to a heavenly inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading–an inheritance that is kept for us in heaven and that you in your magnificient power are keeping us for it–guarding us in our faith until our salvation is revealed in its fullness at the revelation of Jesus Christ, to the praise, glory and honor of his name.

You can read/pray the rest here.

There are great and amazing promises that God extends to us in his word, we would do well to do the work of unearthing them and making his word our words to him, for he knows what we need more than we ourselves, and he promises to hear us and answer us when we pray according to his will. So don’t just read the scriptures–pray them.