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

The Temptation of Professorial Ministry

This past Sunday morning during Sunday School, we spent time talking about the sermon text Romans 8:31-39. In the sermon I had talked about God’s commitment to conforming us to the image of Jesus Christ and the security that commitment gives us to follow our Savior. It is a security grounded in a divine marriage that we have with a loving husband who has given himself for us – and therefore – will not let us go. This love grants us the courage and freedom to give ourselves away to him, or as Isaac Watts has said,

Were the whole realm of nature mine,
That were a present far too small;
Love so amazing, so divine,
Demands my soul, my life, my all.

The goal of ministry is for the pastor to believe this, and practice this, in order to help others embrace and practice it, as well. However, how do you embrace such an urgent message, let alone lead others to embrace it when things just don’t seem that urgent to us? Continue reading

Preparing Yourself for Sabbath Worship

How lovely is your dwelling place, O LORD of hosts! My soul longs, yes, faint for the courts of the LORD; my heart and flesh sing for joy to the living God. ~ Psalm 84:1-2

The words of the psalmist personify the desires of his heart for God, especially the public the worship of God. But these words, let alone his desires for the public worship of God, are not to be the psalmist’s alone – God has provided them to be the substance of our prayers and desires as well. But these do not come naturally for most, especially because of the many struggles of the week that have gripped our emotions and attentions. So we need to quiet our hearts, and prepare ourselves for worship.

Psalm 116 is a great psalm to help us reflect on God’s love and mercy for us as he is present within our daily lives,  listening to our prayers and delivering us from our trouble. Psalm 116.1-8:

I love the LORD, because he has heard my voice and my pleas for mercy. Because he inclined his ear to me, therefore I will call on him as long as I live. The snares of death encompassed me; the pangs of Sheol laid hold on me; I suffered distress and anguish. Then I called on the name of the LORD: “O LORD, I pray, deliver my soul!” Gracious is the LORD, and righteous; our God is merciful. The LORD preserves the simple; when I was brought low, he saved me. Return, O my soul, to your rest; for the LORD has dealt bountifully with you. For you have delivered my soul from death, my eyes from tears, my feet from stumbling;

Reflecting on God’s presence with us helps us put the work week in perspective, so that we can be reminded of the greater world that exists outside our personal lives and struggles. That greater world?  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

Is the Mystery Gone?

Is the mystery gone? No, I’m not talking about your relationship with your spouse – I’m talking about your relationship with God. I have been thinking about his question for some time now, for I have a strange vocation. I am a pastor – which means that I have been called to be a steward of God’s mysteries. This provides me a great deal of time reading God’s words and praying in private, as well as, leading my church in worship and adoration of God through reading, preaching, praying, and administering the sacraments twice on Sunday. But all this time around God’s truth can be difficult – and one of the primary struggles is not allowing the divine mysteries to become common-place. But this is not just a problem that minister’s face – this is a trial that we all face, as I have been reminded from my current sermon preparations for preaching through Habakkuk.

The very history of the church, going back to the Old Testament is that the people of God have always tended to forget God and what he has done for us. Continue reading