Praying beyond Our Walls

A visitor can tell a lot about a congregation from the prayers spoken in worship. Maybe you have experienced services in which congregations appear to be completely self-centered. They prayed for needs within which congregations appear to be completely self-centered. They prayed for needs within their own congregation, but said hardly a word about anything or anyone outside themselves—unless, perhaps, there had been a hurricane or some other sort of disaster in the news. Of course it is a beautiful and important part of our priestly function as a community to pray for the needs of the congregation—this is one way we rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep. But we have to reach beyond our congregational families too.

Bringing the needs of the world before God in the worshiping assembly demonstrates to members and visitors that a given congregation is more than just a nice social club.

—Ron and Debra Rienstra, Worship Words: Discipling Language for Faithful Ministry, 205-206

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Obstacles to Adoration

C. S. Lewis identifies several things that keep us from adoration.

The first is inattention. How easy it is to be caught up into the whirl of life and miss the overtures of Divine Love.

A second obstacle is the wrong kind of attention. We see a sunset and are drawn into analysis rather than doxology.

A third obstacle to adoration is greed. Instead of simply enjoying pleasures, we demand more pleasures.

Lewis mentions one more obstruction: conceit. When conceit takes over, the focus is once again on how wonderful we are—which is why it so effectively severs the cords of adoration.

—Richard Foster, Prayer: Finding the Heart’s True Home, 85-87

The Word in Prayer and Song

All too many free-church prayers and hymns have forsaken biblical imagery in favor of a host of frivolous, superficial, pop psychological jargon and cliches that chatter about “celebration,” “becoming human,” “finding ourselves,” “being free to be you and me,” and other amorphous trivialities. This is particularly tragic among those whose forebears once felt that the presence and guidance of Scripture in worship was something worth dying for.

—William H. Willimon, The Bible: A Sustaining Presence in Worship, 14

Ascended! (3)

Q.  If you could name one theological theme that worship committees could well spend time reflecting on, what would it be?

A.  Christ’s ascension.

As our ascended Lord, Jesus not only receives our worship but also perfects our prayers. In fact, Jesus “always lives to intercede for us” (Heb. 7:25). Jesus (and not any other human worship leader) is the true lead worshiper. As we worship it is fitting to think of Jesus as active: praying for us, perfecting our prayers, giving us full access to God. This is pastorally significant because it welcomes us to offer worship even in weakness (Heb. 4:14-16).

Importantly, when we imagine what our ascended Lord is like, we need a balanced view, remembering the one who appears like both a Lion and Lamb (cf. Rev. 5), the one who is both cosmic Lord (Col. 1) but also “who has been tempted in every way, just like us” (Heb. 4:15).

As you study this theme, ask yourselves how well your congregation’s musical diet conveys these themes. Ask worshipers how they imagine what Jesus is doing today (we often fail to realize how active in prayer Jesus is today). Finally, ask whether and how your congregation celebrates Ascension Day. Most of us can do better at giving attention to this remarkable event.

And when we do celebrate Ascension, we need to do a better job of keeping in mind not only Christ’s ongoing role as King, but also his role as Priest (and Prophet). For more insights and practical suggestions on this theme, see Gerrit Scott Dawson’s Jesus Ascended: The Meaning of Christ’s Continuing Incarnation (Presbyterian and Reformed), and the fine article by Laura Smit in Reformed Worship 79.

—John D. Witvliet, Reformed Worship Issue #80 (June 2006)

Giving Thanks

Thanksgiving is often thought of as simply one form of prayer. Yet it underlies every form. Praise is always a thankful response for God’s grace. Confession gratefully presumes God’s acceptance, forgiveness, and reconciliation. Intercession asks for others what one has thankfully received for oneself. Petitionary prayer is but a grateful response to God’s mercies in the past. (Psalm 75:1; 92:1; 105:1-5; 106:1-2; 107:1-9; 136; Phil. 4:6; Col. 3:16-17)

—Donald Stake