“Above all – and again this I regard as most important of all – always respond to every impulse to pray… It is the work of the Holy Spirit… So never resist, never postpone it, never push it aside because you are busy. Give yourself to it, yield to it; and you will find not only that you have not been wasting time with respect to the matter with which you are dealing, but that actually it has helped you greatly in that respect.” -Martyn Lloyd Jones, Preaching and Preachers Pg 170 171
I have spent a goodly number of words on my deep and abiding dislike of the modern worship service, in particular the music. I despise the shallow repetitiveness, the cord changes designed to manipulate emotions, the self-centeredness of the stage, and appalling theology that slips by un noticed, and the greater devotion to “cool” than worship. And while each of these objections have rejoinders and justifications quickly upon the lips of those practitioners, I would like to hear a rebuttal to the following.
If there is one thing that is lacking in the average evangelical Sunday gathering, it is prayer. And by this I do not mean the predictably timed but still shot from the hip prayer the the music minister emotes between songs three and four as we “prepare our hearts for the sermon.” There is indeed a time and place for prayer that is unscripted. Written out prayers can be and have been dry. But by the same token stream of consciousness prayers have been vapid, shallow, insipid, and sometimes heretical, if not just downright inane. Both have a possibility of becoming rote. I can predict with confidence in my own church we will be praying yet again for that nebulous group of people who had a rough week and “barely made it there” so God should comfort them. I have confidence in my prediction because we have had some variation of that prayed over us the last ten Sundays, and the previous ten before that, and so on, ad infinitum.
If the music time is about Christ, as we are told by the music man, then could there be any objection to him stepping down so that the pastor or an elder could lead the congregation in a prepared pastoral prayer? Why must we always have an on the spot impromptu that serves more as a nice transition to the next thing, instead of a dedicated period in which we come before the throne of God, amen and amen.
While pragmatics are obviously not the main reason for a congregation to pray. There are several good things that can come out of weekly pastoral prayers.
- The pastor is freed up to not have to address or shoe horn in every current event in his sermon. Those news items can be taken to God, who is sovereign over all, and the congregation is encouraged to have faith and fear not. Prayers can begin on the global, and move down through national, and local levels with emphasis given as prudent. Sermons are therefore able to be entirely exegetical and a pastor is not required to become an overnight expert in whatever issue has become lodged in the congregations collective craw.
- The congregation can be encouraged in humility as a different sister congregation is prayed for each week. The body is guarded against the notion that God is only working through their church, jealousy is fought against, and charity is displayed across denominational or openhanded theological lines.
- A congregation is unified in their knowledge of each other as members in hospital (or in exceptionally difficult circumstances) are prayed for by name in the gathering. Compassion is exercised and grown among the body as they are taken outside of their own self focus and directed to unselfishly lift up others.
- The people are taught silence and to listen. It is far too easy during a sermon to stray from a Bible app to twitter. But in prayer no device should be in hand. Posture matters. And in a day in age where everything tells us to be quick to speak and slow to listen, extended times of prayer actively teach silent, listening and focus.
- The lost among the body will either leave due to boredom or they will be converted. This comes by way of Mark Dever. It is no secret that many unconverted sit in pews, know the lingo, even give, but their hearts are as dead and cold as any man out side the church. Sermons can be entertaining, but prayers are a different ball game. Pray long end often enough and they will either look for new entertainment options or they will encounter the King of Kings.
“Pastors, pray so much in your services that nominal Christians are bored that you talk so often to the God they only say they believe in.” – Mark Dever, Centrality of the Church in Disciple-Making
- A prepared pastoral prayer feeds a congregation on good theology so that they will demand rich worship. In a sense songs are prayers. If a congregation has a strong theology of what prayer is they will begin to see problems with man centered worship. A church service where man is praised and only takes from God is not a church service. It is a liturgy of religious leaches. Consistent prayer with clear doctrine and no emotional plugs brings a people closer to God than a feeling from four chords ever ever could.
My suspicion is that no pastor ever set out to not bring his flock before the Throne of Grace. Rather that a series of church growth experts, pragmatics, cultural movements (both inside and outside the church) and comments from loud minorities all congealed to form the standard four songs and a sermon with Lords Supper wedged in where convenient, service many are familiar with. It is immediately understood that pastors are expected to be not just preachers, but also CEO’s, available on evenings and weekends for weddings and funerals. And a predictable service is easy. You let the music guy handle it, get your sermon written, and not much thought is put into fixing something that doesn’t seem broken. But it is broken. Our complete and total lack of deep prayer reveals it. Our prideful infighting, over politicalization, spiritually infantile parishioners all evidence this problem. And it is a problem that can be solved by leading the people to God, regularly, with preparation.
The church is the Bride of Christ. And to use the metaphor, as a husband I would be appalled if my bride constantly took from me, and the only time she talked to me it was to sing her praises and demand more from me. It would reveal her to be a small, petty, cruel person. And yet somehow this has become the largely accepted norm for the Bride of Christ.
So let us pray, let us encourage our pastors to pray. Let us pray until our cold hearts warm with affection for the one we gather to worship.