In this newsletter series, Pastor Bryan and I are explaining the purpose behind the elements of our worship service. Our service is not just based on what we’ve done in the past (although it is influenced by our Reformed and Presbyterian heritage), nor is it simply based on what will attract the most people (although we do want our service to be inviting). More importantly, our worship is based on how God instructs us to worship. We want to worship God in a way that pleases him. A well intentioned gift of peanut brittle to someone with a severe peanut allergy does not bring joy. In a similar way, even if our intentions are good, we want to ensure our gifts of worship are the type God actually desires.
This month we are examining the role of prayer in our worship service. One of the instructions the Apostle Paul leaves for the church is to pray when we gather for worship. (1 Tim 2:8) Thus prayer is a necessary part of our worship service, but the particulars of the prayers in the service will vary church by church. Let’s look at some of the prayers we offer in our service:
Invocation: This is the prayer that comes near the beginning of our service. This prayer is our response to the call to worship where God initiates a conversation with us. The invocation reminder us that unless God is at work, our worship will fall flat. This is important because people often think worship is effective if there is a great band or impassioned preaching. But such things–apart from God’s Spirit–are like the flash of a match that is lit but soon dies out. Worship’s effectiveness is found in God who fuels our (sometimes feeble) efforts to praise him.
Prayers of the People: As a child I was always curious which elder would be doing this prayer, so that I could prepare myself for long how it would take! However, our purpose isn’t to bore children (or adults), but to pray for God to work on behalf of others. At our church we usually pray for people in the world, our state and our church. We try to model our prayers on the things we are told to pray for in Scripture. This certainly includes physical needs (Matt 6:11), but many of the prayers in Scripture focus on growth in godliness. Paul’s prayer for the Ephesian Church is a good example:
“I pray for you constantly, asking God, the glorious Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, to give you spiritual wisdom and insight so that you might grow in your knowledge of God.” (Eph 1:16-17)
Prayer for Illumination: God’s Spirit takes the words of Scripture and brings them to life. The power of preaching is not in one’s speaking ability, but in God’s Spirit working through the preacher and through the minds of the hearers.
Prayer as Discipleship
One other reason we pray in our service is to help teach others to pray. We have the blessing of having a number of people visit our church who have never been part of a Christian church. If I get the chance to talk with them I will often ask what they thought about the worship service. I frequently hear things like, “The prayers are different than other prayers I’ve heard... in a good way,” or, “When you pray you sound like you are talking to someone you know.” The prayers in our worship service have made people curious about our relationship with God.
I was recently talking with someone who had no Christian background but through the ministry of our church is coming to know Jesus. She has struggled to pray, in part because she’s never done it out loud. But as we were talking I noticed that she listens to the prayers during the service. Our prayers are helping teach her how to speak to God in a way she never has before. This makes sense; children learn to speak by hearing others speak. Christians learn to pray by hearing others pray. This underscores the importance of prayer in our worship service, but even more, it shows us how important it is for Christians to be willing to model, through prayer, what a conversation with God looks like.