“First of all, then, 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 Timothy 2:1-2 (ESV)
“I desire then that in every place the men should pray, lifting holy hands without anger or quarreling;”1 Timothy 2:8 (ESV)
“And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” Acts 2:42 (ESV)
“Pray then like this: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” Matthew 6:9-13 (ESV)
As we continue our series on the order and elements of worship, we come to the element of prayer. Where the reading and preaching of God’s Word enables us to hear His voice to us in His revealed will, prayer is our means of speaking to God. When done in the right spirit, it reminds of our complete and desperate need for our God. We are beggars before the throne of God, but He has brought us before Himself as sons and daughters. In this post, we will examine the various roles that prayer can occupy as a component of worship.
1. Adoration and Praise of God’s Glory
The first question of the Westminster Shorter Catechism is, “What is the chief end of man?” The well-known answer is, “Man’s chief end is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.” It is therefore not surprising that one of the key aspects of our prayer in corporate worship is adoration and praise. God alone is worthy of our glory. While this is not confined to our prayer life, it must be especially true in our prayer life. The first petition of the Lord’s Prayer is, “hallowed be Thy Name.” We seek to glorify God in our prayers.
In practice, it is easy to praise and adore God for certain attributes to the exclusion of others. We often remember to praise Him for His grace, mercy, love, and goodness. However, we often neglect others such as His justice, righteousness, holiness, and wrath. Other attributes such as His eternality, aseity, immutability, and blessedness are rarely discussed. To worship part of God is to worship an idol. We must therefore be vigilant in our worship to understand God in the fullness of His revealed Nature. The only place to find that Nature is in the Scriptures. Our prayers of adoration should therefore reflect God as He is revealed in Scripture. To this end, it is often valuable to have prayers of adoration that directly follow a reading of Scripture such as a psalm.
2. Confession of Our Sin and Appealing to Mercy in Christ
The polar opposite of adoring God’s perfection is to meditate upon and confess our sinfulness. This is, however, a key component of our worship. In such a prayer, we are laying bare our souls to the truth that we are sinners. 1 John 1:9 reminds us to confess our sins, and that God forgives our sins. The Greek word that is rendered “confess” implies an agreement with God. To confess sin is to agree that we have sinned and rebelled against His righteous rule. However, for those who are in Christ, we have assurance that we are forgiven. The Lord’s prayer includes this in the petition, “forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.”
It is important to remember that just as Scripture shows us the God that we worship in the fullness of His glory, it also points out our transgression of the law of God. Some churches routinely practice reciting the Ten Commandments prior to confessing sin. With meditation upon this law, it exposes to us the wickedness of our hearts. Meditating upon the commandments of God are potent reminders of our repugnance and need of grace. The penitential psalms are also useful instructors of this practice. Psalm 51 is one that I return to again and again. The sheer honesty of David’s cry and its desperation are both convicting and assuring. In any case, every confession of sin should point us to Christ for forgiveness. He is our only hope.
3. Thanksgiving for God’s Providence
While adoration praises God for who He is, thanksgiving expresses gratitude for what He has done. Thanksgiving makes note of God’s work of providence. He supplies our every need. Some prayers of thanksgiving will be for physical and temporal blessings. It is not wrong to thank God for providing food, clothing, shelter, family, health, and financial blessings. Other prayers of thanksgiving, however, get to the depth of our spiritual need. We should often give thanks for the grace of God given through Christ. It is good to thank Him for redeeming us, clothing us in the righteousness of Christ, calling us out of darkness, bringing us from death to life, making us more like Christ, bringing us into His family, and so much more. This should be an integral part of our worship.
While many of the causes of our thanksgiving are contemporary, the pattern of how to worship God in thanksgiving is given to us in the Scriptures. Psalm 105 recounts God’s work of redeeming Israel out of Egypt. In the same way, we can look to our past and give thanks for what God has done to redeem us. Psalm 100 gives the example of thanking God for creating us. We can express these same words. Colossians 3 exhorts thanksgiving for God uniting the church as one body. We can voice the same prayer. Above all, this biblical understanding of thanksgiving cultivates humility and gratitude within God’s people. By looking to what He has done, we become conscious of just how dependent we are.
4. Intercession for Others
One of the most overlooked words in the Lord’s prayer is the first word “our.” Prayer is a personal plea before God, but it is meant to be done at times with and for others. The quote above from 1 Timothy 2:1-2 reminds us that we should pray for all sorts of people. In intercession we focus our attention on those who are not with us in body. We remember that their need is as great as ours. We appeal to God on their behalf even as Christ does on our behalf. We are called to be a kingdom of priests. This is part of that ministry. It is of practical use to make a list in advance of intercessory prayer. There may be petitions that are laid before the throne of grace every time the church gathers, and there will be others that may only be uttered once.
Biblically, we are exhorted to pray for many different groups who are separate from us. First, 1 Timothy 2 reminds us to pray for authorities. It does not say of what nation, level of government, or political stance. In our corporate prayer, we should lift up all of these. In common practice, it would be practical to pray for national, state/provincial, and local leaders for where your congregations. However, it may be useful and necessary at times to pray for the leadership of another country, state, or community.
Half of the Lord’s Prayer focuses on the things of God. We pray for the exaltation of His name, the coming of His kingdom, and the doing of His will. One specific example of something addressed by this is praying for missionaries and evangelists who are heralding the kingdom in other places. Another is holiness within the church worldwide. A third is revival and reform of the church. Yet another is to pray for the dawning of the light of Christ upon the lost around the world. Still another is praying for the overthrow of the kingdom of Satan. A final example in this nonexhaustive list that is often neglected in the developed world is prayer for the persecuted Church. These are just some of the things for which we as God’s people should intercede.
5. Supplication for the Present Body
The last specific area of prayer is a prayer of supplication for the local church. This is will often occupy some of the longest period of intercession in a local church. Most of the aspects that are prayed for in intercession may also be relevant for the local church. These include the advance of the kingdom of God both in the church and in the community that it serves, the obedience and holiness of the church, and revival and reform. More specific prayers include praying for spiritual unity, the illumination of a passage of Scripture, and the application of Scripture. Praying for pastors/elders and deacons is also beneficial and necessary. It is also appropriate to pray for the physical needs of the church as a body and of its members. These could include the finances and facilities as well as the health, bereavement, and needs of individual members. It is also becoming more clear that prayer for the safety of the church from both physical and spiritual threats is wise. Again, like the list for intercession, this list is not comprehensive.
Hopefully this post has helped to clarify the different roles of prayer in worship. Originally, I had intended to only write one post on prayer. However, it rapidly grew into at least two posts. The next post will focus on specific places in the worship service where it may be appropriate to pray. We will also continue to look at the role of psalms in prayer.