The following post is part of our ‘Principles of Reformation’ series. For the first post in the series, please click here.
The Protestant Reformation altered nations, shaped politics, informed wars, and led to innovations in science, industry, economics, and medicine. The Protestant work ethic, proliferation of democratic governments, and social concern took shape as direct fruit of the Reformation. But most importantly and of eternal significance, the Protestant Reformation reclaimed a biblical view of God, His saving work, and worship. This recovery led to the salvation of countless numbers of souls and served as a necessary correction to the Church’s beliefs and practices. From where did such impetus and power come? The answer lies in God’s blessing of the means He gave to the Church—prayer and the Word. If the Reformers were committed to anything, it was prayer and the Word. If we would see a needed reformation of the church in our day, we must be committed to prayer and the Word.
Commitment to Prayer
I remember hearing a story about an African church leader who was brought to America on a tour of churches. At the end of his tour he was asked his thoughts. He replied, “I’m surprised by how little prayer I witnessed.” The American church, at least in my experience, tends to be lackluster in prayer. This is especially evident in corporate worship services. It can be hard to find an evangelical church service that includes even one three-minute prayer. Yet Jesus said, “My house shall be called a house of prayer” (Matt. 21:13). Maybe it’s our independent American spirit, or maybe it’s a lukewarm faith. Regardless, prayerlessness speaks of deadness, or at least of encroaching deadness.
Fill Your Worship Services with Prayer
It is time to fill our services with prayer once again. It’s insufficient to sing a few songs, read a text of Scripture, rise for another song, and close the service. Though songs can be understood as a form of prayer, they’re not enough. Without focused prayer as-such throughout our services, we rob God’s people of the opportunity to learn and participate in prayer together before the throne.
Through prayers in the worship service, congregants are taught to pray. They hear the structure, the tone, the words, the manner, the items that rise to importance, and the Word applied. Prayer is as much caught as taught. Each Lord’s Day worship service should include an extended time of prayer so that people are taught. But instruction is not the only reason. We are a people of prayer. We are sons and daughters who should long to speak to our heavenly Father—and not just individually, but together. The Christian life is not a solo endeavor. Our spiritual lives are inextricably tied to other members of the body. Corporate prayer reminds us of this common bond.
Let’s fill our church’s corporate worship services with different types of prayer. This allows for teaching and expression along different lines. A typical worship service should include a prayer of invocation, adoration, confession of sin, supplication (pastoral or prayer of intercession), illumination, and thanksgiving. Make the prayer of supplication an extended prayer—not so long that people fall asleep, but long enough that the congregation knows it as a long prayer.
Implement Prayer Services
We need churches once again on their knees with regularly appointed prayer services—a service in which prayer dominates the hour. I’ve attended many “prayer services” filled with teaching, preaching, or singing to the exclusion of prayer. By definition, a prayer service is a service principally of prayer.
Let’s return to the old pattern of regular (monthly, if not weekly) prayer services. They should be routine in occurrence, but not too routine in structure. Prayer services require variation so minds don’t run too far afield. If the service is an hour, divide the hour into segments. Use different methods of prayer, types of prayer, and subjects of prayer in the various segments. The combination of methods, types, and subjects proves truly endless. This prevents a prayer meeting from becoming tedious, and it also allows for each prayer service to have a different feel even though the same practice takes place.
The Need for the Word
The Reformers also rightly understood that the Scriptures alone provide an authoritative rule for faith and practice. If the Church must preserve and encourage anything, it is love for the Word of God and reliance upon this means of grace. If we lose the Word, we are lost.
And here, we must take stock, for temptation approaches every generation with the cry to abandon this truth. In the times of the patriarchs, the people of God gave into the temptation of pagan religion and rites. The New Testament Jews bowed the knee to legalism with deathly consequences. In the Middle Ages, the Church turned to popes, papal decrees, councils, tradition, and mysticism. Every age has its temptations. In our day, pop-psychology, marketing techniques, emotionalism, and spiritualism beckon the church to abandon its reliance upon the Scriptures.
If our aims are merely earthly, worldly means provide ample tools. But if we are engaged in the great fight of faith for things eternal, then let us employ the means God has granted us. It will not do to attempt to break down spiritual strongholds with mere earthly weapons. The ways of the world cannot and will not work Kingdom purposes. We battle against spiritual forces of evil. We wade into darkness and enter combat against pride, unbelief, worldliness, self-righteousness, sensuality, lust, and ultimately, hatred for God. We aim to see hearts of stone turned into hearts of flesh, the unburdening of spiritual guilt and despair, freedom from the reign of sin, and growth in likeness to Christ. We desire His will to be done on earth as it is in heaven. Only one weapon advances the Kingdom, only one means of grace has He supplied for this great endeavor, only one tool accomplishes God’s purposes in this world: His Word.
As the Church, we stand upon the Word of God (Ephesians 2:20), grow as we apply this Word (2 Timothy 3:16-17), reach-out to the lost with this Word (Romans 10:17), and assault our Adversary’s dominion with this Word (Ephesians 6:17).
If we would see the church prosper, and even experience reformation, it will happen by commitment to prayer and the Word. We long to look more like our Savior, desire to see a great work of the Lord in our day, and hope to pass on this faith to the next generation (Psalm 78:1-3); all this requires a commitment and love for prayer and the Word among God’s people. May it be.