The priority of prayer in worship

Worship servicePaul warned Timothy that some in the church had rejected faith and conscience. He specifically named Hymenaeus and Alexander. The chapter numbers and headings in our Bibles aren’t original, of course, but 1 Timothy 2 begins immediately after that warning, and “Instructions about Worship” is a typical heading.

“First of all,” says Paul, “I urge prayer.” He goes on to point out that God wants all to be saved. There are certainly people in churches to this day who reject faith.

Is either prayer or concern for spiritually adrift a core priority of any structure of church service used in this country? Protestant services revolve around the sermon. Catholic services point to the Eucharist.

I suspect that when someone seeks to learn to lead worship for the first time in any church in the country, instructions in the Pastoral Epistles would not seem like adequate preparation.

The meaning of prayer

Prayer in general means personal communication with God. Personal does not necessarily mean private, but prayer is a person or group of persons communicating with a personal God.

Within that basic understanding, we can distinguish various kinds, including supplication (or asking things for ourselves), intercessions (or asking things for others), and thanksgiving. Prayer includes both asking the Lord of the universe to change the circumstances we live in and gratefully acknowledging how he has already done so.

In a formal liturgy, the words of the prayers are written out so they can be spoken aloud. Although the wording has been modernized from time to time, they have remained substantially the same for centuries. That’s great so long as the leader and congregation pray them as opposed to just mumbling familiar words.

Non-liturgical services leave congregants to their own devices. No one can stand much silence these days; 30 seconds for silent meditation can seem like an eternity. Anything else in the service can inspire prayer. Whether it does or not is another matter.

Paul particularly urges prayer for kings and all in high positions of authority. I can’t tell from this verse just what they were supposed to pray for authorities, but I do know that at the time not a single king or ruler was Christian. Many were hostile to Christians and carried out persecutions.

Why prayer matters in worship

Paul lifts up prayer as the first priority. Why? So Christians can “live peaceably and quietly in all godliness and dignity.” That’s an interesting combination.

It’s hard to live peaceably and quietly trying to escape persecution. In times of peace, though, people easily succumb to complacency, which leads to self-centeredness that makes it hard to remember godliness and dignity.

The intimate connection with God that we attain only through prayer can help us live peaceably and quietly in times of turmoil and with godliness and dignity in the face of worldly temptations.

Ultimately, though, prayer is not about us and for our sake. It is about God and for his sake. God wants everyone to know the truth and be saved. The prayers of his saints are God’s means of turning people to truth and salvation.

Prayer and our personal mission

corporate prayerI think Paul still considered Hymenaeus and Alexander among the saints. I have no idea how they rejected faith and good conscious, but I know what I have seen among members of a dozen or so congregations I have been part of.

More to the point, I know my own struggles and failures very well. There are lots of ways to reject faith and good conscience and yet attend church regularly.

We’re used to the fact that as soon as we leave the church grounds, we’re entering the mission field. Since Paul “first of all” urged prayer right after mentioning Hymenaeus and Alexander, I suspect we can also regard the church congregation itself as a mission field.

Sitting in the pew passively listening to the choir and the preacher will not prepare us for our mission. Prayer will. Perhaps only prayer will. Corporate prayer has a power that private prayer cannot attain.

So at times of prayer in a worship service. let’s learn to pray instead of recite or simply listen. Let’s seek out small group opportunities to pray together—and not just for the problems of those present, but even more important, that all would open themselves to the leading of the Holy Spirit so that God will have his way through the saints.

Photo credits:

Worship service. Some rights reserved by pikchergirl

Prayer group. Some rights reserved by The Sharpteam.

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