Why praise as you pray?

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Why praise as you pray?

This is a question I should have asked when they taught me the ABC of prayer as a young Christian. But back then I didn’t think it was right to question matters of faith as that would seem like a sign of doubt or unbelief. But now I know God would have wanted me to ask that question because he’s interested not with my blind faith but with my Biblically informed faith and trust in him.

So why then do we praise as or before we pray? Is it that God just loves being praised? Is this how we bribe him so he can act on our behalf? Why did Jesus teach his disciples to start with honoring God’s name in the Lord’s Prayer? David in the Psalms and the apostles all seem to adopt this approach when they write their prayers. Is it merely a tradition?  We’ve actually adopted this in our Sunday service where we start with praise songs, thanksgiving prayer before we make our requests before God. It’s a great tradition but I’m afraid to some this could be just a tradition, something they do without stopping to ask why this is the case.

Why pray at all?

Perhaps the bigger question is why we pray at all? Why pray when God knows our needs and is able to do it without us asking? And my best attempt on that is to say that prayer isn’t actually a transaction between us and God. Though it’s about God and about bringing him our needs, it has a lot more merits for us in building our faith and trust in God. This means prayer will benefit you regardless of the outcome because prayer is our exercise of faith. It means not once does a Christian pray and leave empty-handed even if God didn’t answer that prayer as they wanted. There are times I have gone before God with my needs, desperately wanting him to act on my behalf only for him to do this by strengthening my faith in him. Sometimes I come out of this and my needs are still before me but my confidence in God is reassured.

I believe this is the reason why praise needs to come before or as we pray because prayer has more to do with our confidence in God than simply getting our needs sorted. We need to know we can trust him before we bring him our requests. Praise changes our perspective because it reminds us of who God is and what he has done. By the time we finish praising him, we should have no doubt that he’s a good God who is able to do far more than we think or imagine. We should be soaked in his merits that our needs seem like nothing before him. And by the time we make our requests, our faith in him is already strengthened. As a matter of fact, I would say, our greatest prayer is already answered when we do this. Our trust and confidence in God are re-established when we praise him.

How do we praise him rightly?

But how do we praise God in a Biblical and genuine way without simply buttering him with words as pagans do? As I said, remember this isn’t merely a transaction to get what you want but a gift from God to build your faith. So how do we do this in the right way?

I’ll say we need to know and believe in God’s Word like David, Jesus and the apostles did. Their prayers are full of Bible language because prayer is speaking back to God in response to his Word. God delights when his people take him by his word and in prayer echo what they believe. But I don’t simply mean that you know the Bible so you can quote it back like a lawyer in a courthouse.  I mean what Paul says in Colossians 3:16 :

 Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts.

This will take careful and disciplined meditation of God’s Word in your devotion, through sermons, Bible fellowship and through good Biblical songs. It’s what David teaches us in Psalm 1:

Blessed is the one who does not walk in step with the wicked
or stand in the way that sinners take or sit in the company of mockers,
but whose delight is in the law of the Lord, and who meditates on his law day and night.

Start where you are

I hope and pray that this will lead you to praise and pray more with confidence. You don’t have to wait until you have studied the whole Bible to do this. You just need to start by meditating on what you are reading in your devotion or from a faithful sermon.

Praise God for what he has said in his Word, for what he’s teaching us about himself and what he’s done for us in Jesus. I have been doing my devotion in the book of Psalms and they are a great way to do this but I’m sure you can do the same with any other book of the Bible. I pray that God will give you the requests of your heart as you turn to pray. But above all, I pray that he will grow your faith as you focus on him, his character and his deeds as ultimately reflected in our Lord and Saviour, Jesus.

20 Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen. Ephesians 3. 

 

Worship beyond the church door!

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I recently listened to this song, My Church by Maren Morris and it got me thinking what Biblical worship means and doesn’t mean. You may need to check the lyrics and maybe listen to the song to understand where I’m coming from. I promise you will find it interesting and won’t fall away from grace.

But if you are not comfortable listening to secular country music then just read along and please tell me what you think.
Here are a few lines:

Can I get a hallelujah
Can I get an amen
Feels like the Holy Ghost running through ya
When I play the highway FM
I find my soul revival
Singing every single verse
Yeah I guess that’s my church…

(My church lyrics by Maren Morris)

Some of us might actually struggle to realize this is not a Gospel song or a church hymn. Perhaps it would pass the test in a couple of churches. But I found the song interesting not because it draws me to worship but as it warns me to be clear what worship is and isn’t about.

Some of you may have valid reservations about listening to this. It is a mockery of what church and worship are about and could even be termed blasphemous. But bear with me for a moment and please let me know what you think in the end. Perhaps I need to be rebuked for entertaining this thought.

In this song you have everything that would make a good “worship experience”: well-played music, a choir, and a congregation to sing along and you can be sure of many “hallelujahs” to this one. But one thing is missing, the one thing that defines Christian worship, God’s Word.

Worship as we see it in the Bible is a response in total surrender, submission, and reverence to God and his Word. It’s God’s Word that cuts people to the heart and brings honor to God through his people’s lives.

It is not a one day in a week affair but affecting all of life. In Romans 12 we are called to a way of life as a living sacrifice in response to what God has said in this amazing Gospel focused letter. This is Biblical worship:

1 Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. 2 Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. Romans 12:1-2

You cannot read those verses and think Paul has in mind just your normal church service. If so he has missed a lot that would be deemed essential for worship Sunday. He doesn’t even think about music when he talks about worship!

But far from it, the letter has bigger fish to fry. One day a week is too low a bar to define worship. He has in mind your Monday to Sunday, every day, all the time and all of life. Because a Christian is called to a life of worship when he turns to follow King Jesus.

God’s Word as the heart of worship
But it would be a big lie to assume worship is merely our response and outworking for God. As with grace, it is a gift and not something we achieve on our own even with all the right motivations to do so.

No, God produces worship in us as we submit to his word. Not even worship is our own doing but a product of our renewed minds by his word to do his will.
We see this in Romans 12:2:

2 Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

We can only worship God because of what he has achieved in us as those he has breathed new life in his Son. As he says somewhere else, Christians are God’s new creation made to do his good work:

10 For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. Ephesians 2

It’s because of what Jesus has achieved in us, our redemption and reconciliation that we have become worshippers, that is, Christians.

And it is the work of his Spirit in us through his Word that brings out a life of worship instead of conforming to the pagan and religious life of this world.

What about the church service?
Back to Maren Morris’ song, if Sunday is just a tip of the iceberg that is a life of worship; why do music, the service, and all the liturgy matter?
To some extent, it doesn’t matter how we organize or sort our music as long as the heart of worship remains to be God’s Word.

I must not be heard as saying music is irrelevant but that it is not the heart or even the catalyst of worship, God’s Word is. Music is very helpful in echoing the truths of God’s word to each other and in response to what God has said.

Mostly I remember the songs more than I remember the sermon outline. But if we don’t have God’s Word at the center then we are not different from Maren driving down the highway with her radio on.

Most of us would enjoy a church service that has well-played music and a good choir but if I left without hearing from God’s Word and speaking this to my brothers, then I should never claim I was in church. At least not a Biblical church as we see it in the New Testament.

Is church just about the sermon then?
God’s word is the heart of worship and yet we don’t go to church as we do a school. Back to our definition of worship from Romans 12, we know worship has life in mind and the Sunday service should have people’s lives at heart.

We are not there merely to tell each other what a book says but to hear from God, encourage one another in this truth and share this life of worship together. Everything we do including music should serve this goal. If music competes or distracts us from this aim then we should be ready to cut it down or even cut it out.

In the rest of the chapter, Paul continues to talk about how church life and the body of Christ looks like and again he has in mind more than just the official Sunday service. He has every member in mind, each of us using our gifts to fully serve and build up one another not to compete with one another.

6 We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; 7 if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; 8 if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully. Romans 12.

And as you read on it becomes perfectly clear that worship life flows beyond the Sunday service in your local church to your work place and community to how you live in this secular world.

When you clearly understand this then Maren’s car or my bicycle becomes a place of worship like anywhere else for a Christian.

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