carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise,
The Issues and Elements of Worshipping God
Part 7 – Intercessory Prayer
“I am not able to see any reason for depriving me of the holiest, sweetest, and most profitable exercise which my Lord has allotted me [as a minister leading the service or worship]; if I have my choice, I will sooner yield up the sermon than the prayer.”
The worship service is an unfolding drama, a meeting with our King and Lord in a way that recalls and underscores our covenantal relationship with Him. We’ve seen this in the elements of worship that we’ve already studied. First, the call to worship reminds us that we are coming into the presence of the one, true and holy God. We hear His Law and are moved to confession of our sins and unworthiness. We sing only of His perfections and glory.
But then we hear again of this sovereign Lord and His initiating decree and effort to pay for our sins Himself through the gift of His own Son and we hear that we are chosen, adopted and gifted only by His grace to bear the righteousness of Christ.
At that point in the service comes the transition, the “great exchange” as Martin Luther called it. We are reminded of how our new status before God changes everything. Once estranged and in despair, we are now invited, even compelled to worship this God by literally casting our cares and concerns upon Him. And why? Because we are to believe and profess and trust that He cares for us.
When the congregation is led in intercessory prayer, often called the Pastoral Prayer, it is the height of the expression of our intimacy and relationship with God as Father. The value of this part of the worship service is actually as inestimable as it is sometimes rudely presumed upon and despised. Think of it: we are talking freely to the Lord God of the universe who has pardoned us our sins and released him from His perfect, righteous justice – and oftentimes, we cannot stay awake or pay attention or just keep our minds from being distracted!
There are three things to remember about this prayer in the worship service. First, we come only in the work of Christ. We hear a lot about the boldness with which we may come to God in prayer:
“Bold I approach the eternal throne, and claim the crown …”
Yet, we must ever be mindful that we only do that
“through Christ, my own.”
We may not presume on God – that He will hear us even though we reject His Son in our hearts – and we may not assume against God’s holy nature – that calling on the name of Jesus with hearts still filled with rebellious sin – will accomplish anything. Yet, when we are truly in Christ and pray singularly through Christ, everything is ours.
Second, we come acknowledging the name of Christ. Christ alone is our mediator – He ever intercedes for us. There is no other name through which we talk to God. This is the primary reason why we are led by the pastor or one of the ruling elders in this prayer and not by a priest. It is not a prayer of mediation but of petition. This is also the reason why we do not have an altar in the front of the worship room. Both of these symbols today would imply the work of Christ alone is insufficient or incomplete. But we pray singularly claiming the sufficiency of Christ’s work on our behalf and our boldness is in knowing with confidence that His work is complete and completely accomplished.
Third, we only have access to the Father by the faith He gives us. This prayer in the heart of our service of worship is the prayer in which we are free to lift up to God those things we desire that are agreeable to His will. But the first thing we should acknowledge in this prayer is His gift of faith to us. The first sign of such faith is a change from hatred and aloofness toward God to a desire for Him in our hearts. The second sign is a yearning to talk to Him as Father. The third sign is to trust Him for His response.
Why do we pray? Because, by His gift, it is our desire and delight to do so.
David G. Barker, 2003
|David G. Barker