The Church’s Mission
Over the last few posts we have been learning how the Church accomplishes its mission to spread the Gospel and make disciples of Jesus through the four means the early church is recorded doing in Acts. That is: the apostles’ teaching, fellowship, breaking of bread, and prayer. It is this last act that we will take a look at in this post.
What is Prayer?
Scripture has much to say about prayer. Jesus has given us several models for prayer, and we have been provided with many instructions as to how to pray. It is imperative that we realize that when we pray it is trinitarian. (1) We speak to God the Father. (2) This act is only possible because of the reconciliation and mediation that Jesus Christ has provided for us; His blood has justified us in the sight of the Father so that we can boldly enter into His throne room and bring forth our petitions and praises. (3) We can only pray because we are indwelt with God the Holy Spirit who speaks for us as we pray.
Romans 5:1-2 reminds us of our standing before a Holy God.
Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God.
Ephesians 6:17-20 describes our constant prayer in the Spirit.
And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints, and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak.
A Model of Prayer
Matthew 6:9-13 is the model for prayer that Jesus gives His disciples.
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.
Notice the model that Christ sets forth when asked directly “How should we pray?” It is amazing how succinct this prayer is. We might expect Jesus to create a lengthy pattern for us, but instead through select few words He communicates large truths through a scaffold upon which we can pray our own thoughts and concerns. There are several steps to this prayer:
(1) Glorify our Holy Father. Jesus directs this prayer to God the Father and hallows, or sets apart as holy, His name. Prayer should begin with the glorification and magnification of God. He is above us (in heaven) and it is good to remind ourselves of this.
(2) Focus our efforts on God’s will. Jesus next recognizes God’s sovereign plan and indirectly asks that He would be faithful in His part of it. We know that God is working all things together for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose and that no plan of His can be thwarted, so we humbly ask that we would be aware of our role in this plan and be faithful in our carrying out of it.
(3) Ask for necessities. After this very upward beginning of His prayer, Jesus now asks for something, but be careful to see what He asks for. He asks for daily bread. He doesn’t create a long list of things He would really like, but instead asks that God, much like He did for the Israelites in the wilderness, would provide for His daily needs.
(4) Ask for forgiveness. Be careful to remember that this is a model Jesus is making for His disciples, so when He asks for forgiveness of His sins it is not because He has sin, but because He knows the disciples will have sin. He also stresses that it is not enough to ask that we be forgiven, but that we are also forgiving others. That isn’t something easy to do in human strength, so He instructs that we ask for that help. This point is so important that the words directly following this expound on them. “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” (Matthew 6:14-15)
(5) Ask for deliverance. Jesus knew that one of the biggest challenges that would face His disciples would be attacks from the enemy and the draw of temptation. These are not things His disciples nor ourselves can face in our own strength. This is why it is imperative that we do not forget to pray regularly for this deliverance.
What this Means for the Church
So much more could be said about prayer. It is something that everyone knows the importance of, yet few can say with confidence is executed well on a consistent basis. Entire books have been written on this, but we will narrow in our focus of this topic now to think about what this means specifically for church music.
Often times our rehearsals are begun in a hurried frenzy as the clock relentlessly ticks down to the beginning of our service. The first thing to be forgotten or passed over is usually prayer. Prayer is powerful to remind us of our inadequacy and our need of the Spirit’s work as we lead others in worship.
One last thing to remember about prayer in music is that the songs we sing are often written as prayers. This is especially true of most of the psalms. This is something that can be forgotten in our individualistic culture, so be sure to remind yourself and your congregation that we are corporately praying as we sing together.
A Call to Faithfulness
God accomplished much through the early church’s dedication to the apostle’s teaching, fellowship, breaking of bread, and prayer. We should be mindful of His faithfulness to these people. Though they were few and faced hardships we would struggle to understand, God rewarded their faithfulness by adding to their number daily and providing them with joy, hope, and a future. We too should strive to dedicate ourselves to God and His church by focusing on these four activities. Music plays a small but essential role in accomplishing these four things, so let us be mindful of them.
All Scripture quoted is from the ESV.