The last time we talked about worshiping the Triune God we focused on the Prayers of the People. As I said then, for some churches this prayer occurs after the Sermon. However, we generally take time for these prayers of intercession before the Message. Then we’ll often sing a Song of Preparation before hearing God’s Word proclaimed. Part of this preparation for hearing God’s word usually involves a Prayer for Illumination, which is a prayer asking God to speak to us through his word and for help in listening to the word that is given. As we read in The Worship Sourcebook (Faith Alive, 2013): “The prayer for illumination explicitly acknowledges the Spirit’s work in this part of worship by requesting God’s Spirit to act through the reading and preaching of Scripture. This prayer may also acknowledge that we all come to Scripture with varying degrees of faith, trust, and knowledge.” (p. 139) We pray this prayer before the Sermon because we believe that God speaks though his word, which the pastor’s message is based on. This is God’s word for us today, and we don’t want to miss it. So, we pray a prayer something like this one based on Psalm 25: “Lord God, help us to know your ways; teach us your paths. Lead us in your truth, and teach us, for you are the God of our salvation; for you we wait all day long. Through Christ our Lord. Amen!” How blessed we are to have a God who speaks to us through his word. May God help us to become excellent listeners and doers of the word. Amen?
Did you make any New Year’s Resolutions? I generally don’t make any formal resolutions, but I tend to be more reflective in January. How was my last year with the Lord? What is God calling me to do in the New Year? Are there any changes I need to make to facilitate my spiritual growth? These are the kind of questions I ask myself in January (and often in August, before the fall ministry season begins). And as I reflect on them, some new ideas and directions often emerge. And the one that has surfaced for me this year is based on a book I read at the end of last year by Michael Horton called, Ordinary (Zondervan, 2014). Horton is concerned that we North American Christians are always looking for the next big thing, when God most often uses the ordinary things to grow us spiritually and change the world. What sort of ordinary things? Things like the weekly communal worship service; daily Bible reading; the regular administration of the Sacraments; loving our neighbors. He argues that God prefers to use the ordinary means of grace, like the spiritual practices mentioned above, to form our faith. But being “ordinary” is not popular today, so it takes a lot of courage to become an ordinary Christian. Our culture celebrates the extraordinary (i.e., the beautiful model; the successful business person; the talented athlete, etc.). But as Horton argues, God most often works through ordinary things to change us. Christmas provides a prime example: God becoming human through Christ. The irony is that as we seek to be “ordinary Christians” God uses us to do extraordinary things, like give hope to the hopeless. So, if I had to pick a New Year’s Resolution, I would say that it is to be an “ordinary Christian.” I wonder what would happen if we all decided to become ordinary Christians this year? . . . Care to join me?
Today we continue our reflection on worship as we talk about the Prayers of the People (sometimes called the “Pastoral Prayer” or “Congregational Prayer”). This is the time of prayer that occurs after the Offering in our church, but for some churches it occurs after the Sermon. In 1 Timothy 2:1-2 NIV Paul says, “I urge then . . . that petitions, prayers, intercessions and thanksgiving be made for all people—for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.” Accordingly, the church has prayed prayers of intercession for centuries. And this tends to be the focus of the Prayers of the People, following the example of Jesus himself, who intercedes for us. (See Jesus’ high priestly prayer in John 17.) Sadly, the Prayers of the People have lost prominence in many churches. In fact, not long ago I attended a worship service where there were no Prayers of the People. That’s not to say this church didn’t pray at all during the worship service, as many songs are prayers. But there were no specific prayers of intercession made for people. Sometimes the Prayers of the People are the first thing to be shortened or omitted if a worship service gets too long. But often this is the only time a church family will gather for prayer, so it should be guarded and nurtured. How will a church grow spiritually and remain unified if it doesn’t pray together? So, let us continue to pray for each other and the world each Sunday morning and beyond.
This year I feel called to enter the wilderness more than ever during the season of Advent. Usually at this time of the year we are gearing up for Christmas, and we certainly are doing that as we prepare for our community Christmas Eve program. However, during this Advent season, I’m trying to slow things down and be more reflective. For example, I am spending more time in prayer each morning. I’m also journaling regularly, which is a great way to promote reflection. And I’m also trying to “unclog” my life by doing things like unsubscribing to various blogs and email newsletters that I receive on a regular basis. These moves have led to greater reflection and a slower pace, for which I am thankful. All of this is my attempt to enter the wilderness, which is a metaphor I use for a time of intentional reflection and slowing. I also use the wilderness metaphor for a time of trial and trouble, but that’s not what I’m referring to here. However, whenever you enter the wilderness and in whatever way you do it, you will inevitably uncover areas of your life that need to be addressed. This gives me pause, but as my spiritual director said to me, Jesus goes with us in the wilderness, so we don’t need to be afraid. How are you preparing for the first (and second) coming of our Lord?
I forgot to submit this blog post when the season of Advent began, so I submit it now for your edification. . .
The local church that I serve is a Bible-believing, gospel-centered church. And one of the ways that we help people focus on Scripture and receive the Gospel is by following the Christian calendar. The new Christian year begins with the season of Advent. So, what is Advent? As Pastor Philip F. Reinders writes, “Advent . . . is the four-week season of preparation for the coming of Jesus at Christmas. A good celebration requires proper preparation for us to fully enjoy it. During December, however, we mostly confuse helpful readiness for the hustle of Christmas shopping, parties, and preparations. The Advent season, more reflective in nature, can feel out of sync with all of this noise and busyness. . . . John the Baptist has always felt like the right person to get me ready for Christmas—he’s the anti-Santa needed for our day. Trade the jolly laugh for an in-your-face intensity, the twinkle in the eye for a wildness about to interrupt your life, commanding our attention but always redirecting it towards Jesus. ‘Prepare the way for the Lord is the Advent call to get ready for the coming Messiah.” (Seeking God’s Face, 23) During this Advent season we will enjoy a sermon series based on the Christmas Messiah for Young Voices (based on Handel’s, Messiah) which is the musical that we will be performing at this year’s community Christmas Eve Program. So, I invite you to join me on this Advent journey as we wait with great anticipation for the first and second coming of the Lord.
Last week we finished a sermon series on Stewardship in our church called, “The Joy of Generosity,” by Robert Heerspink. In the last sermon we were invited to give generously to the poor with cheerful hearts out of gratitude for God’s salvation through Christ. This kind of joyful giving occurs in many areas of life, but in the context of the worship service, it often happens through the Offering. Now some churches take the offering after the sermon, which is a practical way of thanking God for his Word proclaimed. But we happen to do it after the Renewal, which is another appropriate place for it, as we’ve just confessed our sin and have been reminded of God’s grace. So, out of gratitude for salvation through Christ, we give generously to God. As we read in The Worship Sourcebook, “The offering is a vital part of our response to God and God’s Word. It helps us connect our adoration for God with our life of discipleship. The money given at the offering is a token and symbol of our desire to devote our whole selves to God’s service in response to God’s loving faithfulness to us.” (241) As followers of Christ we are called to offer up our bodies as living sacrifices (Rom. 12:1). Seems to me that giving our money to God is a practical way to offer up our bodies to God. That doesn’t mean it’s easy, of course. It can be hard to give away our hard earned money, especially when budgets are tight. But this is a worthy sacrifice to make when we consider the sacrifice that God made in giving up his Son for us. So, let us continue giving generously to the poor with cheerful hearts out of gratitude for God’s salvation through Christ.
(Note: A revised version of following article first appeared in the Oct. 6 issue of the Lacombe Express.)
“Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, his love endures forever.” (Psalm 136:1 NIV)
Gratitude is the heart of the Christian life. These aren’t my words, but I believe them with all my heart. Actually, they were spoken by Thomas Merton (1915-1968), a Christian mystic who wrote in the twentieth century. As he writes, “Gratitude is therefore the heart of the solitary life, as it is the heart of the Christian life. . .” Apparently Merton wrote these words during a time of solitude, when, upon reflection, he realized how much God had blessed him. Also, as Pastor Craig Barnes writes, “Gratitude may be the best measure of our spirituality.” Why is this? Because gratitude demonstrates that we have been paying attention to the gifts we have received. Especially the gift of grace we have received in Jesus Christ.
So, if gratitude is so important, if it is the heart of the Christian life, it begs the questions: Am I grateful? And for what am I grateful? I recall asking a group of people what they were thankful for. And they all responded, “I’m grateful for everything.” But there’s a sense: if we’re grateful for everything, than we’re grateful for nothing. So, what are you thankful for? I am thankful for the privilege of serving a small strong congregation in a warm and welcoming city. I’m thankful for all the rights and freedoms we enjoy as Canadians. I’m thankful for good friends and neighbors. I’m also thankful for the trail system of our city and the strength to run these trails.
As Don Postema writes, “Gratitude takes nothing for granted. It acknowledges each favor, each gift—both big and small. It also recognizes the giver—the relative who shows her love by giving you a gift; the friend who remembers to call you; the person who gives you a compliment or goes out of his way to invite you to go for a walk on a beautiful day; the spouse or friend who brings you a cup of coffee when you’re exhausted, cooks you a fine dinner, or throws a party for you.”
When we stop to think about it, we have received many gifts from many people, and especially from God. We have much to be thankful for. However, often we are too busy to see it. This is what makes Thanksgiving Day so important, because on this day we are given the time and space we need to recognize the gifts and the givers of those gifts. So, in this season of thanksgiving, you’re invited to thank others for specific gifts received. And you’re invited to thank God for the many gifts he has given you, especially for the gift of grace in Jesus Christ.