Tribulation Saint

Historic Christianity in the Twenty First Century

Tag: Worship

PRAYER MEETING

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Review:

A Praying Church: The Neglected Blessing of Corporate Prayer

Dennis Gundersen

Grace & Truth Books

170 pp., pb

 

It is a sad fact of modern church life that prayer meetings are poorly attended, if they still exist at all.  Many churches no longer have them, and the ones that do typically see only a handful of people show up on a Wednesday evening.  It was to address this sad state of affairs that Dennis Gundersen wrote his book, A Praying Church: The Neglected Blessing of Corporate Prayer.

Dennis and I are past acquaintances (and subsequent Facebook friends), having both attended Trinity Baptist Church of Montville, NJ in the 1970’s, where we had the privilege of sitting under the ministry of Pastor Albert N. Martin.  Dennis has since gone on to serve as pastor of several churches in the Tulsa, OK area, and his is currently President and owner of Grace and Truth Books, which published the current volume.

Dennis, of course, is very much concerned about the demise of the midweek prayer meeting; but his take on the problem is a little unusual.  He lays most of the blame at the feet of the people leading the prayer meetings, if we can even call it “leading” at all.  Dennis notes that one of the pervasive problems with the meetings is the utter lack of direction.  The person nominally in charge simply asks if there are any prayer requests, and most of the requests forthcoming deal with personal issues, especially health needs.  It is no wonder then that many church members wonder what the point of it all is, and choose to stay home on prayer meeting night.

Much of Dennis’ book, then, is basically an instruction manual on how properly to lead a prayer meeting.  In Chapter Four he specifically goes into what to prayer for; and points out that the spread of the kingdom should have priority – we should be praying for our missionaries, the persecuted church, our lost neighbors, and other churches in the vicinity.  We should also make it a priority to pray for each other’s spiritual needs.  This then could be followed by the various personal needs of the members.  There is also a chapter by a fellow pastor, Larry Dean, on the qualifications for a prayer meeting leader.

The second half of the book consists of thirty devotionals which are ones that Dennis actually gave at the prayer meetings at his church.  They cover a variety of topics related to prayer.  One particularly interesting one is entitled “Devoting an Evening of Serious Prayer for Genuine Revival,” which apparently was intended for a special prayer meeting that lasted (apparently by design) longer than usual.  In it he gives us a good definition of “revival.”  He points out that the word “revival” literally means to “’bring back to life,’ to rekindle what was nearly extinguished; to fan the flames which have died out or become low, so that the fire rages hot again” (p. 144).  In a word, it is the revival of spiritual life within the church, along with the accompanying power of the Holy Spirit in evangelism, that constitute a revival.  We should all desire it, but are we praying for it?

On the whole the book is very helpful and worthwhile.  We would want to make a couple of observations, however.  At points Dennis seems to be reading modern church life back into the New Testament when he argues the case for the traditional mid-week prayer meeting.  The prayers mentioned in I Tim. 2:1-8, however, most likely were a part of the regular weekly gatherings of the assemblies, apparently held on Sunday evenings in private homes (cf. Acts 2:46; see Acts 20:6-12 for a brief description of such a meeting).  In many of the better modern churches something similar occurs in small group meetings.  But what the Bible does make clear, however, is the importance of corporate in some shape or form, and Dennis cites several passages from the Book of Acts to underscore the point.  We would simply add to that the promise that Jesus gave us in Matt. 18:19,20: “Again I say to you that if two of you agree on earth concerning anything they ask, it will be done for them by My Father in heaven.  For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them” (NKJV).

We also cannot help but wonder if the modern church’s spiritual problems do go beyond simple ineptitude in the way prayer meetings are led.  Too often on Sunday mornings we have seen dull, formal “worship” followed by a sermon marked by poor exegesis, a flat delivery, and little or no practical application.  Many of the men, including sometimes even the pastor, will stand with one of their hands in their pocket – can anyone even imagine Moses at the burning bush with one of his hands in his pocket?  Where is the sense of the presence of God in all of this?  Might not the underlying problem be with the spiritual life of the pastor?  Too often the pastor has received a formal, academic education at a seminary or Bible college, who then treated the ministry as a job description he was being paid to fill.  Where there is no spiritual life in the pulpit there is not likely to be found more life in the pew.  Is it possible that the reason so few people attend prayer meeting is because they do not see the need for prayer?  We leave it to each pastor to search his own heart and decide for himself.

On the whole, however, A Praying Church is a good book deserving of serious consideration.  It can be ordered online directly from the publisher at www.graceandtruthbooks.com

 

 

PRAISE THE LORD

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Psalm 33

 

Theology was never meant to be a dry academic discipline.  We are called to have a relationship with the living God.  That requires that we can understand and appreciate certain things about Him; and those truths should have a profound effect on us personally.  Psalm 33 is a classic example of how the Bible approaches theology.

Significantly the psalm begins with a call to worship:

“Rejoice in the Lord, O you righteous!

For praise from the upright is beautiful.”

(Psalm 33:1; NKJV)

What is called for here is not an emotionally detached assent to a set of theological propositions.  Rather, we are called to “rejoice,” and the Hebrew word used here suggests a shout for joy, an emotional expression of something that we genuinely feel in our hearts.   And in verses 2 and 3 the psalm goes on to emphasize the role that music plays in worship.  It specifically mentions the use of musical instruments: the harp and “instrument of ten strings” (a specific kind of harp).  Verse 3 says that we are to “Play skillfully with a shout of joy.”  The picture here is not of a dull, somber, lifeless formality, but rather of an outburst of exuberant joy.  And this, we are told, is “beautiful” (v. 1).  The goodness and greatness of God calls for an expression of real joy.

The psalm then goes on to explain why this is so.  It begins with a general statement about the attributes of God:

“For the word of the Lord is right,

And all His work is done in truth.

He loves righteousness and justice;

The earth is full of the goodness of the Lord.”

(vv. 4,5)

The word of the Lord, what He says and commands, is “right” – it is honest and true, and completely dependable.  And God’s works are done “in truth” or “faithfulness” as it might be translated (cf. NASV, ESV).  God’s character is steadfast and reliable, and His actions are consistent.  Unlike human beings, who can be inconsistent and even dishonest, and therefore unreliable, God is completely trustworthy.

Moreover the psalm says that God “loves righteousness and justice” (v. 5).  That suggests both that God is righteous and just himself, and that He wants to see righteousness and justice in us.  This is important, because it establishes a basis for morality without which human society cannot function.  As human beings we are accountable to a Supreme Being and are obligated to conform to a higher law.  Otherwise might makes right and the law of the jungle prevails.

And then the psalm goes on to say that “the earth is full of the goodness of the Lord” (v. 5).  The word “goodness” could be translated “lovingkindness” (NASV).  It is the willingness of God to show kindness towards the weak and lowly, and especially to those in need.  And the earth, the psalm says, is full of His lovingkindness, as the psalmist will go on to demonstrate.

The psalmist then turns his attention to God’s works, beginning with God’s work of creation.  “By the word of the Lord the heavens were made . . .” (v. 6); and “He gathers the waters of the sea together as a heap . . .” (v. 7).  What strikes the psalmist here is the vast expanse of the heavens and the mighty rolling ocean.  As impressive as there things are in themselves, how much greater must be the One who created them!  And the heavens in particular were made by God’s mere spoken word.  What amazing power God must have if He can create something out of nothing, and accomplish that merely by speaking the word!  “Let all the earth fear the Lord; / Let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of Him” (vv. 8,9).

If, therefore, God is the creator of all things it follows that He can control what He created, and this would include the actions of men.  Because God is ultimately in control, His will is the final factor.  People, rules and entire nations may think and plan, but “The Lord brings the counsel of the nations to nothing; / He makes the plans of the peoples of no effect” (v. 10).  The Lord’s counsel, by way of contrast, “stands forever” (v. 11).  As a result His will is determinative.

The psalmist then goes on to point out that God can see everything that goes on here on earth.  “The Lord looks from heaven; / He sees all the sons of men” (v. 13).  “He fashions their hearts individually; / He considers all their works” (v. 15).  The ultimate reality is not an impersonal natural force or an abstract idea; it is a living conscious Supreme Being.  And while He is infinitely greater than we can imagine, that does not mean that He is so far removed from us that He is not aware of what we are doing.  On the contrary, he knows everything that we do, and that should make us think twice before we act.

This, then, leads the psalmist to the practical implications of what he has said so far.  The first is the realization that ultimately it is not our physical or social circumstances that control our destiny: “No king is saved by the multitude of an army . . . A horse is a vain hope for safety” (vv. 16,17).  Instead the promise is this:

“Behold, the eye of the Lord is on those who fear Him,

On those who hope in His mercy,

To deliver their soul from death,

And to keep them alive in famine.”

(vv. 18,19)

The promise is to those “who fear Him” and to those “who hope in His mercy.”  Here we have the basic elements of true religion.  To “fear” Him is not to live in constant terror of Him.  Rather it is to have a deep reverence and respect for Him, and a desire to please Him in all our ways.  To “hope in His mercy” (or “goodness” or “lovingkindness” as it might better be translated – it is the same word that was used in verse 5) means to wait patiently for God to act in His kindness to deliver us.

And so the psalm concludes with a ringing affirmation of trust in God.

“Our soul waits for the Lord

He is our help and our shield.

For our heart shall rejoice in Him,

Because we have trusted in His holy name.”

(vv.20,21)

We patiently wait for the Lord; we look to Him for protection (“He is our help and our shield”).  We trust in Him, and as a result our hearts are filled with joy.  And then there is the concluding prayer:

“Let Your mercy, O Lord, be upon us,

Just as we hope in You.”

(v. 22)

Christianity, then, is not an abstract idea or a mere religious formality.  It is a deep appreciation for who God is and what He has done for us.  And this, in turn, should elicit from us a heartfelt gratitude.  Praise the Lord!

 

THE WOMAN AT THE WELL

4.2.7

Jan Vermeer: Girl with a Pearl Earring

 

In John Chapter 4, verses 1-26, we have the account of a conversation that Jesus had with a woman of Samaria.  It is a fascinating exchange, and it gives us insight into the nature of true religion.

Jesus and His disciples were on their way back to Galilee following their trip to Jerusalem, and they took the direct route which led through Samaria.  The Samaritans, at least to the Jews’ way of thinking, practiced a debased form of Judaism, and hence weren’t really Jews.  And a Jewish man ordinarily would not be seen talking to a woman in public, least of all a Samaritan woman.  But here Jesus found Himself, weary from His journey, sitting on a well in Samaria, when lo, a Samaritan woman came by to draw water from the well.  Jesus, thirsty, asked her for some.  The woman was surprised that a Jewish rabbi would make such a request of her, and the remarkable conversation began.

Jesus replied to her surprise by saying, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who says to you, ‘Give Me a drink,’ you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water” (v. 10; NKJV).  The woman, of course, had been thinking in terms of normal social relations: Jews normally did not have anything to do with Samaritans.  What she did not realize at this point is that she was not dealing with an ordinary Jewish man.  She was, in fact, dealing with the Messiah Himself.  And what He had to offer her far surpassed what she had to offer Him.

But what did He have to offer?  He says that He could give her “living water.”  She, of course, had no idea of what He was talking about.  Just a minute earlier He had been asking her for water.  He obviously did not have any means of drawing any water Himself from the well.  And so Jesus goes on: whoever drinks from the water in the well will eventually get thirsty again.  “. . . but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst.  But the water that shall give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life” (v. 14).  Here Jesus is evidently not talking about literal, physical water, but rather of something inside of a person that leads to everlasting life.  As John makes clear later in his gospel (John 7:39) Jesus was, in fact, speaking of the Holy Spirit, whom He compared on the later occasion with “rivers of living water” (7:38).  Jesus is using vivid imagery drawn from the real life experience of people who live in dry, arid climates: a river of water brings life to the soil it touches.  Without water the land becomes a barren desert.

There is an important spiritual truth here.  We are directly dependent upon God for whatever spiritual life we have.  In and of ourselves, in our natural condition, we are spiritually dead, devoid of spiritual life.  Our only source of spiritual life is God Himself: He must impart it to us, and this He does through the agency of the Holy Spirit.  In the process of conversion the Holy Spirit convicts us, enlightens us, and finally indwells us.  It is an inward spiritual renovation accomplished by the power of God, and it leaves us changed persons – alive to God and to spiritual reality.

But the conversation with the Samaritan woman does not end there.  The woman does not quite understand what Jesus is telling her – she still thinks that Jesus is talking about literal, physical water, and she asks for some of it, “that I may not thirst, nor come here to draw” (v. 15).  But then Jesus does something unexpected: He tells her to get her husband.  She says that she does not have one.  “Right you are,” Jesus says in effect.  “For you have had five husbands, and you’re not married to the man you’re living with now” (v. 18, paraphrased).  The poor woman was probably floored.  How could He have possibly known such a thing?  But, as it turns out, He was right, and she began to realize that there was something special about Jesus.  “Sir, I perceive that You are a prophet” (v. 19).

This led her to ask Him a question.  The Jews worshiped in the temple in Jerusalem; the Samaritans worshiped on Mt. Gerizim.  Who was right?

What Jesus tells her is nothing less than astonishing: “. . .the hour is coming when you will neither on this mountain, nor in Jerusalem, worship the Father” (v. 21).  He goes on to explain: “But the hour is coming and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him” (v. 23)

Here Jesus is making an important statement about the nature of true worship.  True worship.  True worship is not tied to physical surroundings because it is essentially a spiritual activity.  “God is Spirit, and those who worship Him much worship in spirit and truth” (v. 24).  God Himself is Spirit – He is not a corporeal being, and hence is not tied to a physical space, and He does not have any physical needs. Therefore He can be worshiped anywhere and everywhere.

But if worship is not tied to a physical location, how do we worship?  How do you worship God when you are not in a “house of worship”?  The answer is, you worship Him in your spirit.  As human beings we are both flesh and spirit.  But the real “you,” your real personality, resides in your spirit, your non-corporeal self.  And that is the part that can have communion with God.  And so that is the part of you that God wants to have worship Him.

Unfortunately it is all too easy for us as human beings to go through the outward motions of worship and not worship God at all.  We can sit in the pew, sing the songs, put money in the offering plate, and listen to the sermon.  But if the heart is not engaged, if we do not feel a genuine love for God and joy in what He has done for us, our “worship” is all sham and pretense.  It is not worship at all.  It is sheer hypocrisy.  And God can see right through it; He is not impressed at all.

What is needed then, in the modern church, is genuine spiritual life and genuine worship.  For too long we have been content merely to “go through the motions.”  The real question is, what kind of spiritual life do we have when we are not sitting inside of a church building?  This is not to say that God wants us to forsake His public worship.  But true spiritual life does not cease the moment we exit the building.  If it is the real thing, it grows and thrives throughout the week.  It is evident to others.  It is “a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life.”