The worship of prayer

“Biblical worship is the ongoing expression of what we know and feel when we have encountered the glory of God in Christ.”

For a bit of context in 1 Timothy 2 — that’s where we’ll be anchored today — I want to share with you the story of the Lifesaving Station. It has its historical roots all the way back to Ephesus, where Timothy was charged to lovingly lead the church:

“On a dangerous seacoast, where shipwrecks often occur, stood a lifesaving station. The building was just a hut and there was only one boat, but the few devoted members kept a constant watch over the sea, and with no thought for themselves, went out day and night tirelessly searching for the lost. Many of those who were rescued, and also others from the surrounding area, wished to become associated with the station and to give their time, money and effort for the support of its work. New boats were bought and new crews trained. The lifesaving station grew.

In time, some of the crew became concerned that the station was [too] crude and poorly equipped. They felt that a more commodious place should be provided as the first refuge of those snatched from the sea. The emergency cots were replaced with beds, and better furniture was purchased for the enlarged building. The station became a popular gathering place for its members, and they decorated it beautifully and furnished it exquisitely. Fewer members were now interested in leaving the plush station to go to sea on lifesaving missions. So they hired surrogates to do that work. However, they retained the lifesaving motif in the club’s decorations, and a ceremonial lifeboat lay in the room where club initiations were held.

One dark stormy night, a large ship was wrecked off the coast and the hired crews brought in boatloads of cold, wet, half-drowned people. They were dirty and sick and obviously from distant shores. The station was in chaos. The event was so traumatic that the people contracted for outbuildings to be constructed so future shipwrecks could be processed with less disruption.

Eventually a rift developed in the station. Most of the members wanted to discontinue the station’s lifesaving activities as being unpleasant and a hindrance to their normal social life. Some insisted, however, that rescue was their primary purpose and pointed out that they were still called a lifesaving station. But the latter were ignored and told that if they wanted to keep lifesaving as their primary purpose, they could begin their own station down the coast, which they did. Over time, those individuals fell prey to the same temptations as the first group, coming to care more about comforting one another than rescuing the perishing. After a while, a few, remembering their real purpose, split off to establish yet another lifesaving station. And on and on it went. Today if you visit that seacoast, you will find a number of impressive lifesaving stations along the shore. Sadly, shipwrecks still occur in those waters, but most people are lost.”

Paul’s great fear was that the vibrant lifesaving station in Ephesus, the principal lighthouse in Asia Minor, would put out its light or forget its mission. Indeed, there had been shipwrecks from even their own members, men like elders Hymenaeus and Alexander who had abandoned “faith and a good conscience” (1 Tim. 1:19). These interior defections so early in the lifesaving ministry of the church at Ephesus were the reason Paul wrote to Timothy, who was to “charge” such men “not to teach any different doctrine” (1 Tim. 1:3).

At the beginning of chapter 2, Paul gives explicit instructions to the Ephesian churches on how to pray and live so the lifesaving gospel will continue to go out to all people — praying and living for the gospel. Paul’s concern was that false teaching by the likes of Hymenaeus and Alexander was turning the Ephesian congregations into elitist clubs focused on “myths and endless genealogies” instead of the life-giving gospel (1 Tim. 1:4). He uses terms that stress the vast range of the church’s responsibility — verse 1: “prayers . . . for all people;” verse 4: God’s desire for “all people to be saved;” verse 6: Jesus “gave himself as a ransom for all; ” and verse 7: which emphasizes ministry to “the Gentiles” and not just the Jews. The universality of the gospel — the fact that it is for everyone — is Paul’s passion from a Godward heart.

So should we have a Godward heart as we gather in worship and live daily lives of worship, and it all starts with prayer.

Let’s look at 1 Timothy 2:1–7:

I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession 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. This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus,  who gave Himself as a ransom for all people. This has now been witnessed to at the proper time. And for this purpose I was appointed a herald and an apostle — I am telling the truth, I am not lying — and a true and faithful teacher of the Gentiles.”

Pray in every way for all people.

If you want the kind of worship that causes you to bow your heart and at times your whole body, desire an ongoing encounter with the glory of God in Christ.

Prayer is a major way in which we achieve this ongoing encounter. It’s how we leave our cares in the hands of the Almighty and enter into His heart’s desire for those around us and those around the world.

“Prayer be made for all people” (v. 1). Literally every single person? No, but we shouldn’t restrict our prayers to congregational or even just local needs. In a world where we have an app for that and pen and paper for everyone else, our personal lives should be coated in prayer. Embrace the world around you and beyond in the loving arms of prayer to your almighty, unendingly powerful God.

Prayer for our rulers.

Keep in mind the context. Pagan, Roman rulers were persecuting the church. Nero was even throwing Christians to the lions for sport and covering others in tar for torches in his garden. They were overbearing of the people in general — taxes and other restrictions.

Lifting our voices to God is the best way to be heard when rulers are being unjust and unwise.

In fact, I would say that if you seek a worldly or physical way to be heard before you bathe the matter in prayer, you may be in danger of leaning on your own understanding rather than trusting in the sovereign rule of God. Many of our rulers need Jesus, so we ought to lift them up before the throne

How beautiful the example of those saints who went before us are. Clement of Rome prayed for the rulers and governors of the earth in the early second century: “Grant to them, Lord, health, peace, harmony and stability, that they may blamelessly administer the government which You have given them. … Lord, direct their plans according to what is good and pleasing in Your sight, so that by devoutly administering in peace and gentleness the authority which You have given them they may experience Your mercy.”¹

Pray prayers that reflect God’s heart.

God is pleased with these sort of prayers. But we know from Matthew 6 that prayers are not to be wielded as weapons for cultural piety and acceptance as the hypocrites did in the synagogues. And there’s not some special word or phrase that repeating can gain one ounce of favor in God’s sight. 

So what pleases God our Savior? This is the strongest incentive that we can have to pray theologically rich and gospel-centered prayers — such prayers please God! Typically, we associate the Savior with Jesus in the New Testament, and rightly so.

There is a reminder when Paul used this phrase from Isaiah 45:21–22:
“Declare and present your case;
let them take counsel together!
Who told this long ago?
Who declared it of old?
Was it not I, the Lord?
And there is no other god besides me,
a righteous God and a Savior;
there is none besides me.
‘Turn to me and be saved,
all the ends of the earth!
For I am God, and there is no other.’ “

In Timothy’s day, there were several attempts to limit salvation to one elite group. Some Jewish Christians believed that Gentiles had to become cultural Jews before they became professing Christians. The pagan Gnostics were equally exclusive. They taught that salvation is not for everyone, but only for those who have special knowledge.²

God created mankind, provided salvation for mankind, and loves mankind.

He desires that all people be saved. This phrase means two things:

  1. People of all socio-economic status, background, and ethnicity.
  2. He offers His salvation to all.

He desires it, so pray accordingly. But God also knows that some prayers for the lost will not see the answer in salvation. This breaks the heart of God, and it should break ours as well.

Pray for the advance of the gospel.

The good news of Jesus is extremely exclusive in that Jesus is the only way — one Mediator. But the message is inclusive, and it is for all people to hear. 

William Hendriksen said:
He did not die “one by one for every member of the entire human race, past, present and future, including Judas and the antichrist.” Rather, Christ died for “all men regardless of social, national and racial distinctions.”

We need help, a go-between. God is too holy for us to approach, but we need His forgiveness for our sin. So where is our hope?

One God and One Mediator, who is Christ means only one way. 

Paul drives this point home again — there are no other gods besides God. The Ten Commandments start this way and so does the gospel. 

All other paths lead to destruction — like a maze — but we have clear direction given in the Bible. Christ paid the ransom for our captive souls to be free in God. God did it right. God did it at the right time. 

We have lost something of what ransom means in our culture. We get the concept, but I found this particularly helpful in driving the idea home:

Charles Spurgeon said:

“When a prisoner has been taken captive, and has been made a slave … it has been usual, before he could be set free, that a ransom price should be paid down. Now … by the fall of Adam … we were by the irreproachable judgment of God given up to the vengeance of the law; we were given into the hands of justice; justice claimed us to be his bond slaves forever, unless we could pay a ransom, whereby our souls could be redeemed. … We were … ‘bankrupt debtors;’ … all we had was sold … and we could by no means find a ransom; it was just then that Christ stepped in … and, … in the stead of all believers, paid the ransom price, that we might in that hour be delivered from the curse of the law and the vengeance of God, and go our way clean, free, justified by His blood.”

Knowing this power of God to free us certainly empowers and emboldens our gathered prayers. We don’t pray to some village god of our own making. Our Savior God is all powerful. His purposes are never undone by man or “unforeseen circumstances.” In this light we pray. We pray for gospel advance. We pray for rulers to bow to the will of God. We pray for strength in all circumstances. We pray knowing, expecting God to act like He has promised.

The unity of God and exclusive nature of salvation in Jesus alone makes gospel-centered prayers a major part of our gathered and personal worship. 

As a way of sealing the deal on a grand, evangelistic nature of corporate prayer, Paul reminds Timothy of what God called him to do — take the gospel beyond the Jews.

For this I was appointed a preacher and an apostle (I am telling the truth, I am not lying), a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth” (1 Tim. 2:7).

Keep the mission a matter of prayer so we can keep the mission the main thing.

We aren’t in the business of making more churches because the last ones didn’t work out. No, we pray that God would keep a fervor for His heart’s desire the main thing. We pray over the lost. We pray for strength and boldness. And we pray these things because we have been saved from death and pulled from the water into new life. We are a lifesaving station composed of people who have been saved.

We must never forget the good news. Not for a second. This good news is what holds us in the time of trial and hardship. It keeps us in the times of peace and tranquility. It reminds us of our need when we’re tempted to lie and cheat our own souls by clinging to our good works. It is the story of our deliverance from daily sin and shame and into the blessed righteousness of Christ. This is prayerful worship that pleases our God and Savior.

Prayer is still worth it in the hard times.

Because prayer itself is an act of faith, it’s always effective in the best way possible. But that doesn’t mean that we get what we pray for. It does mean, however, that we will always be affected by faithful times of prayer. 

Our own hearts will begin to soften towards difficult people that we have been praying for. Our spirits will be drawn closer to God and into a greater reliance on Him. We will be abiding deeply in Christ. And unlike the church at Ephesus, known for losing their first love, faithful prayer will keep a flame of devotion alive in us for God’s glory, even when prayer is difficult or we hear a lot of “no’s” from God during a period of time.

And in this way, we will experience Biblical worship every time we encounter the Lord through prayer.


¹Ryken, Philip Graham. 1 Timothy. Ed. Richard D. Phillips, Daniel M. Doriani, and Philip Graham Ryken. Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2007. Print. Reformed Expository Commentary.
²Ryken, Philip Graham. 1 Timothy. Ed. Richard D. Phillips, Daniel M. Doriani, and Philip Graham Ryken. Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2007. Print. Reformed Expository Commentary.


 

James Hammack

James Hammack is a regular contributor to The Rope. He also is digital services manager for The Alabama Baptist/TAB Media. He also serves as worship pastor at Sovereign Grace Church, Prattville. He and his wife, Alicia, have three children.

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