What would Sunday morning be like if the Apostle Paul was placed in charge? I believe that it would become immediately obvious that there was a new sheriff in town.
We don’t have to speculate much on one major change Paul would make because of his instruction to Timothy regarding features that need to be accentuated in public worship.
First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. (1 Timothy 2:1-2 ESV)
Notice that Paul not only places these instructions regarding prayer first, but in addition he accentuates the fact that this is his first priority and should be theirs.
Evangelicals have made their hallmark their commitment to Scripture. Whatever else it means to be an evangelical, it seems that the authority of the Word of God is foundational. Therefore, it is strange that what Scripture states should be first priority in our worship service we have made last.
What are our current worship priorities? It seems that music, what we designate as “worship,” is number one on the list. Perhaps rivaling it is the Sunday morning sermon. They seem to get equal time and attention in most services. Third in priority would be announcements. Most churches have this emphasis down to a science, with a video highlighting all the various activities taking place, encouraging people to attend or help. Of course there is the greeting segment, which these days seem to have been extended to about five minutes.
To keep the service within a designated timeframe requires that prayers be kept brief, usually three or four minutes. I find it interesting that on a Sunday like this past one when our church recognized graduates, which took 10 minutes or more, we somehow find that extra time. Likewise with baby dedications and other special activities. However, I don’t ever recall being in a Sunday morning service in which an extra 10 minutes was found for prayer.
Prayers offered within our designated timeframe are almost entirely perfunctory in nature, like saying grace before a meal. We know from James 5:16 that “The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much.” Imagine telling the person assigned to offer the prayer, “It is important that your prayer this morning be effective and fervent, and be sure to keep it within four minutes.” When is the last time you were in a Sunday morning service in which someone genuinely laid hold of God in prayer?
I have often wondered what might be the outcome if evangelical churches in America would assign 20 minutes to prayer during which we cried out to God regarding people who are headed for hell, abortion, persecuted Christians, the moral decline of our nation, spiritual decline within the church, and other salient issues. Believing that God answers prayer, I am convinced that as a result our churches, our nation, and the world would be very different.
Again, it is amazing that we are so disobedient to the teaching of Scripture on this count. Isn’t anyone bothered by that? Doesn’t that seem to be a problem to anyone?
On second thought, I do remember some church services where more extensive time was devoted to prayer—those held immediately after 9/11. Is this how we want God to motivate us to obey regarding prayer?