July 2009


Most people have heard or seen the “ACTS” model of prayer – Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, and Supplication (requests). It’s a handy tool, and I’m sure there are others just like it that help us frame our prayers and focus on God.

Yet as I think about prayer and the elements of our various models of prayer, I find that adoration or worship are not found only at one point of our prayers but are woven into each and every aspect of true prayer. A biblically driven definition of prayer would have to include that it is an admittance of need and an acknowledgement of God as the only one who can meet that need. Related to that, the traditional posture of prayer is on our knees, and it is the biblical word for “worship” that can rightly be translated “bow down.” Prayer always humbles us and always exalts God for all that He is, not simply when we use the phrase, “God, you are….”

For instance, when I confess my sin to God in prayer, I am recognizing my need for forgiveness and restoration, and I am worshipping God as holy, just, righteous, forgiving, and merciful. I am praising Him for the work of Christ’s death, resurrection, and ascension.

When I offer thanks to God, I am recognizing that the blessings in my life were not provided by me, and I am worshipping God as the provider and giver of all good things, as the author and finisher of my salvation, as my refuge and strength. Any expression of thanks, to God or others, exalts the one whom we thank, pointing out what is praiseworthy in them or what they have done, and the same is true in prayers of thanksgiving.

Offering requests to God is worship as well. I have many needs and desires that, in and of myself, I cannot meet. For instance, when my daughter is sick and I desire her to be well, my confidence is not in myself, or even in doctors or medicine, but in God’s strength and mercy towards my child and his wisdom to use any means he chooses to heal my child. My confidence is also in God’s wisdom, sovereignty, and love if he chooses to not heal my child. When I pray for God’s healing and submit to his sovereignty, I remind myself of who God is and worship him.

In all of this, what convicts my heart is that when I choose not to pray, I am withholding worship from God. To neglect prayer is to see myself as sufficient for a task apart from God. It is to see my sanctification and growth in Christ as a work of my flesh rather than a submitting to the Spirit. It is to minimize God’s holiness in light of my sin. It is to pat myself on the back as the provider of good things for myself and my family. It is to trust in myself rather than God. Failure to pray and thereby worship God leads to self-worship; prayerlessness will lead to pride. But prayers of faith exalt God for who he is and remind us of who we are. May we worship without ceasing.

If you want to get a group of us Christians riled up, just talk about how wretched the outside world is. We’ll pile on like a pack of ravenous wolves to talk about how this place is going to “you-know-where” in a hand-basket. About how when we were kids things were much simpler and sanitary. About all the ways the world system in corrupt and sinful.

All our outrage seems a little illogical. I mean, doesn’t it make sense that the world is… worldly? That people who don’t believe in a personal God or coming judgment act as if there is no God and that they won’t be judged for their decisions by a standard of righteousness? I may believe in such truths, but many don’t, or at least they are suppressing those truths. And if they do deny these beliefs, it is logically consistent for them to act in a sinful, self-absorbed way that takes no thought of a world to come. If I didn’t believe in historic Christian doctrines, surely my life choices would be much different.

As Christians, what should surprise us more than anything about those who do not name the name of Christ (and those who do, for that matter), is not the fact that we sin but the fact that we do anything that appears to be of any redeeming value at all. We should be in awe of the limitless grace that can turn any of our evil, pride-filled actions into good and that keeps us from being consumed for our more frequent sinful actions.

Instead of being outraged by non-Christians who live lives consistent with their non-Christian beliefs, we followers of Christ should be outraged by ourselves and our inconsistency. In his book Crazy Love, Francis Chan opens with the statement, “We all know something’s wrong.” He doesn’t follow with a litany of the ways the world is worldly, but, instead, holds the mirror up to American Christians so we can see what wrong with us. He goes on,

“At first I though it was just me. Then I stood before twenty thousand Christian college students and asked, “How many of you have read the New Testament and wondered if we in the church are missing it?” When almost every hand went up, I felt comforted. At least I’m not crazy.”

The book is filled with too many jaw-dropping quotes to list (and I’m only at chapter 6), but none of them take aim outside the church, because the sin outside the people of God should rarely surprise us, but only grieve us and motivate us to bring them the cure for their sin-sickness. If we’re going to get worked up over something, it should probably be the fact that we as Christians respond to what should be the “life-changing” message of the gospel and the call to follow Jesus with little more than a commitment to go to church and not swear. Again, at least our unbelieving friends live in a way that is consistent with their beliefs.

I’ve got as much to learn as anyone else on this topic. Reading Crazy Love has been a great help, and I commend Francis Chan’s work to all followers of Christ. You can also download the audio version, read by Francis, for free during July at christianaudio.com. For now, let’s not get upset that the world is worldly but that the church is.

I don’t like absolute statements, but I’m tempted to say that all sin is rooted in our sinful, selfish desires to find pleasure and fulfillment outside of God. God, then, does not call us away from pleasure, but towards pleasure in Him rather than in our warped, sin-filled ways of seeking pleasure. We are to forsake the dry cisterns of selfishness for the living waters of following God, as Jeremiah so beautifully put it (Jer. 2:13).

My sinful desires reared their ugly head today when I didn’t get what I wanted. I wanted to go home and have lunch with my family, which is a good, potentially God-glorifying thing to do. Then, through some miscommunication, I came home to an empty house. They were at the store. Slight frustration set in and I reminded myself that I should have called before leaving. Then, as seemingly always happens, when I was done with lunch and ready to get back to work, they got home. So I stayed around a few minutes longer and played five minutes of Playdoh with Elaine… which sent my frustration higher because of my dislike for Playdoh. (I’m not sure why, but I just don’t like it.) Then, to top it all off, Andrea asked me to run two errands that would take about 10 minutes. 10 MINUTES! Can you believe the nerve! I’ve got things to do! A whole list of important ministry things to do was looming as obviously more important than honoring God with those fifteen minutes by loving my family as a gift of His grace and by seizing those “inconveniences” as opportunities to see and show His grace.

Sometimes when our three-year-old says she doesn’t want to do something I explain that life is often about doing things that you don’t really want to do or that might not seem that great at first. My airtight logic is often lost on here, but most people would agree that apparently inconvenient or even horrendous tasks often make up a joy-filled life. I acted like a three-year-old today, as I do to some degree everyday, and missed an opportunity to honor God by finding pleasure in the things He placed in front of me. I’m thankful for the cross, where I run for forgiveness, and the empty tomb that gives me new life and desires.

A few weeks ago, possibly in response to the ringing of the phone, I began to sing the words, “Nobody’s home” to the tune of Beethoven’s 5th Symphony. I shared the vague memory of a commercial for funny answering machine tapes with Andrea, and when she had no recollection of it, youtube came through in proving I wasn’t losing my mind.

A few thoughts:

  • I love CDs and haven’t used a cassette tape in recent memory, but they still have a nostalgic awesomeness to them.
  • My mind has an amazing capacity for useless information – why couldn’t the phone ringing remind me of something important or meaningful?
  • Youtube is insane – how is it possible that I could find this anywhere but during the recorded commercial breaks on my VHS copy of The Karate Kid?
  • Doesn’t 14.95 plus shipping and handling seem a little steep?