Theme: Leadership in Prayer and Teaching
In this week’s lessons, we learn about the importance of worship, and the responsibility of pastors to lead us in it.
Scripture: Psalm 134:1-3
How can we find a solution to the deplorable problem of today’s weak or sometimes even nonexistent worship? We might approach it in various ways. In fact, I have already suggested one. If we are to worship God, we must get to know God, and this means that we must begin to study God’s own revelation of himself in the Bible. Every Christian must do this. If we are to praise and glorify God as we ought, we will have to watch television less and study God’s Word more. We will have to become men and women of the Book.
But I do not think that is what comes to us from this psalm, important as the study of God’s Word by all God’s people is. What comes to us from Psalm 134 is the responsibility of the appointed ministers of God to worship God themselves and by doing so to show God’s people how to worship and to lead them in worship. For there is no mistaking the fact that congregations learn from their ministers’ examples and will either worship well or fail to worship based on the patterns they see. How will people learn to praise God if all they discover in church is a minister who is trying to be a stand-up comic or entertainer whose chief goal in the service is to make the people go away feeling good?
What must ministers do? Reference to the Levites in Psalm 134 leads to several important responsibilities.
1. Ministers must lead in prayer. This responsibility comes directly from the psalm, because this is what the words “lift up your hands in the sanctuary” in verse 2 mean. In biblical times raising one’s hands toward heaven was the normal posture of those who were praying. This is proved by 1 Timothy 2:8 where Paul says, “I want men everywhere to lift up holy hands in prayer.” It is a meaningful gesture, because lifting one’s hands to heaven reminds us that we are looking to God in our worship and that whatever gifts or blessings we may be seeking come from him.
This is precisely what is vanishing in our contemporary evangelical assemblies. I attend scores of evangelical worship services in the course of a normal year, and one thing I have noticed is the striking absence of any serious prayer. Usually there is prayer at the beginning of the service, an invocation, though that is gradually being replaced with a chummy greeting. There is always a prayer when the offering is received. We seem to recognize our need for God’s supernatural intervention there—to make normally stingy people generous. But the pastoral prayers are gone. There is no adoration of God, no confession of sin, no thanks for what God has already abundantly given. And if we need to make a supplication—if Mary Jones is having an operation and needs to be prayed for—that is often merely tacked on to the offering prayer because there is no other place to put it.
Many things rightly go on in church. But what is happening if we are not praying? We are not worshiping God certainly. We are not even thinking about God. We are actually focusing on ourselves and our needs exclusively. Good ministers must lead the way in prayer and thus teach the people how to direct their deepest thoughts to the Almighty.
2. Ministers must read and teach the Bible. Psalm 134 does not list this responsibility explicitly, but it was understood that the reading and teaching of the Bible was one of the Levites’ chief duties.
We have an excellent example in Nehemiah. After reassembling the fallen walls of Jerusalem, Nehemiah brought Ezra, who was a priest and scribe, to the large open square before the Water Gate to read from the Book of the Law from daybreak until noon in the hearing of the people. We are told that “all the people listened attentively to the Book of the Law” (Neh. 8:3). The people “lifted their hands” in prayer, saying, “Amen! Amen!” and bowed with their faces to the ground, after which “the Levites… instructed the people in the Law while the people were standing there.” The text says, “They read from the Book of the Law of God, making it clear and giving the meaning so that the people could understand what was being said” (vv. 7, 8). What a wonderful picture of the duties of ministers! To read the Law, make it clear and give the meaning!
But today? Sadly, serious Bible exposition is rapidly disappearing as preachers prepare little “feel good” talks for people who do not know one end of the Bible from the other, let alone what it is teaching. Many services do not even contain the reading of the Bible anymore, at best just a few verses before the sermon and as a pretext for it. Christians used to say that in prayer we speak to God, and in the Bible God speaks to us. But what is happening in services where neither prayers nor serious Bible expositions occur? Whatever is happening, it is not worship.
Today’s ministers need to recover the priorities of the apostles who appointed others to do the other tasks. They said, “It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the word of God in order to wait on tables. Brothers, choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will turn this responsibility over to them and will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word” (Acts 6:2-4).
What is one solution for weak worship that is to be done by everyone? What is the solution given in Psalm 134?
In what way is prayer worship?
What example does Nehemiah provide to ministers? What does this teach about worship?
Prayer: Pray that your pastor will seek God’s guidance for your church.
Application: Take note of how much time is spent in prayer and Bible reading in your worship service.
Key Point: If we are to worship God, we must get to know God, and this means that we must begin to study God’s own revelation of himself in the Bible.