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Appealing to Jesus for our Nation

But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.

Jesus, in Luke 22:32 (NIV)

Jesus knew Simon Peter was going to deny him (v34). Not only did Jesus pray that the denials would not cause Peter’s faith to completely fail, but He also knew that Peter would repent and turn back to God. And when he did turn back, God would forgive him, and use him to strengthen the church.

This makes me think of the United States. As a society, we have denied the true God, turned away from God, removing God from public schools and other institutions. And our society is suffering the consequences. But God is faithful – if we as a country (led by His church) would turn back to God in repentance, He will forgive us and restore us. I went into more detail about this in a previous blog a couple years ago – if interested, you can read it here.

Dear Jesus, as You prayed for Simon, please pray for us, these United States of America, especially Your church and our leaders, that our faith may not fail. Lead us to turn back to You, that Your great name, O God, may be restored to respect and prominence in this nation. For the building up of Your Kingdom, Amen.


Confession in Worship

One aspect of worship that is often overlooked in many contemporary churches, especially churches that are not tied to any historical, or denominational, church, is confession. The Bible encourages confession of sin, both privately and corporately. The most common examples of confessions are instances in which someone is confessing their own sins or the sins of a group, or even of an entire nation. But there are also examples of corporate confession of sin, including Nehemiah 9:1-3 and a call to corporate confession in James 5:13-16.

I’m not sure why some churches don’t include confession in worship. Are they worried that people may become offended and attendance will decline? Do they think it’s not important, and in the desire to keep the worship service from being ‘too long’ they leave it out? Having a time of confession necessarily requires talking about sin, and that in itself can be a very sensitive subject, so maybe it’s just safer to not talk about it.

I think a common misconception that creates the sensitivity around this topic is that, if we confess sin, we’re admitting that we’re “bad” people. When we come to church, we don’t want to be told we’re bad. In fact, just by coming to church, doesn’t that show that I’m a good person? The problem is, we tend to think of sin as only real bad things: murder, theft and the like. But anything that falls short of God’s perfect law is sin. Moreover, every person is born with a sinful nature, and no one is able to lead a sinless life (Psalm 53:3, Romans 3:23). I love what Joel Hunter wrote in his devotional book Inner State 80: “We are not sinners because we sin. We sin because we are sinners.”

The best thing about corporate confession in worship is that, after taking time to be honest with God about our sin, we can be encouraged by the reminder that God forgives us, and even receive forgiveness from God right then and there.

Of course, you don’t have to wait for corporate worship to confess. Confession is a vital part of personal prayer and worship. Not only confessing our own sins, but the sins of our family, of the church-wide body of Christ, or of the nation. God encourages us to do this, and He has given us examples of confessional prayers in the Bible, that with a very little effort can be adapted and used today to cover these areas of confession. Some include Ezra 9:6-15, Nehemiah 1:5-11, and Daniel 9:4-19.

Confession in worship helps remind us that none of us is perfect, that we need God’s forgiveness, and that we are not alone – everyone else needs forgiveness too. By participating in corporate confession in worship, it can help us to be more open to private confession in our personal time with God. Perhaps, God is waiting to intervene in troubling situations – in our personal lives and even in our nation – until we get honest and serious about confession, and turn away from the things we confess (2 Chronicles 7:14).

How to Get the Most Out of Worship

We don’t always have the same experience in a worship service. Sometimes, we can have a very meaningful, uplifting, edifying experience that stays with us for hours, days, or maybe even causes lasting spiritual growth. Sometimes, we can have a very flat experience, where we leave the service wondering where the last hour (or more) of our lives went. The temptation is to attribute the value of our worship experience to others: the music choices, the level of excellence of the musical performances, the sermon/message, any creative elements (or lack thereof). However, like many things in life, what we get out of worship often depends on what we put into it. After all, you can control what you do; you can’t control all those elements that were planned and prepared by others. With that in mind, here are some things I’ve learned about what each person can do, to get the most out of one’s worship service experience.

Pray. In Luke 11:1, one of Jesus’ followers said to Jesus, “Lord, teach us to pray;” notice, he didn’t ask Jesus to teach us how to pray. I think this person had noticed that Jesus often prayed, and simply asked to teach us to pray. That is, to understand the importance of prayer in every facet of life. I believe you will get the most out of worship by praying before the service starts – at home before you go to worship, or in the parking lot, or even in your seat just before the service begins. Ask God to prepare your heart and mind for worship; ask God to soften your heart; ask God to speak directly to you, and for the wisdom and discernment to understand what God wants to tell you; ask God to remove all distractions from your mind; pray for the pastor and other worship leaders, that God will speak through them; pray that God would be glorified; take time to be still, and know that He is God (Psalm 46:10). I’ve listed prayer first because it is the most important, most effective, and often most overlooked practice. Like many areas of life, if we start with prayer, the rest will come easier.

Participate. Sing along with the songs and hymns, even if they are not your favorites, and even if you don’t think you sing very well. Speak along with prayers and other elements of the service where the congregation is invited to join. Whether singing or speaking, think about what you are singing and speaking. If a pastor or other worship leader asks a question, don’t be afraid to answer. Bring your Bible (or use a Bible app on your phone) to look up and follow along Scriptures that are referenced or read. The more you actively participate in worship, the more you’ll be able to focus on what is being done in worship, and the more likely you’ll hear from God.

Take notes. During the sermon or message, anticipate that you’ll hear something new, that God will illuminate something that is said that will pertain specifically to you. Then, write down whatever it is: main points, an anecdote that triggers a principle or a memory, something that God brings to mind that may not even directly relate to what was just said. Use your phone’s note-taking app, bring a journal, or find space in the bulletin, if your church is using those. Even better, create a place to collect notes, whether a journal, notepad, or digital file, and transfer your notes to this place when you get home. Writing them again helps to reinforce the concepts in your mind, and it helps to have them in one place for future reference.

Revisit. How often do you forget what the worship service was about by Monday morning? How often do you forget by the time you get home? Satan doesn’t mind us going to a church service, as long as we don’t apply what we learn or let the experience make a difference in our day-to-day lives. So he bombards us with distractions: TV, sports, arguments with family, someone cutting us off on the road (or even the church parking lot!). Try developing a habit of intentionally revisiting the worship service experience. On the way home, ask family members in the car what they remember, what their favorite part was, anything that can spark a conversation to recall what God was up to. Or maybe wait until you’re around the dinner table. Or both! My wife and I pray with our kids every night; we can bring up the main teaching point of that day’s worship in our prayers.

My prayer is that by developing the habits of praying before worship, participating in worship, taking notes during the message or sermon, and revisiting what happened in worship later in the day or week, we will get the most out of our worship experiences, and grow in our Christian walk every week. For the glory of God and the building of His Kingdom!

National Day of Prayer

One of the most important aspects of worship – whether corporate (in a group) or individual – is prayer. Today marks the 70th National Day of Prayer; in 1952 the first Thursday of May was designated to nationally observe a day of prayer. So for today, I thought I’d share a few resources to encourage you to join me in praying for our nation.

The Presidential Prayer Team is a non-profit organization “dedicated to a focused mission of encouraging, inspiring and praying for our president and national and military leaders.” Go to their site where you will find a downloadable prayer guide, as well as links to an Interactive Guided Prayer, a National Prayer Room, a National Prayer Video, and more.

In the book of Daniel, Daniel offers a prayer of confession and seeking God’s mercy on behalf of the nation of Israel. I think this prayer is very appropriate for our nation today. You can read it and pray this prayer here.

From the website, here is a wonderful post that includes prayers of various American presidents throughout our history, many of which are just as pertinent today as when they were offered back then.

Almighty God, who hast given us this good land for our heritage: We humbly beseech thee that we may always prove ourselves a people mindful of thy favor and glad to do thy will. Bless our land with honorable industry, sound learning, and pure manners. Save us from violence, discord, and confusion; from pride and arrogance, and from every evil way. Defend our liberties, and fashion into one united people the multitudes brought hither out of many kindreds and tongues. Endue with the spirit of wisdom those to whom in thy Name we entrust the authority of government, that there may be justice and peace at home, and that, through obedience to thy law, we may show forth thy praise among the nations of the earth. In the time of prosperity, fill our hearts with thankfulness, and in the day of trouble, suffer not our trust in thee to fail; all which we ask through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

A prayer for our country, from the Book of Common Prayer

The James Dobson Family Institute will be live-streaming The National Day of Prayer National Broadcast here. Starting at 8pm EST, you can follow this broadcast and come together with Christians across the country in praying for our nation.

Almighty Father, whose blessed Son before his passion prayed
for his disciples that they might be one, as you and he are one:
Grant that your Church, being bound together in love and
obedience to you, may be united in one body by the one Spirit,
that the world may believe in him whom you have sent, your
Son Jesus Christ our Lord; who lives and reigns with you, in
the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

A prayer for the unity of the church, from the Book of Common Prayer

If you know of any other links, prayers, or resources and would be willing to share, leave a reply in the comment box below. Even after the National Day of Prayer, God’s people ought to be in regular prayer for our nation.

Encouragement from the Psalms

The psalms have been used throughout history to worship God, as prayers or songs. I’ve compiled a list of ones to encourage you in troubling times.

I don’t know about you, but lately I’ve been discouraged by a lot of things going on in our country. There is so much discord and disagreement about what our society’s problems are, and what to do to fix them. I believe that if we looked to the God of the Bible for guidance and direction, many of these problems would be fixed. Unfortunately, our culture just seems to be moving further from God. What started as a shift from moral absolutes to relative truth – what’s true for you is fine, but what’s true for me can be different and just as valid – is now becoming increasingly antagonistic toward the truths of God’s Word.

The psalms have been used throughout history to worship God, as prayers or songs. For months now, I have noticed how several psalms seem to speak to my heart, giving me the words to pray during these trying times. Since the beginning of the year, I have been reading through the Bible using The Daily Bible, which lays out the entire Word of God in 365 daily readings, presented chronologically. When it comes to the psalms, they are presented within the historical context whenever the context is indicated. The rest are grouped together in broad categories. I am now reading through a group labeled “Psalms for the Troubled Soul.” Starting with these, I’ve compiled a list of the psalms that I believe make a great set of prayers that I can reference whenever I’m in need of encouragement in the midst of this troubling world. I pray that they can be a blessing to you in the same way. (a brief description of each psalm is taken, for the most part, from The Daily Bible)

  • Psalm 3 – prayer of desperation
  • Psalm 5 – prayer for protection of the righteous
  • Psalm 6 – prayer for deliverance from enemies
  • Psalm 7 – prayer for refuge from enemies
  • Psalm 10 – prayer for relief from oppression by the wicked
  • Psalm 11 – security of righteous from threats of the wicked
  • Psalm 13 – prayer for salvation from enemies
  • Psalm 17 – prayer for rescue from enemies
  • Psalm 18 – song of deliverance
  • Psalm 23 – The Lord as a protective Shepherd
  • Psalm 26 – prayer for redemption of the righteous
  • Psalm 28 – prayer for salvation of righteous and punishment of wicked
  • Psalm 31 – prayer for relief from pursuers and slanderers
  • Psalm 35 – prayer for vindication in the eyes of gloating enemies
  • Psalm 37 – the righteous have no reason to envy the wicked
  • Psalm 41 – prayer for weak and those betrayed by friends
  • Psalm 43 – prayer for insight in the face of opposition
  • Psalm 44 – confession of national sin and prayer for restoration
  • Psalm 46 – refuge and strength in the God who rules over nations
  • Psalm 54 – prayer for deliverance from attackers and slanderers
  • Psalm 55 – the anguish of having disloyal companions
  • Psalm 56 – prayer for confidence
  • Psalm 59 – prayer for God’s strength
  • Psalm 60 – prayer for restoration
  • Psalm 61 – prayer for God’s defense and shelter
  • Psalm 62 – God is our only strength, whose love excels all others’
  • Psalm 64 – plea against conspirators who scheme evil deeds
  • Psalm 69 – prayer for end of scorn
  • Psalm 70 – urgency of the need for God’s deliverance
  • Psalm 71 – prayer for God’s presence throughout life
  • Psalm 73 – questioning the prosperity of the wicked
  • Psalm 74 – prayer for God to restore His people
  • Psalm 77 – the comfort of God’s record of deliverance
  • Psalm 79 – when will God hear our cry and repay enemies?
  • Psalm 83 – prayer for justice for oppressing nations
  • Psalm 86 – prayer for mercy in the face of enemies
  • Psalm 91 – the personal protection of one who trusts in God
  • Psalm 102 – a nation’s prayer, like that of an afflicted person
  • Psalm 108 – prayer for victory over enemies
  • Psalm 109 – prayer that false accusers are repaid
  • Psalm 120 – prayer for deliverance from liars who press war
  • Psalm 121 – the Lord watches over His people
  • Psalm 123 – prayer for mercy
  • Psalm 140 – prayer for protection from violent people
  • Psalm 142 – prayer for refuge from enemies
  • Psalm 143 – prayer for preservation of life and protection against trouble
  • Psalm 144 – prayer for God’s power upon enemies
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