Have you ever stopped to consider how it is we worship? What it is we are called to "do" in worship? It kind of just happens that as we assimilate into a church body somewhere, we come into some "style" of worship. In some conservative congregations, we associate worship with solemn prayers and hymns. In more "modern" churches, we might hear the beat of drums and the soulful worship of folks worshiping in "new song". Still others who are not quite on the side of conservative, nor are they quite on the side of being "free-spirited", might find worship resembling some praise and worship songs with an upbeat and a little hand raising. Regardless of how we "do" worship, I wonder if we are "doing" worship as instructed in scripture. In reality, there are elements of worship we may not have considered - such as praying for our authorities, bringing all manner of petitions before the throne of God, and giving thanks for things way beyond our control. When we limit worship to a "style" experienced in a particular congregational gathering, we may actually be limiting how it is we are connecting with God!
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. (I Timothy 2:1-6 MSG)
As we see in our passage, Timothy is being urged to develop a "style" of worship in the New Testament church which encompasses prayer, intercession, thanksgiving, along with the study of God's word and time in fellowship together. As he considers this topic of worship, the first instruction he receives from the Apostle Paul is to take time for prayer, petitions, intercession, and the giving of thanks. The very specific instruction to pray for our authorities (leaders) somehow seems out of place in this list, but I want us to consider why it is God may have been focusing on this as part of worship. Perhaps the best way to understand why it is we lift our leaders up in prayer during our times of worship is that they have a great deal to do with our ability to continue to live peacefully and with the ability to pursue godliness and holiness.
Petitions are nothing more than laying out requests for something which is desired. Part of worship is to lay out the desires of our heart. There is no greater time to bring the desires of your heart before God than in times of worship. In the opening of our heart, getting truthfully vulnerable with God about what it is we truly are desirous of, we come into a place where we can experience God purifying our desires and helping us to see how those desires either fit with his plan for our lives or need a little tweaking in order to fit. Some of our desires are not all that holy and won't go a long way at producing godliness in our lives. When this is the case, God doesn't just say "no" and leave us dangling - he helps us realize the need to exchange that desire for another - so we might grow in grace.
Prayers are sometimes equated to the "canned" types of prayers we use to get "in touch" with God. Some churches regularly recite the Lord's Prayer and there is nothing wrong with that. The issue with "canned" prayers is that we almost always recite them without the words being associated with any intent of heart on our part. Prayers are probably more easily understood as those things we bring before God in which confession is an element of that conversation. If you look at the Lord's Prayer a little closer, you see such things as bringing your faults/failures before God for his forgiveness (forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us). We also see such things as God helping us develop a deeper trust in him and his finished work in our lives (give us this day our daily bread). Prayers are then the connection of heart and mind to the heart of God - we bring into these "words" our truthful connection of mind, will, and emotions - centering them on him and trusting him to take / do what needs to be done.
Intercession is simply understood to be the type of prayer where we stop thinking about our own needs and bring the needs of another before God. The first two really help us to get focused on God, this one helps us focus our attention on the needs of those around us and God's ability to meet those needs as they are laid out before him. Some of us neglect this part of worship all together simply because we are too busy with our own needs! We get this prayer and petition thing down pretty well, but never quite bridge into the intercession part. Why? Maybe it is because we are still so focused on us that we cannot see outside of our own needs. It is in intercessory times that God begins to open our eyes to the needs around us. If you have ever experienced a real time of intercession, you might have been surprised at how God began to break your heart for those around you in need. I often find myself in intercession for those closest to me such as my children, mom, or even my BFF. It is not uncommon to begin to feel deep agony for their pain, or to feel a sense of urgency to have God step in where it is they need his touch. Intercession moves us from using worship to "feel good" into a place of "doing good" on behalf of others.
Thanksgiving actually connects all three of these types of "worship activity" together in a kind of unique way - for in acknowledging who God is, what he has done, what we are trusting him to continue to do, and what we are totally reliant upon him to provide, we are acknowledging our trust in him to do what we cannot do ourselves. These times of thanksgiving remind us that salvation is his doing, not ours; setting things right which have been all messed up is by his power, not ours; and needs are best met when the one who truly knows the depth of the need is the one meeting them! Yep, gratefulness is part of worship - but not just for the good stuff - we even need to thank him for the stuff which is hard and will take some commitment on our part to get through.
To this, Paul adds this idea of lifting up our authorities (leaders) - in today's vernacular this would be our elected leaders such as President, Ambassadors, Governors, and the like. It seems a little out of place until you consider the gravity of their job and how it is that we enjoy our religious freedoms or have them cracked down upon in a heartbeat. For us to live godly and holy lives, we need to be able to gather together and to experience "worship" together - this is scriptural. When religious liberties are curtailed by unholy governments or leaders, this becomes a very difficult task and can even result in life-long consequences such as imprisonment or death. The leaders of our nations need our prayers - they need our intercession on their behalf - for many don't even realize the tremendous impact some of their decisions result in for those of us who follow in their footsteps. So, we cannot neglect the importance of lifting them regularly in worship.
Connecting with the heart of God is more than a series of songs and a few simply worded prayers. It is a lifestyle practices in the quietness of our homes and the assembly of the believers. It encompasses representing our needs, laying out our heart, and never neglecting the needs and heart-hurts of others. Simply put - we need to remember to think outside of "us" when it comes to worship. Good news - when we bring ourselves before God, he helps us with all this in worship - even when we don't get it right, he still accepts what it is we bring to him. Just sayin!