What is a healthy church? What is a dead church? What is a failing church? How do we measure the success of a church?
As we continue our series studying the New Testament letter, Colossians, Paul shares two practices that mark a healthy church. Turn to Colossians 4:2. We are reading verses 2-6. Pause this post and read those verses, looking for the two marks of a healthy church.
Notice that Paul begins this section by teaching the first mark of a healthy church: we disciples of Jesus should be devoted to prayer.
What does it mean to be devoted to prayer? Just spend time praying, right? Pretty simple. But how much time? And what format should we use? Just pray before meals and pray before bed? Growing up my family used to pray before long trips in the car. Of course we pray in church. But what else? When do you normally pray? When a situation in life is going very badly, like a health problem, or a financial problem, and a relationship difficulty. Then we pray. We’re desperate and we have come to the end of ourselves, and we want help. So we cry out to God. As we should!
I took a prayer class in college and we learned that we should pray reverently. One way to help us pray reverently is to begin our prayer with an intentional attitude and posture of reverence to God. Think about Jesus started the Lord’s Prayer, “Our Father who are in heaven, hallowed be thy name.” There is a reverence, a respect there. In my mind, when I pray that line in the Lord’s prayer, I have the image of a follower of God entering his royal throne room, slowly, cautiously, wide-eyed, not wanting to be disrespectful. That image might be helpful to you.
In that college prayer class one student was from the former Soviet Union. After the prof taught us about respectfully entering God’s presence, this Russian student raised his hand and said, “That’s not always true.” Kind of bold to disagree with the prof! Was the student saying it was okay to be irreverent? Of course not. The student went on to tell us that in the former Soviet Union, the Christians had to be secretive, part of underground churches, as it was illegal to practice Christianity under that communist government. Government agents would spy on the Christians, trying to infiltrate them and throw them in jail. Sometimes government agents would find out where the Christians were worshiping in secret, and the agents would raid the house. My friend said that the Christians didn’t have time to enter God’s presence with slow, cautious reverence. They would just immediately cry out to God, “Help, Lord, help! Save us!”
It is okay to cry out to God in our desperation. That is what the Psalms of Lament are all about. That is what the book of Lamentations is all about. Lament is a form of prayer is which we cry out to God in our desperation, even with our complaint to God. Do you think God, when he hears us lament, thinks, “Oh geesh, here go these ungrateful people again. They are such bores, constantly complaining to me.”? No! God wants to hear our hearts. Even if our hearts are raw. This is why I include one psalm of lament in every Wednesday prayer guide for Faith Church. Because life is brutal sometimes, we need to know that it is okay to be honest about and express our pain to God, and to each other!
In addition to lament, there are other ways to pray. Many other ways. The Lord’s Prayer is a great model because it includes four forms of prayer, and they rhyme. Address – That is the beginning that we already talked about, where we consider who God is. We respectfully address “Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed by thy name.” Request – “Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread.” Confess – “Forgive us sins, as we forgive those who sinned against us.” Assess – “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” These are requests as well, but embedded in the request is an assessment of ourselves. When we pray for God’s help in temptation and deliverance, we are assessing ourselves, and the assessment is that “we cannot do this on our own, we need help.”
Address, Request, Confess, Assess.
But there are still more ways to pray. Check back to the next post, and we’ll learn more.