Intercessory Prayer for the Church in the United States of America

I had an interesting conversation today with a Christian leader. I was observing that, according to data, during our Coronavirus induced “shelter-in-place” orders that increased internet traffic in pornography seems to be much higher than online interest in the Christian faith. This leader said that this is the first time in a long-time that a national tragedy hasn’t sparked an increase in interest in the Christian faith over all. Sure, there are some pockets of renewal. There always will be. But overall, across the United States, there is a lot of religious activity but little signs of true, biblical revival.

I’m just an ordinary pastor in a small town, serving a small church, and without much influence in this world. We cannot fix what is broken. But God can. But first, I think, we need to repent of our worldliness as Christians living here in the United States. The numbers of faithful Christians according to researchers is a number much, much smaller than the number of those who claim to be Christian.

As I was reading in Daniel chapter 9 I saw a faithful believer Daniel making intercession before God in behalf of God’s rebellious children of Israel. We see Moses interceding in prayer on behalf of God’s rebellious children of Israel. We see Jesus cry out, “Forgive them, for they know not what they do!” from the Cross. The Church is a Kingdom of Priests according to the Apostle Peter. We have been given a ministry of intercession in behalf of those who wander and for those who are dead in transgressions and sins.

So as I reflected on Scripture I began to put it together into a prayer of intercession for the Church in the United States. I’m not a brilliant wordsmith and I am no great theologian. I just wanted to put together a prayer to pray that would be faithful to the teaching of Scripture. This prayer is full of Scripture. I tried to take all of it from some place in the Bible. Like Christian writers of the 2nd century I hope you see the many Bible references in this prayer.

It’s a prayer of repentance. Would you join in with me in praying this prayer? Let us repent before God on our knees and wait for Him to pour out His Holy Spirit to revive us and draw us back to Jesus Christ. Jesus’ name is on our lips but I think the world has drawn our hearts away from him.

Prayer of Confession and Repentance

O Lord, you are a great and awesome God! You always fulfill your covenant and keep your promises of unfailing love to those who love you and obey your commands.

But we have sinned fallen short of Your glory and done what is wrong in your eyes. We have rebelled against you and scorned your commands. We say we are yours. We honor you with our lips, but our hearts are far from you. Our worship is nothing but man-made rituals we habitually perform according to our denominational and non-denominational traditions. We have refused to listen to the Holy Spirit speaking by and with Your Word.

You warned us, O God. You warned us that as our days come closer to our Lord’s Second Coming that we would experience times of great difficulty. You warned us that people will love themselves and their money. You said people would be boastful and proud. You told us children would disobey parents. You said people would become very ungrateful. There would be nothing that would be considered sacred. There would be a lack of love and forgiveness. People would slander one another. People would not exercise self-control. There would be cruelty one to another. Whatever is good would be hated. People would betray friends. There would be a reckless disregard of how our actions impact others. Our society would be puffed up with pride and would love pleasure above all things. In the midst of this people will act religious, but they will reject Your power that could make them godly. You warned us to stay away from such lukewarm, dead religion. You told us that faith without works is dead. But we have drunk deeply from this poison well and have refused to drink from the well of the water of life that Jesus offers us.

Instead of putting to death the sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires, and greed as You have called us to do, Your people, O God, have fallen in love with this world and the things it offers us, and in doing so we are losing Your love in us and the fellowship what comes in walking with You in Your ways. This world is replacing love for you with a craving for physical pleasure, a craving for every material thing we see that pleases us. We are more proud of our achievements and possessions than we are zealous to be called by Your name. All this despite the fact that this world and all the wicked cravings of our heart is passing away with the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Because we love this world too much, we who call ourselves Christians, have not borne the fruit of true repentance in our lives. Instead, Our lives became full of every kind of wickedness that are embraced by those who reject you. We are sexually immoral, we simply do not care about your will regarding our sexuality. We are greedy, wanting more and more. We hate those who disagree with us. We are envious of the rich, and have not learned contentment. We commit murder in our hearts. We argue and quarrel with one another. We build ourselves up by deceiving others. We engage in behavior we know will hurt others. We gossip about people behind their backs. In fact, we stab people in the back. We are disrespectful to those God has placed in authority over us. We think we are better than other people. We arrogantly build ourselves up instead of bringing glory to you O, God. We dishonor our parents. We invent knew ways of sinning. We refuse to study your Word diligently to know your Will. We break our promises to You and one another all the time. We simply don’t care about the poor, wounded, and broken like you do. We show no mercy when mercy is called for.

And we have become a people with itching ears who will no longer listen to sound teaching. Instead we follow out own desires and will look for teachers who will tell us whatever our itching ears want to hear. You warned us not to believe everyone who claims to speak by the Spirit. That we must test them to see if the spirit they have comes from God. For there are many false prophets in the world.

Jesus told us to beware of false prophets who come disguised as harmless sheep but are really vicious wolves. He said we could identify them by their fruit, that is, by the way they act. But too many of our churches and ministries are led by men and women who produce bad fruit, and thus cannot be good trees. For Jesus said, “Can you pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? A good tree produces good fruit, and a bad tree produces bad fruit. A good tree can’t produce bad fruit, and a bad tree can’t produce good fruit. So every tree that does not produce good fruit is chopped down and thrown into the fire. Yes, just as you can identify a tree by its fruit, so you can identify people by their actions.” (Matthew 7:15-20).

The Apostle Paul warned the elders of the Church to, “guard yourselves and God’s people. Feed and shepherd God’s flock—his church, purchased with his own blood—over which the Holy Spirit has appointed you as leaders. I know that false teachers, like vicious wolves, will come in among you after I leave, not sparing the flock. Even some men from your own group will rise up and distort the truth in order to draw a following.” (Acts 20:28-30). And many false prophets and teachers have risen among us who are unstable people who distort the truth to their own destruction. They are leading many astray. Like wolves they are devouring people whose itching ears lead them to chase their own desires rather than Your will.

Lord, you are in the right to judge us; but as you see, our faces are covered with shame. This is true of all of us, because we have been disloyal to You. O Lord, we are covered with shame because we have sinned against you.

But the Lord our God is merciful and forgiving, even though we have rebelled against You. We have not obeyed the Lord our God, for we have not followed the instructions You gave us in your Holy Word. We have disobeyed your instruction and turned away, refusing to listen to your voice.

So now curses and judgments written in the Scriptures have been poured down on us because of our sin. Our hearts are stone. Your Holy Spirit is not moving in powerful ways in our land. Churches are not experiencing the real life that comes only through Jesus Christ. O Lord our God, you are right to do all of these things, for we did not obey you when you told us not to love this world or the things of this world.

O Lord our God, you brought lasting honor to your name by rescuing your people from Hell in a great display of power, when your raised up from the dead, Your Son, who offered Himself a sacrifice for our sins. In view of all your faithful mercies, Lord, please turn your furious anger away from your Church, your Holy Temple. Unbelievers mock us and blame us for this catastrophe because of our sins and the sins of our ancestors. May it never be that Your glory would not shine in this land. May it never be that the people of this land would not fear you and mock your holy name.

O our God, hear your servant’s prayer! Listen as we plead. For your own sake, Lord, smile again on your Holy Temple, the Church, the body and bride of Your beloved Son, Jesus Christ. You have promised this in Your Word, O Lord:

The high and lofty one who lives in eternity,
the Holy One, says this:
“I live in the high and holy place
with those whose spirits are contrite and humble.
I restore the crushed spirit of the humble
and revive the courage of those with repentant hearts.
For I will not fight against you forever;
I will not always be angry.
If I were, all people would pass away—
all the souls I have made.
I was angry,
so I punished these greedy people.
I withdrew from them,
but they kept going on their own stubborn way.
I have seen what they do,
but I will heal them anyway!
I will lead them.
I will comfort those who mourn,
bringing words of praise to their lips.
May they have abundant peace, both near and far,”
says the Lord, who heals them. (Isaiah 57:15-19)

O God, lean down and listen to us. Open your eyes and see our despair. See how your Church here in the United States—that bears the name of your Beloved Son Jesus Christ – is so broken because of our disobedience. We make this plea, not because we deserve help, but because of your mercy.

When You, O God our Savior, revealed Your kindness and love, You saved us, not because of the righteous things we had done, but because of Your mercy. You washed away our sins, giving us a new birth and new life through the Holy Spirit. You generously poured out the Spirit upon us through Jesus Christ our Savior. Because of his grace he made us right in Your sight and gave us confidence that we will inherit eternal life.

O Lord, hear. O Lord, forgive. O Lord, listen and act! For your own sake, do not delay, O my God, for your people and your Church bear your name. For the sake of Your glory pour out Your Holy Spirit, make our hearts alive, lead us to repentance and its fruits. We desperately pray in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.

Pastor, Please Be An Example

Dear Pastor,

I have been meaning to say this for a while. On Sunday you tell us that we need to share our Christian faith with family, friends, neighbors, and co-workers. I’d really like them to come to know Jesus. But your political posts show up in my news feed. And you aren’t really a good example on social media of what you preach on Sunday.

You tell us that through faith in Jesus we become children of God and citizens of His Kingdom. We are ambassadors of Jesus Christ. Because we are Christians we are to live as strangers and aliens in this land.

But from all the stuff you post it seems like your world is wrapped up in politics. The memes you post belittle the friends I’m trying to reach with the Gospel. Those that don’t agree with you are treated with condescension. You make comments and share posts filled with sarcasm that demean other people.

You show us the Bible passages at church like Ephesians 4:29, “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths” and Colossians 4:6, “Let your speech always be gracious,” but you are so busy fighting your culture war that you seem to forget what the Bible teaches about how we are supposed to talk to others.

I understand that you need to speak up for what is good and against sin. You certainly need to speak to issues of morality. And I expect you to be passionate at times.

But could you do it without reposting mean, sarcastic memes that mock people who have different beliefs? Can’t you be just a little different than my others friends on social media by showing just a little more wisdom and maturity? Would it hurt to ask yourself if what you are posting will bring glory to God before posting it?

You tell us that people who do not know Jesus are spiritually dead. You show us in the Bible that all sin and fall short of God’s glory and that apart from His work in their lives they are headed down the wrong path. But on social media you seem to expect people who don’t believe in Jesus to live like they are Christians. You post all this conspiracy stuff and posts that express shock that, well, non-Christians are doing things that dishonor God.

I thought we were paying you to be a minister of the Word, to shepherd us, and to bring Jesus to our community. It feels like we are paying you to spend all day trolling obscure websites to repost shocking accusations about what’s wrong with society. We already know things out there are messed up.

I’m confused. I thought the Gospel was about repenting of sin and experiencing a new life through faith in Jesus Christ. But your posts seem to make the Gospel about embracing the Republican Party. My friends are confused too. They think becoming a Christian means they have to support the GOP platform.  I keep saying it’s about Jesus but your posts keep making them think it’s about politics.

I guess I’m just asking you to be a wise, mature adult that represents Jesus well when you post. It would be nice if my friends on social media could see you care more about God’s Kingdom than earthly kingdoms. Please, please don’t mock and belittle the very people you are telling us to share Jesus with. Your activity on social media can either help us or hurt us as we live as ambassadors of Jesus Christ.

Your Truly,

Your Congregation

The Bible in Worship

Over the years I have often heard churches that extensively use the Bible in their worship service criticized rather harshly. These congregations are tired, old, boring traditional churches out of touch with the needs of modern people. I will grant that some churches that extensively use the Bible are tired, old and boring. But that’s not the Bible’s fault. The problem with tired, old and boring congregations lies squarely with the membership.

Below are some thoughts as to why we are so tempted to minimize the reading of the Bible in the worship service. Following these thoughts are a reflection on the benefits of reading the Bible in the worship service.

Why do we so disdain the use of the Bible in our worship services? First, God uses His Word to shape us and to remake us in the image of Jesus Christ. The writer of Hebrews observes, “The word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marry, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” (Hebrews 4:12). The imagery is of the priest preparing a sacrifice in the Temple. The sacrifice is chopped up in preparation to be presented to God on the altar. God chops us up by his Word and prepares us to be of service to him. The sinful nature within us often fights this process. God’s Word becomes too convicting. Too much Bible leads to too much conviction. We don’t like that.

We also have a tendency to find God’s Word to be boring and irrelevant. After all, we all have our own agendas. The life God calls us to as his children does have its consequences. The Word of God brings us into a head on confrontation with the cherished norms of the culture we live in. Our agenda is often driven by cultural desires, not by God’s Word. God’s Word attacks our worldliness. But we often feel that God is hopelessly out of step with the realities of life. It is as if He has no real understanding of our desires and needs. After all, the apostle John, under the inspiration of God writes, “For all that is in the world – the desires of the eyes and the pride in possessions – is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires but whoever does the will of God abides forever.” (1 John 2:16-17). Could it be that finding God’s Word boring and irrelevant is but a defense mechanism?

We don’t want God to shake us out of our comfort zone. We don’t mind a church full off personal religious expressions, people singing and speaking about their walk with God. That’s okay. But we don’t want God consistently speaking to us through His Word. So we convince ourselves that “for the sake of the non-Christian who might attend our worship services” we must cut down on the use of the Bible in church services. But God has consistently said that unbelievers become believers through the concentrated reading and preaching of His Word. If unbelievers are turned off by our worship services, could it be because they see our boredom and disinterest and suppose that God is boring and irrelevant. Maybe the problem with boring church services isn’t God’s fault but ours?

Why do we criticize the extensive use of the Bible in worship? I believe the answer lies with us and our hearts. For a moment let’s think about why the extensive use of the Bible in worship is a good thing.

Psalm 119 is a gift that God has given us. In it he gives us a picture of one who is filled with the Holy Spirit and trusting in the Savior to come, Jesus Christ. In other words, the writer of this inspired Psalm is a believer. As a believer he paints a picture of his relationship to God’s Word.

The Psalmist believes that trust in God’s Word (which is tantamount to trusting God Himself) brings salvation. “Let your steadfast love come to me, O Lord, your salvation according to your promise…for I trust in your word.” Psalm 119:41-42.

The Psalmist believes that God’s Word is more wonderful than any sweet thing he could eat. “How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth!” Psalm 119: 103.

The Psalmist believes that God’s Word will help him see and understand his life and the world around him. “The unfolding of your words gives light; it imparts understanding to the simple.” Psalm 119:130.

Speaking of light and understanding, the Psalmist believes that God’s Word presents a true and accurate picture of reality. “The sum of your word is truth, and every one of your righteous rules endures forever.” Psalm 119:160.

The Psalmist finds that God’s Word is more valuable that hitting it big with the lottery. “I rejoice in your word like one who finds great spoil.” Psalm 119:162.

The Psalmist loves God’s Word so much that he promises to sing it. “My tongue will sing of your word, for all your commandments are right.” Psalm 119:172.

In fact, the Psalmist recognizes that his key in fighting sin is knowing God’s Word. “I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.” Psalm 119:11.

What does all this mean? It means that a worship service where God’s Word is central can meet the real spiritual needs of God’s people. A continual saturation with God’s Word leads to transformation because God’s Spirit takes His Word and uses it for His glory.

The Bible is God’s gracious gift to us. God uses the Scriptures to work in our lives. The more we are exposed to the Bible the better it is for us.