People of God, we are coming to the end of the Church Year. In two weeks we begin the journey of Advent. Advent is a season of expectation and hope for the Christian. We will walk through the expectations of the First Century saints and see the glory of that expectation fulfilled in the Person of Jesus Christ.
Now I know that many of you who grew up in broadly evangelical churches will find this idea of a church calendar strange. Why the changes in liturgical colors? Why is a calendar even needed? Or why shouldn’t we just allow the pastor to preach whatever he is comfortable with, and allow that to form our themes for the year? These are important questions to consider. And let me say up-front that there is nothing sinful or erroneous about preaching about the crucifixion during Christmas. Or about the resurrection during Lent. But one of the questions I think is worth considering is “what is the nature and purpose of time?” Why is time important?” Is there wisdom is being shaped by a historically driven calendar, rather than a calendar of our own making? I believe there is much wisdom in it, and I think the Church has been wise in following this calendar throughout the centuries. So why is time important? First, time is important because it shapes us as a people. We are a time-oriented people. Everyone of us has 24 hours in a day. The way we choose to use this time is crucial in developing our character and personality. If we are always late to events we are telling the world that order does not matter. If we seldom meet deadlines we are telling the world that discipline does not matter. And the examples abound. Time is important. Time is ethically and sociologically important. Jesus believed this was the case. He said things like “The time is at hand.” The kingdom was near when he arrived in the first century. Later in Mark 13 he says “these things shall come upon this generation.” If time didn’t matter to Jesus he would have said, “these things will happen upon a non-specified generation.” But Jesus was very clear to his first century audience.
But another reason time is important is because it belongs to Christ and His Church. Jesus is the Creator of time. Before the world began there was no need for time, but when Jesus set the world into motion with His words time began to tick cosmically.
We are part of a culture that sees time as individualistic. As Christians, many times we isolate ourselves from others. We like to do things our own on our own times. So we rationalize that time for us is not the same as time for them. The reality, however, is that time is God’s, and He has specifically given time to His Son, and His Son beautifies, glorifies His Bride by giving her time.
To use a marital dialogue, Jesus is saying: “Beloved, I want to help you to use your time wisely.”
So over the centuries, the Church has listened to her Bridegroom and fashioned herself around a Calendar. There are feast or holy days that we as a Church in Pensacola, Florida celebrate together with other little underground churches in Iran and in China. We share Fourth of July only other fellow Americans, but we share Easter with the whole Christian world. And this is no trivial thing.
I also want to say that it is a good thing to honor our national holidays. God has been good to this country, though this country has in many ways failed to live as God desires. One crucial feature of a Christian is that he possess a heart of gratitude for those things God has given him. Here is my point: We need to honor special days in our Calendar, but ultimately national holidays are to be submissive to ecclesiastical holy days. The work of the Church will carry a place of greater importance in God’s plans. Nations will come and go, but the gates of hell will never prevail against the Church.
I say all these things as we come to the end of the Church Year. But within that Church Year we can take some time to reflect on certain American holidays. We have the opportunity to consider these holidays and use them in a way that mirrors the Christian gospel. And I can think of no better opportunity to do this than with Thanksgiving. I Chronicles 16: 8: “Oh give thanks to the Lord; call upon his name; make known his deeds among the peoples!”
We are entering a brief season of thanksgiving. Of course, we must always give thanks, but when a holiday comes along that stresses thanksgiving we think it is a great time to consider this topic. But as we know we tend to replace the important thing for the less important. And we do as a people in this season need to prioritize Thanksgiving over turkeys and touchdowns. Though many of you testify that Thanksgiving with turkey and touchdowns is an even better combination.
So time is of the essence! It helps shape us and it reminds us of our allegiance to Christ and the Church. Liturgy and time go together. One cannot exist without the other.
N.T. Wright says the following:
“Good Christian liturgy is friendship in action… the covenant relationship between God and his people not simply discovered and celebrated like the sudden meeting of friends, exciting and worthwhile though that is, but thought through and relished, planned and prepared — an ultimately better way for the relationship to grow and at the same time a way of demonstrating what the relationship is all about.”
The more liturgy is practiced, the more confessions are made, the more we tune our actions with the actions of the Church, the more we get to know our God; the more alert we become to the ways God deals with man. In fact, we can say that the more we are engaged, alert, and deeply involved in the liturgy the more we love Christ. But notice that the secret is in the involvement. You cannot have a friendship that is lasting if you do not work hard at it, so too, you cannot grow as a worshipper if you do not work hard at it.
So what does time teach us? It teaches us that there is a time to weep, there is a time to rejoice, and there is a time to give thanks. And as we approach Thanksgiving in this country, it is a good time to consider the nature of thanksgiving and the implications of thanksgiving in the Word of God.
This Lord’s Day I want to consider Paul’s instruction to young Timothy who was the pastor of the Ephesian Church. He is teaching Timothy how to properly lead his congregation in worship. And he tells Timothy what is to be central in public worship:
First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.
Paul says that this is of first importance. It is the greatest priority of a Christian to lift his voice to God in prayer. It is a means of grace. Paul exhorts Timothy to lead his people by example. Intercede on behalf of humanity, especially in public worship. The early Church recognized this structure. They realized that pastors intercede on behalf of humanity, not just merely their local congregations.
Some of us grew up in churches where pastors offered a quick prayer and perhaps there may have been two or three needs mentioned. The Reformed tradition, however, has taken Paul’s words very seriously. Worship demands a pastoral prayer; a prayer of intercession. And more specifically, this prayer serves as a model for how we should pray. Now, I am well aware that there is a more fundamental issue at stake here, which is that many Christians simply go days and days without praying at all. They interpret their little whispers as a form of prayer. And I am sure this needs to be addressed. But to be precise with our text, notice that the exhortation here is for all types of prayers for all sorts of people. These are prayers are to be made for all people. We will delve into this a bit more next Lord’s Day.
In our text, Paul lists four types of prayers:
First, Paul says supplications. By supplications, Paul encourages young Timothy “to make requests for specific needs.” We tend to enter into the throne room of grace asking God to end the great sins of society, but we fail to ask him to end our specific sins. Timothy is to use his pastoral prayer to address specific needs in the congregation. Why? Because God cares about specificity. He is a God of details. He cares about us as whole human beings. He doesn’t just start caring for us when we are near death. He cares for us every step of the way. So the first exhortation is to be specific in our prayers. Think of specific areas so that you may offer specific supplications.
Secondly, Paul uses the general word prayer. The Greek word is where we we get the idea of kneeling for prayer, prostrating ourselves before God. Prayer usually implies kneeling: some form of physical action that reveals our complete dependence on God to answer our needs. Prayer can be easily defined as asking for something we cannot do ourselves. If you have an old King James Bible verse one begins with “I beseech you.” This is royal language. Paul is asking us to act as if we are coming before a King, not just a king over a nation, but a king over the world. Our prayers are requests from servants on behalf of other servants. We pray on behalf of others in the kingdom of our Lord. If supplications mean making specific requests, then “prayer” means making them known before God, our King. This is why it is common and biblical to begin our prayers with “Our Father” or something variation of this. God ordains all that happens in our life, so He expects us to bring before Him our lives in prayer. God tore the world apart to give us access to His presence, so let us not take for granted this great gift. Prayers are to be made to Him as a matter of top priority.
Thirdly, there are intercessory prayers. This means appealing boldly on behalf of others. This is where I believe there is a tremendous lack of knowledge in the Christian Communitity. Why? Because people lack knowledge of other people’s needs. We have little sense of the persecuted Church worldwide. Once again, this is why the Church Calendar is so significant: because it unites us as a people.
This is also the reason why the pastoral prayer is crucial in public worship. Pastor Philip Ryken puts it this way:
The public prayers of the church should have a global perspective. Many evangelical churches have abbreviated the pastoral prayer or eliminated it altogether. The apostle Paul would have been shocked by this trend because he considered prayer of first importance in the public worship of God.
Intercessory prayer—both in public worship or in private worship—needs to be bold. God has given us that boldness. He expects us to use it. This is why we emphasize prayers of imprecation like Psalm 69. Christians are usually afraid of such psalms. They think it is too harsh. But this is God’s hymnal. He gave us these songs as prayers. He gave them to us as models for when we are being abused and persecuted.
Finally, he says we need to offer thanksgiving. The greek word is eucharistias. We know that word, because it’s where we get the word eucharist. Many traditions use this word to describe the Lord’s Supper. The Lord’s Supper is a table of thanksgiving. God gives us bread and wine, we eat and drink, and then we give him thanks in song. But here thanksgiving is seen as a particular form of prayer. As we consider the goodness of God in this nation, despite political and economic turmoil, can we still wake up and sleep with thankfulness as a central theme of our day? The answer is clear!
Some believe Paul is setting a model for prayer, and I have heard my share of acronyms. If this is a helpful model, then by all means use it often in this sequence. But this is also a list of different types of prayers. Though the pastoral prayer is central Paul’s point, the application here is for every Christian We are called to specific needs known to God, and to appeal with boldness on behalf of other Christians and Churches, on behalf of our persecuted brothers and sisters, and finally there must always a rich sense of thanksgiving. We need a profound understanding that all that we have belongs to God.
How Now Shall We Then Live?
We will focus a bit more on this next Sunday, but I want to stress not just the different types of prayers, but also the necessity of prayer. In this case, I think the Danish Philosopher, Soren Kierkegaard was correct when he said:
“The function of prayer is not to influence God, but rather to change the nature of the one who prays.”
So prayer changes us as a people. But also don’t think for a moment that the role of prayer is simply to change us individually, prayer changes the world. In prayer we commune with the God who is Three and One. We are aligning ourselves with His vision for the kingdom to come on earth as it is in heaven.
It is not a small thing, but a privilege that was accomplished at the cross and made alive in the resurrection of Jesus.
Prayer matters. “But I don’t know how to pray?” If you are new to the faith, or you simply have an undeveloped prayer life see your pastors immediately after this service. Send an e-mail later on.” Don’t allow ignorance to keep you from exercising this powerful gift of prayer.
This is why time is important. This is why liturgy matters. Time and Liturgy bring order to our chaotic world.
But when we allow ourselves to be shaped by the prayers of the Church, following the wisdom of the Church’s life and calendar, then we begin to see the world anew.
Then we begin to pray for our daily bread with a renewed passion, and then we begin to desire what God desires. And ultimately, prayer is aligning ourselves with the vision of God for the world. In fact, we can say: “prayer changes the world.”
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
 Quote from Thomas Kidd.
 After You Believe: Why Christian Character Matters, N.T. Wright.
 As I have stated before: “ Worship is work.”
 See Phil Ryken, Reformed Expository Commentary, 59
 See Origen in his letter to Ambrose.
 Deeseis in the Greek.
 Ryken. 59
 There are no references to beginning a prayer on the name of the Spirit.
 Philip Ryken, Commentary on I Timothy. 59
 Matthew 6.
be submissive to ecclesiastical holy days? I despise your unbiblical holy days of human invention.
We are all submissive to days…the question is: “which ones?” There is no neutrality.
It is unnecessary to impose the observance of your invented holy days on believers. Why multiply artificial holy days when we have had the Sabbath from the beginning? I don’t ask for neutrality but for you to limit your calls for Christians to submit to the observance of holy days to that one day in the week which God imposed.
No one denies the imposition to some extent of the 4th commandment on the Christian, but the question is “What will that observance point us to?” My point is that instead of imposing some artificial man-made calendar on the church, why not find common ground with the Church universal, and point our people to Jesus Christ incarnated, crucified, risen, and ascended? A Christo-centric calendar is to be desired.
Also, as I mentioned in my sermon, there is nothing sinful about preaching the resurrection when the majority of the church is preaching Easter, but is there wisdom in preaching Easter when the majority of the Church is preaching Easter? I believe there is, and it is desirable that the church finds unity in calendar and unity in spirit.
J, if that is your real initial,
As Uri said, I bet you have a calendar… The question is, what makes your radical individualism so righteous?
I am not persuaded that it is radically individualistic to view the Sabbath as necessary and sufficient for our Christian holy day.
Agreed, J. It is not individualistic…and that is not what we are arguing for…rather, what is the purpose of that Sabbath celebration? What is and should be its emphasis throughout the year? That’s where the Calendar becomes fruitful in pointing our people to Christ again and again.
By the way, thanks for visiting the site. You are always welcome around here.