I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone.1 Timothy 2:1
We now come to the second assignment the apostle gave to Timothy, and that is to set in order the public worship of the assembly in Ephesus. This is a relevant subject, because it is why we come together every Sunday morning. Public worship is a very revealing indication of what is going on in a church.
Paul gives a brief priority list here of the elements that are to be emphasized. First, he lists public prayer--the people of God encountering God Himself on behalf of their fellow Christians and people around the world. Prayer is to receive emphasis when the church gathers.
The apostle puts prayer first for two very good reasons, and one reason is prayer focuses people's hearts and eyes on God right at the very beginning. What makes a church service different from the gathering of the Kiwanis Club or the Rotary or any other secular group is that God is recognized; He is in our midst. To acknowledge the power, the beauty, and the liberty that the presence of God imparts is to immediately give a sense of reality and vitality to a service.
Second, to begin a service with prayer means that we place our own humanity in perspective. Every one of us comes away from some situation at home with which we are still at least partially involved. Perhaps we are thinking of the dirty dishes in the sink, the hassle we went through getting the children dressed in order to come to church, the fact that the car was almost out of gas, or the upsetting phone call we had. But when we come together and the service starts with the recognition of the presence of God, then somehow all those human problems pale. We begin to see them in the right perspective. God and His world, what we are doing with our lives, who we are, how we are intended to function--all these begin to take on increased importance in our eyes when we come to church.
I know that many Christians think they do not need to come to church, that they can worship God just as well by staying at home, working in the garden, or watching television. There is a certain degree of validity about that: God is not found only in church. But there is a reason the Scriptures tell us not to
give up meeting together (Hebrews 10:25). Somehow, when we come together and focus upon the greatness of God, there is a ministry to our own hearts that nothing else will convey.
Often coming to church solves the problems of life. We have a different perspective; we see solutions that we never saw before. This is the continual and frequent experience of the people of God. In Psalm 73 the psalmist speaks of how he was struggling with problems in his life for which he could not find the answer until, he says,
I entered the sanctuary of God (Psalm 73:17). There he saw things in their proper perspective. So when the people of God come together, the first thing to be concentrated on is prayer and the recognition of God's presence.
Lord, teach me to put the first thing first when I gather together with your people: to come to you in prayer.
Prayer is the acknowledgement of the character and Presence of God. What priority does this life-changing encounter with God have in our day-to-day lives?