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Up: Valley's Values of Worship & Prayer

Together for the Kingdom  •  Sermon  •  Submitted
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Today we begin/continue our brief 3 part message series on the values that unite us as one church here at Valley Bristol.
We call this series, Together for the Kingdom, because it reflects that while our local expressions of ministry may differ from the subtle to the dramatic, our foundational identity as one church, and the biblical truths that connect us do not.
Rather, God is doing an amazing work among us as He is taking these uniting truths and demonstrating them in unique, creative, and eternally impactful ways across Hartford and Litchfield counties.
And so we are Together for the Kingdom, and our message now will focus on our stated and written Kingdom values of worship and prayer, which we summarize in one word: UP.
Now, the thing about a value is that, for it to truly be a value, it must be true about the person or people who hold said value.
If we say we value one thing or another, yet we do not actually practice it or demonstrate it, then whatever we are saying we value is really not a value to us at all, its just lip service.
And that brings us to the values that we hold at Valley of
worship and prayer.
But, and albeit rightly so, our values of worship and prayer are not left undefined, since after all, anything or anyone can be the object of our worship and prayer. But for our worship and prayer to be effective, it must directed toward the proper receiver.
The Bible shows us throughout its pages that the only one who is able and worthy of receiving worship and prayer is the God of the Bible, Jesus Christ.
So, we sum up our values of worship and prayer in the word,
Now, this is where the rubber will meet the road for us as one church.
Because if these values are to be true of us, then we must be absolutely intentional about the direction in which our worship and prayers are pointed.
We cannot be satisfied with the mere activities of worship and prayer.
In order for such things to be effective, and in order for us to truly demonstrate that we value UP, our worship and prayers must be directed, UP.
That is, directed toward Christ alone.
Now, before we really get going here, I am going to give you this disclaimer:
I realize that the true worship of Jesus, and prayer to Him, has resulting effects that benefit us as individual believers.
But the personal and spiritual benefits of worship and prayer are not the focus of our time here this morning.
Two reasons:
If we are not intentional about directing our worship and prayer toward Jesus Christ alone in the first place, then our worship and prayer is not actually effective in the first place.
Too often, we confuse our preferred result for our specific reason.
So, can worshiping God have the resulting effect of encouraging believers?
Is prayer to God how we access God’s power in our lives?
But if our value is “UP,” then we must be carefully, prayerfully and sincerely intentional about directing these expressions of faith to their rightful, and truly only, receiver, Jesus Christ.
Let’s pray
When it comes to worshiping God, Valley’s value of worship rests on the following verse:
John 4:24 ESV
24 God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”
And this verse says a lot about who we are to worship, and how we are to worship Him.
The verse starts with Jesus describing the truth about God’s existence, not that He exists, but what He is, that is, spirit.
Throughout the Bible, and throughout all of creation, the only being about whom worship is acceptable is the Uncreated One, the Almighty God. The only one in all the Bible and in all of history who is strong enough to receive the weight of worship is God Himself.
Just as God is spirit, our worship is to be from our spirits, which tells us that worship is one of the most intimate expressions of adoration and honor. As we honor God, we give Him glory and ascribe Him worth.
Throughout the Bible, and throughout all of creation, the only being about whom worship is acceptable is the Uncreated One, the Almighty God. The only one in all the Bible and in all of history who is strong enough to receive the weight of worship is God Himself.
This verse also uses the phrase, “those who worship him..”, which tells us two things:
Not everybody worships Jesus, i.e., not everyone is a believer
It’s possible to worship other things besides Jesus
Lastly, the verse says that those who worship God must do so “in spirit and in truth”, which tells us that it is possible for Christians, that is, those who profess faith in the Living God to worship with our spirits in a ways that are not truthful.
Inasmuch as this verse describes the ideal worshiper and the receiver of said worship, it also a caution and warning to be sure that our worship is from our spirit, and done in truth.
Ok, hold that thought, and let’s look at the biblical foundation for our value of prayer.
There are a few verses that describe prayer that we can look at this morning:
Ephesians 6:17–18 ESV
17 and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, 18 praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end, keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints,
Ephesians 6:18 ESV
18 praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end, keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints,
James 5:13–16 ESV
13 Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise. 14 Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. 15 And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. 16 Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.
James 5:16 ESV
16 Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.
Romans 8:26–27 ESV
26 Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. 27 And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.
Matthew 6:7–13 ESV
7 “And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. 8 Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. 9 Pray then like this: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. 10 Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. 11 Give us this day our daily bread, 12 and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. 13 And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.
Matthew 6:8–13 ESV
8 Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. 9 Pray then like this: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. 10 Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. 11 Give us this day our daily bread, 12 and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. 13 And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.
To be sure, prayer has so many components and can be described according to its many attributes and beneficial aspects, but let’s just look at a few of the foundational distinctives about prayer that we can find from the Scripture that we just read.
First, prayer is a work of spiritual intercessory. In other words, prayer is an appeal to the Lord on behalf of one who is utterly weak and incapable. Sometimes the one who is weak is the one is praying, and sometimes we pray for those who are weak among us. Usually it both isn’t it?
Next, prayer is an admission of dependence upon the Lord. It is so easy for us to depend on ourselves and only include God for a little “extra strength” to get us through. But if these prayers are to be believed, Tylenol may help with our symptoms, but Jesus is the one who heals. If these prayers are to be believed, we don’t have the strength to persevere on our own accord, and we need to be strengthened by God daily, even hourly, even at each moment.
Lastly, prayer is a spiritual posture of humility before the Lord. Through prayer we display outwardly our inward vulnerability and insufficiency, which allows God to make our footing sure, and makes room for the all-sufficiency of the Lord to work in and through our lives, and in and through the lives of others.
So let’s sum up what we’ve learned right here:
What is Worship?
Worship is giving to God the glory and honor that He alone is due because He alone is worthy.
We just saw how Jesus says that true worship is directed toward God, and is done so in spirit and in truth. This is regardless of the method of presentation, or aspect of life used to worship God.
What is Prayer?
Prayer is practicing the presence of God.
In the Scriptures we looked at concerning prayer, each one is an example of a person practicing a life lived in the actual presence of God.
So what happens?
How do we end up getting off course when it comes to worship and prayer?
Why is it so important that “UP” is true of us as a community of believers?
The simple answer is that, it is easy for the “UP” direction to be changed.
“UP” can very subtly and quickly turn into “IN” or “DOWN” or “BACKWARDS”
The Danger When “UP” Changes Direction
Generally speaking, if “UP” all of a sudden isn’t up anymore, we’re all in trouble. Especially me. Thanks to paper maps, I realize that UP is North. BUT also thanks to paper maps, I foolishly believe that any direction I am facing is UP and therefore also NORTH.
But that’s not true is it?
Yet, we do tend to treat our spiritual lives like this from time to time. We get to thinking that we’ve got it all understood, and we know the best ways to do everything. And before we know it, we think we are worshiping UP, but we are no longer facing UP, so UP isn’t UP is it?
Concerning Prayer:
When UP isnt UP:
Prayer as a work of intercession becomes prayer as a work of intermission and insincerity
“I’ll pray for you” has become a kind of Christian pleasantry hasn’t it? When we’re finished with a conversation, we often say, “I’ll pray for you” or “I’ll keep you in prayer.” Sometimes, we really mean it, at least in that moment. Other times, if we’re honest, we just want to get to lunch before the lunch rush after church so we’ll say the nicest thing we can think of that won’t hurt the person’s feelings.
This is just an intermission out of our day.
But what are we saying when we say, “I’ll pray for you?”
According to Scripture, what we are saying is:
“I will stop what I am doing, enter God’s presence, get on my knees, and ask Him to step in the gap for you.”
Churches do this too, you know.
Now, Valley is a church whose leaders and staff are certainly committed to prayer. We pray for each and every prayer request and praise that we receive across all our location. Each and every one.
We gather for prayer at many different times throughout the week.
We have special prayer times too.
We take time out of our evenings to pray for you and each other, we take time out of our days to pray for you and each other, we get up early to pray for you and each other.
I’ll admit here, that I am human too. Sometimes prayer is hard for me. Its perhaps never harder than when it happens before 10am. I’m not an early riser. God made me a swing shift kind of guy. My best hours of sleep would be if I could sleep from 2am to 10 or 11am. But that’s not my current reality.
And you know how some people are afraid to pray out loud?
If its really early in the morning, I can relate. Except my fear is not praying out loud, its accidentally snoring out loud during prayer. Not because I’m bored, but because I am not awake yet.
But that’s not the point I wanted to make this morning...
Churches can use prayer as an intermission too if they are not careful.
I used to tour with a Christian rock band, and I’ve served in local church ministry for my whole adult life so far. And in just about every church, I’ve seen them use prayer as a transitional cover up so they can get from one segment of service to the next.
In fairness, I get it. The thought is so that the congregation isn’t distracted by a changing stage set, or by people putting their instruments on.
But here’s the thing.
If we are putting prayer in places in our worship services in order to cover up the fact that we have to move the stage around, are we sending that prayer UP for real?
Or is it now a stage trick?
I’ve been guilty of doing this myself and God really convicted me on that point and now, I call the band up while I am still talking. (don’t come up now, I will call you, just not now)
Why? Because if prayer is so important, if it is such a value, then we should all stop what we are doing and do it together. And certainly our leaders should do the same in our services. Otherwise, we run the risk of teaching our congregations that certain prayers are just excuses for people to close their eyes so that the band can “magically” appear back on stage.
At the end of the day, if there is a distraction to be endured, I would rather you be distracted from my mere human words than from the presence of God.
When UP isnt UP:
Our admissions of dependence upon God can become our seeking of affirmation of our own independence
This are the times when we are living under own power, and we get stuck, but we are still wanting to “do it ourselves” so we just pray that God will give us our spiritual spinach (like Popeye) so that we can get over the hurdle that might be in our way.
This is why verses like get tossed around about athletic strength, instead of the amazing miracle of God’s salvation, which is the verse’s actual context.
We so often think that we are David facing the Goliaths of life, but the more I grow in the Lord, and the more I follow Him, and the more I see Him work in my and my family’s life, I am not David, Jesus is David.
I am like the scared Israelites who are running from the evil Philistines.
I need to learn to face Jesus, and let Jesus face my enemies and obstacles.
Or like Daniel in the Lion’s Den. Yeah, he saw the Lion, but he was looking at God, and God saved him. God tamed the lion. God defeated Goliath through David.
And I, and we, need to remember that. Then when we pray, we will readily admit our dependence upon the Lord to the Lord, and not just ask Him for a new and improved slingshot so we can get back to our business.
When UP isnt UP
Our spiritual posture of humility becomes a spiritual posture of pride
Jesus warned about this before He taught His followers how to pray. When our prayer posture is prideful, our words become demonstrations of our own knowledge about God, instead of a demonstration of our humility and need for God.
Perhaps you’ve been praying with someone and its like they’re preaching, not praying. You’re learning more about theology and Bible history than ever before, and you’re supposed to be praying to God, not preaching with your eyes closed. And certainly not listening to a teaching with your eyes closed. We do that enough on Sunday mornings as it is, right?
When UP isnt UP
Concerning Worship:
When UP is UP, the goal of worship is to glorify the Creator, who is God.
But when UP isn’t UP,
When the Creator is not the object of our worship, worship of creation is always the result.
When creation is the object of worship, the goal of worship becomes self-gratification, as opposed to Savior glorification.
When we worship God, we are proclaiming about all the things that God has done and about the indescribable majesty of His very being.
God is pleased with this kind of worship and He accepts it.
When God accepts our worship, our spirits are enveloped with His joy.
So when we ascribe those things to any aspect of creation, our worship falls short. The joy that would otherwise be experienced is replaced with disappointment and discouragement.
We leave the time feeling unfulfilled, unfed, and dissatisfied.
Because we are asking creation to do what only the Creator can do
And what is that?
We are asking creation to receive our worship, and that is something that creation cannot do.
When our worship is not received, our objective is then failed, and it stands to reason then that the joy of the Lord would escape us.
Now, we have a real problem because a major part of our relational and spiritual lives is malfunctioning.
The affection that we are meant to share with our Creator is not happening.
And if we do not recognize what is going on, we will making an enemy of the wrong thing, or even of each other.
This is one of the reasons why music is such a powerful expression of worship.
Music in its truest form is invisible. Well, so is our spirit.
And we are to worship God in spirit and in truth, and I think that one of the reasons why music pours out of our spirits in such a mighty way is because it can be one of the truest ways to express how glorious and great God is.
Words do not describe God. Words fall short. But music can capture in a deeper way the emotions and affections that words simply cannot describe.
But my word, have we not, as a church in general, maybe especially in modern western culture, exchanged worshiping God through music for worshiping music about God?
A subtle shift, but here again, almost in an instant, UP isn’t UP anymore is it?
And just like how I get lost easily because I think that every direction I am facing is north, aren’t we just as lost when it comes to worshiping Jesus if we are shifting the focus from the One whom our songs are about to the songs themselves and the styles in which they are played?
And what has been the result?
For one thing, the church has spent quite a bit of time and energy fighting for songs that are lost from their current catalogs to be brought back into church instead of fighting for the souls of those who are spiritually lost to be brought back to life through faith in Christ.
Bring band up here
Bowling Ball Object Lesson
Prayer is heavy with importance. Our prayers for ourselves and others are heavy with significance.
That’s why its critical that our value of UP actually be UP, because if our prayers are going anywhere or to anyone other than Jesus, we’re doing nothing more than trying to drop a bowling ball into a wet paper bag.
Likewise, our worship is too precious of an affection and expression to try and give it to creation rather than our Creator.
Worship is far too heavy an honor to be bestowed upon creation rather than the Creator.
Worship is far too dense with glory to be given to anything in creation instead of our Creator.
Again, that’s why it matters so much that our value of UP is actually UP.
Otherwise, if we are worshiping anything or anyone ahead of Jesus, again, we’re trying to drop a bowling ball into a wet paper bag.
You know, one of the most amazing things about Jesus is that He knows the battle that we wage against our flesh. He knows how hard it is for us to deny our flesh at times, and in sometimes in certain ways. He knows that we can’t always tell if our motivation is for Him or for ourselves.
But He has faithfully offered not just forgiveness to us, but also His guidance. In other words, if we’re not sure what direction we are pointed, we can ask Jesus to take our prayers and worship to where they need to go, which of course, is to Him.
Jesus is a glorious hope deserving and worthy of all worship, praise, and honor, and endlessly loving as He hears our prayers and intercedes for us.
Practical Apps:
If we want to keep UP facing the right direction, we need to remember these three things:
If it didn’t create you in the first place, it can’t hear your prayers, and it can’t receive your worship
If it didn’t love you first, it can’t answer your prayers, and it can’t be pleased with your worship
If it didn’t die and raise to life again for you, it isn’t strong enough to bear the weight of your prayers, and it isn’t able to carry the weight of the glory and honor that comes through your worship.
Jesus created you
Jesus loved you first
Jesus died and rose again for you
Jesus is our North, so to speak
You have the precious gifts of prayer and worship to give.
Don’t settle for giving them to anyone or anything other than Jesus Christ.
Together for the Kingdom we are dedicated to making sure that our prayers and our worship are going in the right direction: UP
That is, to the only God, our Savior and King forever, Jesus Christ.
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