We are an educational community that believes in the power of prayer and worship. We believe that when Jesus is worshiped as Lord of all things, and when His will is sought earnestly, God answers, God acts, and Reformations break out.
We not only believe that God is capable of starting Reformations and Revivals. We believe that He plans to do some pretty big ones because He plans to fill this world with the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea (Is. 11). We believe that Jesus is in heaven putting all of His enemies beneath His feet (1 Cor. 15).
This is why we put worship at the center. Jesus is at the center because we have been rescued, because we have been forgiven. We love the gospel, we love God because He has first loved us. Worship is at the center because we love Jesus. We love what He has done, is doing, and will do in this world.
We put worship at the center because we believe that it forms us, shapes us, molds us. At the center of our educational program is the worship of the Triune God every Lord’s Day. But more generally, our prayer and worship is the central formative course that we are taking now and we are committed to throughout our lives. This is what it means to be a disciple. We want to spend time with Jesus so that we can become like Him.
Liturgical prayer in particular is this training. Just as we believe that children should not get to design their own curriculum, we don’t think it’s the best idea to just make up our worship as we go along. Particularly, we want to listen to our fathers and mothers in the faith. We want to honor them, listen to them, and treat their wisdom as weighty. Liturgical worship and prayer is just putting thought into how we will pray, how we will gather, what we will sing, and when we will sing it.
No one mocks a teacher for her detailed lesson plans. We admire her and respect her. Just as we value the old books, the classic books in our literature and history classes, so we value the old hymns, the old prayers, the old patterns of worship in our central course of worship. Centrally, we want our worship full of Scripture, full of Psalms, full of the Word of God. And so we plan for that.
Repetition is the mother of learning. We learn what we repeat. We learn our habits, our patterns, our routines, our rituals. Our habits and routines become us. We become what we practice. Practice makes perfect. We repeat dinner rituals. We repeat bed time and morning habits. We create schedules in order to use our time and energy efficiently. This is just to point out the inherent liturgical nature of life. Our lives are full of liturgy, habits and patterns of speech, action, gesture, song, meals. And they are forming us.
We love the Psalms in particular. They are God’s inspired song book and prayer book. They are the Spirit’s favorite songs and prayers. So they are our favorite songs and prayers. But we don’t just want to give them a favorable nod, we want to learn them all. We want them to become our script for life. And so we are endeavoring to learn the Psalms. We want to have the psalms memorized. We want the Psalms to spill out of us. We believe the Psalms teach us the words and emotions and responses for every situation in life. The Psalms teach us to cry, teach us to mourn, teach us to laugh, teach us to rebuke, teach us to love, teach us to sing. The Psalms are our Script for life, and so central to our worship are the Psalms.
The repetition of prayers and psalms in liturgical order is our bootcamp for life. Regular, repeated prayers and hymns and readings are the workout of Christian discipleship. No one mocks the marathon runner for running every day. No one chides the soldier for doing pushups every morning. We know what they are training for. The repetition is the training. It isn’t the marathon itself, and it isn’t the war itself. But apart from that training they will not be ready for the competition; they will not be ready for the fight. So they train in a regimented order. They have a liturgy of work out and training and exercise so that they will be ready.
But not only is worship bootcamp and training for life. We also believe that worship is warfare. Not only does worship form us. God is actually pleased to use our practice as the real game. Whereas most other training is distinct from the performance and competition, worship and prayer is both. It is both training, and by the working of the Spirit, God receives our feeble practice and attempts at prayer and praise and worship as the real thing because it is offered in and through Jesus Christ Himself. He always intercedes for us, and His prayer and worship is perfect before the Father. And so the promise of God is that our prayer and praise and worship is lifted to God with the efficacy and power of Jesus and His Spirit. It may feel weak and feeble, but it packs the punch of God Himself.
This is why the Bible teaches that worship is warfare. It brings down cities like Jericho, and it routs armies like the battle that Jehoshaphat led. The book of Revelation shows us that when the saints of God worship in faith with all that they are, with faith in God and rejoicing in His salvation, God sends judgments on the earth. In fact, not only do we believe that Jesus is in the process of putting all His enemies beneath His feet, we believe that He is doing this chiefly through the instrument of worship. When God is worshipped in Spirit and in Truth, God acts and goes before us. He topples walls and routs armies. He destroys strongholds of unbelief. Prayer and worship is the most potent air-war in the history of the world. It is the spiritual bombing run of the Kingdom.
Not only do we believe in the centrality of worship and its potency, not only is it powerful warfare, we believe in the potency of corporate worship. That means we believe in the power of crowds. We know that God is not limited by numbers. He is already a crowd. The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are the original crowd. And when God promises to be with us in our midst where there are two or three, that is all we need. That is enough. God is crowd enough. This is because God is the Lord of Hosts, the God of Armies. His presence is already a roaring army. At the same time, God is not satisfied with two or three people and letting the rest of the world go to Hell. God intends to save the world, and since the world is full of people. God wants His worship to be full of people. God is not limited by the lack of numbers, He is crowd enough, but God loves it when our worship mimics His own roaring-army presence. He loves it when our prayer and worship sound like His presence.
One of the reasons why God loves it when crowds of people are praying and singing and worshiping together is because it lifts them up. It encourages them. The Spirit uses crowds to encourage, to correct, to build up, to inspire. We must always to believe that the Spirit is an army enough for any threat, any danger, but when we worship and pray together – in a crowd – we see and hear the Spirit’s presence in and around us. When Elisha’s servant was fearful of the Assyrian army surrounding the city where they were staying, Elisha asked God to open the servant’s eyes to see the heavenly host surrounding them. And the servant suddenly saw the hills all around them full of the heavenly armies of the Lord. Those armies are still all around us and with us, but God wants His heavenly Kingdom to come and be present and visible on earth as it is in heaven. Just as He has come and taken on flesh in Jesus, He wants His heavenly hosts and armies to be visible in flesh in this world. In other words, He wants us to be His heavenly hosts, His armies. And when crowds of people gather together to pray and worship, we are those Hosts, those armies by the powerful working of the Spirit. When we speak and sing Psalms and Hymns to one another we are obeying Paul’s command to let the Word of Christ dwell in us richly, speaking to one another in Psalms, Hymns, and Spiritual songs. We are reminding one another that we are the armies of God, the heavenly hosts by the power of the Spirit. And this makes us bold to fight sin, to confess sin, to repent, to lead boldly, to share the gospel with our neighbors and friends.
And this is why we believe that worshiping and praying together creates a particular kind of culture and community. We love the fact that we are all in the same worship training program, learning the same Psalms, speaking the same language, and that becomes a central means of accountability. If you are worshiping together, praying together, singing psalms together regularly as the armies of God, when you see your roommate watching a stupid movie, you have even greater grounds to call him on it. If you are daily, regularly gathering together to remind each other that you are the armies of God, you are on a mission, a conquest of this world, then you can’t pretend that getting drunk occasionally is not a big deal or pretend that it’s OK to try to be cool like the pagans around you. If we are an invading army, then what sense does it make to try be like the enemy?
Regular, daily worship and prayer is a constant anchor for our souls, constant reminders that we are on mission with Jesus, reminders that we are soldiers, an army sent to proclaim the Kingship of Jesus over everything.
It’s important to point out that private prayer is expected and commanded. Jesus tells us to go into our closets and pray to our Father in secret. You should all have times of private prayer and worship. But the Bible also teaches that it is not good to be alone. If you are like most people, your private prayer life generally sucks. You are not very consistent. You oversleep. You forget. You are lazy. Your Bible reading programs are constantly getting revamped.
This is why we need each other. Just like those New Years’ resolutions for working out, running, getting into shape, you are far more likely to accomplish your goals when you have real accountability and that is usually in the form of other people. Weekly, Lord’s Day worship is the central means of that accountability, but if that is all the time Christians are putting into prayer and worship, it will not be sufficient. That’s like showing up to the game not having practiced at all during the week. Regular work outs, regular practice is absolutely necessary to play well on game day.
We believe that worship is the single greatest and most potent act of being human. It is training us to be what God created us to be. It is reframing, remaking us into the Image of Christ. It reminds us that we are on mission, that we are the armies of the Living God. And we believe that Jesus uses our prayers and worship to judge the nations, to strike down enemy strongholds, to convict of sin, to encourage, to build up, to inspire, to send us out in confidence and joy.
And finally, we also recognize that this can appear somewhat backwards. If we want to take this world for Jesus, if we want to see the name of Jesus lifted up above every name in heaven and on earth, then we know that means we need Christian doctors, Christian economists, Christian politicians, Christian plumbers, Christian artists, Christian mothers and fathers and teachers, not to mention Pastors, Professors, and Missionaries. But Jesus says that the way we can make sure that all of these areas of life are taken care of is by seeking first His kingdom, then all these things will be added. Delight yourself in the Lord first, then He will give you the desires of your heart. Give God the first of your increase, the first of your energy, the first and the best of your time and money and resources.
This is why every week we begin with rest and worship. This is why we keep Sabbath, why we tithe because we believe that what may look like weakness is actually the power of God for salvation for the world. So before we charge into the world, before we go on mission, before we take captive every thought and bring every vocation under the Lordship of Christ, we bend our knees and bow our heads to our King and submit to Him in prayer and worship. And we believe that as we do this, He goes before us, He equips our hands for battle, He strengthens our minds for study, He sorts out our priorities, and teaches us the disciplines and habits necessary to succeed in every area of life. But we begin there. We begin with worship. We begin by prioritizing worship and prayer, trusting that God will go before us.
In short we believe that the regular gathering together of God’s people for prayer and worship and song is the engine that drives the Mission of God. We believe that as we lay our lives before Christ, making Him the most important thing, making Him our God, our Lord, we believe that He blesses in every other area of life. We believe that Jesus is so central, so important, that it is absolutely necessary to prioritize that worship, to overcome all obstacles, all inconveniences, to do whatever it takes to be there, to gather together, to make it happen because worship is the center, worship is warfare, worship is discipleship, worship is the power of God to disciple the nations.
That’s what we say we believe.
And yet, there is a daily service of worship, a daily gathering for prayer and psalm singing and scripture reading, a daily Morning Prayer service that none of you attend. Every morning at 7:30, Monday through Friday in the Augustine classroom, there is a 20-25 minute service of prayer and worship. And practically none of you go to it.
Do you really believe what we say we believe?
I have no interest whatsoever in guilt-ing or shaming any of you into attending. The last thing God needs is a bunch of guilt driven worship. God loves cheerful givers. And that means God loves it when His people love to be with Him, love to worship him, love to sing to Him and hear His word.
Some of you already, really do have regimented schedules. You are disciplined soldiers in the army of God, and your schedule and study habits reflect that. I’m not so worried about you. But if you are constantly being distracted, if you are frequently flip-flopping with commitments, over committing, under-disciplined, sloppy in your study habits and general patterns of time management, regularly unsure if you are rightly prioritizing, wisely balancing all the demands of your schedule, then I am most certainly talking about you. You need to be at Morning Prayer. You need to start disciplining your life, your schedule by disciplining your prayer and worship. You need to prioritize the worship of God, the kingdom of God, so that all of these things can be added to you.
The overall program at NSA is a rigorous program of study designed to keep you busy, very busy, but more importantly, it is designed to force you to become disciplined, orderly, and hard working. But it is still possible, very possible to slip-slide your way through terms, every day a new, completely unplanned juggling act where you are constantly acting and reacting on a whim, at the demands of the moment, the tyranny of the now, the tyranny of invitations from well meaning friends. But you can skate through NSA and have a bunch of facts sloppily dumped into your brain and be next to worthless to the Kingdom of God when you’re through because you have not actually been trained for war. You’ve formed habits of busy sloppiness. But God doesn’t need any more undisciplined sloppiness in His Kingdom. He’s already filled that position, a hundred fold. He needs warriors. He needs soldiers trained for war, trained for battle, trained for mission, men and women who have been hardened and equipped by the Psalms, by regular liturgical prayer, habitual Scripture reading.
And this is why I’m talking about Morning Prayer. You need to be in regular, daily, disciplined prayer and worship. Yes, you need to be in the Lord’s Day services every week, but if you think that’s enough, you don’t understand. You don’t get it. We are at war.
Jesus is in heaven, putting all His enemies beneath His feet, and He calls us to be His hosts, His armies, carrying out His mission in this world.
There are ten days left in this term: one week of classes and finals week. I want you to pack out morning prayer. I want the Augustine classroom full and spilling out into the hall. I will be there. And I want you there singing and praying as though God fully intends on giving us this city. I want you there singing and praying as though God full intends to give us this nation. I want you there singing and praying as though daily prayer is training and practice for Sunday. I want you there singing and praying as though you are the heavenly hosts of God, and I want you to finish your studies this next week and your finals as though by the powerful working of the Spirit of God, you are at war. Because you are.