Isaac Watts (1674–1748) was an English hymn writer who described a method of prayer with this poem:
Call upon God, adore, confess,
Petition, plead, and then declare
You are the Lord's; give thanks and bless,
And let the Amen confirm the prayer.
Watts’ wit in poetry captured many aspects of how the Bible teaches us to pray. Over the next few weeks, we will use each phrase from Watts’ poem to instruct us as to how we can better pray to God on behalf of ourselves, others, and our church.
When we pray, first of all, we should “call upon God.” This simply means that we begin our prayer by addressing God. We say His name to let Him know that we are about to give Him our prayers. Addressing God in prayer also helps to call our own attention to the fact that we are speaking directly to God. We could address Him as “God,” or we could recall any name given to Him in Scripture that brings our focus to the emphasis of that name. For example, when Jesus told his disciples how to pray, his model prayer began with an address to God as Father: “Our Father in heaven” (Matt 6:9). By calling upon Him as Father, we acknowledge we are His children. By noting He is in heaven, we acknowledge His sovereignty over all. Having reaffirmed our relationship and standing with Him, we are ready to approach Him in prayer.
Part of calling upon God could include declaring our desire and intent to worship God in prayer. King David gives us an example declaring his desire to pray in Psalm 5:1, 3: “Give ear to my words, O Lord, Consider my groaning. . . . In the morning, O Lord, You will hear my voice; In the morning I will order my prayer to You and eagerly watch.”
Part of calling upon God could even include telling God we simply do not know how to pray as we should. The disciples requested of Jesus, “Lord, teach us to pray” (Luke 11:1), and He did (Luke 11:2–4). We should ask God to teach us how to pray, and we learn how to do so from Scripture itself. Jesus taught the disciples how to pray in Matthew 6:9–13 and Luke 11:2–4. These passages teach us how to pray today as well.
Paul planted a number of churches during his first missionary journey. During his second missionary journey, Paul told Barnabas, “Let us return and visit the brothers in every city where we proclaimed the word of the Lord, and see how they are” (Acts 15:36). So, “he went through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches” (Acts 15:41). Paul repeated this process during his third missionary journey as well: “he departed and went from one place to the next through the region of Galatia and Phrygia, strengthening all the disciples” (Acts 18:23).
What is significant for the moment is that Paul’s second and third missionary journeys were not focused only on planting churches. Paul used much of his time to revisit churches that had previously been established and strengthen them. It seems he anticipated the need for them to be revitalized in order to continue as they began. Even when Paul was unable to revitalize a church himself, he sent others to do so. He sent Timothy to handle a difficult situation in Ephesus (1 Timothy 1:3), and he left Titus to Crete to “put what remained into order” (Titus 1:5).
The church in Ephesus provides a case study for a church that was in need of revitalization multiple times. Though its beginnings were marked by an excitement for the gospel that made an impression upon the whole of Ephesus (Acts 19), Paul later warned the Ephesian elders that false teachers would come (Acts 20:17–38). They did, and Paul sent Timothy to deal with the matter and bring the church to spiritual health once again (1 Tim 1:3).
A generation later, the apostle John recorded these words from Christ to the church in Ephesus: “I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent” (Revelation 2:4–5). Though the church was now adept at identifying false teachers and their doctrine (Revelation 2:2, 6), the church had grown cold in its love for Christ and the gospel, resulting in a failure to serve God as they did when the church first began.
Though Christ rebuked Ephesus for its decline in love and works, He also gave the church what one might call “three steps to church revitalization.” They were to (1) remember what they once were, (2) repent for why they were no longer what they once were, and then (3) return to the love and deeds that they had at first.
How does a church experience revitalization? From the example of Ephesus, it remembers its past, repents for present sins, and returns to the love and works it had at first. On these matters, more will be said in days ahead.
For a more detailed discussion of the above, see pp. 19–20 and 30–33 in the book by Harry L. Reeder, From Embers to a Flame: How God Can Revitalize Your Church (rev. ed.; Phillipsburg, N. J.; P&R, 2008).
Winter’s Origin, Purpose, and Duration: God created winter (Gen 8:22; Ps 74:17) so that we would marvel at His infinite power and might (Job 37:5–6; 38:22–23; cf. 40:1–6) and give Him praise (Ps 148:7–8). Winter will continue at least until the end of the earthly reign of Christ (Zech 14:8–9). Besides these facts, the Bible uses the white and chill of winter to teach us a number of truths as well.
Be Faithful. Dependable people and cold air from snow on a hot day have something in common—they are welcome blessings to those who receive them. As dependable people bless their superiors by faithfully completing their assigned tasks, so also does a wintry wind refresh a tired worker (Prov 25:13).
Give Honor to Whom It Is Due. Honoring fools and experiencing snow in the summer have something in common—they are both activities that should not be happening. In other words, just as we would not expect snow in the summer, so also should honor not be given to the fool who has done nothing to deserve as such (Prov 26:1).
God’s Abundant Words Give Us Joy and Peace. God’s words to His people are plenteous as the snow, frost, and ice—like Israel in this Psalm, so also we will never exhaust what He has to say to us (Ps 147:16–19). Furthermore, just as God intended rain and snow fall from heaven for the purpose of causing vegetation to grow, so also does God give His word to believers intending us to have joy and peace (Isa 55:10–12).
As God Is Pure, So Also Are Believers. Daniel had a vision of God the Father, “the Ancient of Days,” pictured with snow-white clothing, most likely referring to God’s absolute moral purity (Dan 7:9). The apostle John likewise saw Jesus Christ with snow-white hair, perhaps indicating His moral purity as well (Rev 1:14). The angel who rolled away the stone in from of our Lord’s tomb also had clothing that was white like snow (Matt 28:3). Just as the Father, Christ, and holy angels are sinless, so also does God see believers as sinless and morally pure, that is, white like snow (Ps 51:7; Isa 1:18; Lam 4:7).
Pastor David Huffstutler
Pastor Huffstutler regularly writes articles for our Sunday bulletin. See his bio on our pastoral bio page.