I want to tell you about the best moment in a worship service I took part in recently. I’d like to tell you it was my sermon, but it wasn’t. Nor was it the warm welcome at the start, the joyful and enthusiastic worship songs that lifted my soul to the Lord, nor the amusing-yet-poignant all-age talk.
To my surprise, that outstanding moment came when someone stepped forward from the congregation to lead prayers of intercession. Like so many people, I was feeling distressed and confused about the uncertain political situation we have found ourselves in since the EU referendum. With simplicity yet passion, the prayers reiterated what we had been singing – that the earth is the Lord’s and Jesus is King of kings – and then they proceeded to call on our all-powerful God to lead and guide those who have authority in our nations, to give wisdom, to draw people together in reconciliation, to put justice high on the agenda, to seek the good of all. Those prayers were a rich gift to me, and I think the rest of the congregation, helping us to confess God’s sovereignty and bless those who lead us. They became a bridge between our songs that enthusiastically declared God’s kingship and our desire that his kingship should be known on earth as it is in heaven.
The Bible gives us strong encouragement to pray like this. Most of us will be familiar with 1 Timothy 2.1-3:
I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people— for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Saviour, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.
Sometimes when we gather for worship I’ve noticed that prayers of intercession are overlooked. Or they are offered with passion and compassion for the well-being of those within the fellowship but lack that bigger sense of God at work in the world.
I believe that God’s worship is richer and our church communities become deeper when we take seriously the responsibility to bring intercession and thanksgiving ‘for all people – for kings and all those in authority.’ If we believe in the transformation of society, or even just resisting its disintegration, then this surely begins with prayer.
I know that some churches have a team who prepare and lead intercessions week by week that keep the congregation outward looking. And many ministers work hard to ensure there is depth and breadth in the prayers and petitions. So perhaps intercession for our communities, our society and its leaders could become a hallmark of all our Baptist fellowships around the country.
At the time of writing, the news of another unthinkable terrorist atrocity in France is just breaking. Few, if any, of us will be able to go and bring tangible support to the victims or support to the authorities who make a response to this. But perhaps we can be united as churches in looking beyond our own needs and lifting prayers of intercession for the people of France and their leaders in these troubled days.