Week of Oct. 21: Proper worship begins with a foundation of prayer


Lesson for week of Oct. 21
Scripture: Acts 8:9-24
 God, teach me to pray for the people you are sending to our community. Help me to make it easy for others to come to know you through worship.  Reminds us always that worship is for you and not a treasure for our benefit, but for your praise and thanksgiving. Amen.
 True worship so satisfies that we don't have to shop around for manmade substitutes. William Temple made this clear in his masterful definition of worship:  “For worship is the submission of all our nature to God. It is the quickening of conscience by His holiness; the nourishment of mind with His truth; the purifying of imagination by His beauty; the opening of the heart to His love; the surrender of will to His purpose -- and all of this gathered up in adoration, the most selfless emotion of which our nature is capable and therefore the chief remedy for that self-centeredness which is the source of all actual sin.”
Our Entertainment is Not the Heart of Worship
Movie stars, sports icons and politicians may draw crowds of adoring fans, but when the magical moment fades or some new figure steals the light, the audience becomes fickle and changes its allegiance. Great efforts of both good and bad news are conducted to keep someone’s name in the news and on the minds of would-be fans.
 Simon the Magician is no different and is intrigued by the amazing signs that John and Peter are able to do. He wants to buy their technology and be able to command crowds like Peter and John.  Signs of healing, reports of tremendous mission, service projects, powerful music and dynamic teaching or preaching are exciting but are not to be mistaken for a relationship with God. These are good and helpful actions of the church, but they are tools we use and share that connect us with Christ and the Spirit. If there is any entertainment to be shared, it is directed toward God and not toward ourselves.
 A beautiful sanctuary, magnificent instruments, choirs or praise teams, the brightest projects, largest screens and most ornate banners are not worship. Worship is being in the presence of God and praising, thanking and responding in devotion.  Texas minister, Bob Deffinbaugh, says “The difference between magic and Christianity is simple: magic claims to enable men to manipulate God, so that he gives them their desires; Christianity’s God manipulates men…In magic, God becomes man’s servant (the magic genie, who does man’s bidding). In Christianity, men become God’s servants. The difference is the sovereignty of God. God is not manipulated by men, for men have no claim on Him, on His grace, or on His power. God owes men nothing, and nothing men do can merit or cause God’s blessings.”
 Prayer for the Shared Spirit
John and Peter begin in prayer to share the Holy Spirit. Prayer is the two-way conversation of sharing our hearts with God’s and listening for God leading and blessing through us. Prayer is not a formula. It is faith dialogue between our searching, affirming and growing in relationship with God.
 In preparing to share any faith relationship with others, Peter and John model the power of prayer. The people know about Jesus, but they had not yet met the living Christ. The knowledge of the stories might have begun to be taught and retold, but the moving of God’s Spirit was not yet experienced and evident. Prayer starts that conversation. John and Peter’s example remains the best for our sharing as the church.
 Bishop Will Willimon writes in his commentary on Acts, “Peter and John come out to Samaria from Jerusalem to lay on hands, to complete the baptismal action, for it would be incomprehensible that someone could be ‘in the name of the Lord Jesus’ yet without his Spirit, that one could be part of the community without having the Spirit which made community possible.”
 Faith is Not For Sale
If you visit a Christian bookstore these days, you might draw a different conclusion.  The fallacy is that if we only had some piece of equipment in our worship or had a certain type of staff person, our church would grow like the mega churches in the latest evangelism books. While different elements, people, tools and attractions may spark our participation and interaction, they are not what make our worship passionate and powerful.
 Simon wanted to know how to tap into the power of the Spirit, which he recognized as superior to what he had. He thought that he could purchase this power. Simon’s proposal sounds like offering to pay a magician to reveal how he sawed someone in half. Yet Simon was trying to buy that which was divine.  A popular American folksong, All My Trials, cautions, “If religion were a thing that money could buy, the rich would live and the poor would die.” God’s power isn’t for sale. We can’t cut a deal with God.
 Take Action: Identify five things your class might do to bring a new non-Christian to your church. Pick one of the five, have a third of the class pray for those who will come to Christ in this new way.  Ask a third to raise the money to make this idea possible and a final third can volunteer and serve to make it happen. Report how God used your prayers, tools and service to build a relationship of faith in your community.
 “It only takes a spark to get a fire going, and soon all those around will warm up to its glowing.  That’s how it is with God’s love.  Once you’ve experienced it, you spread his love to everyone, you want to pass it on.”  Hymn #572, The United Methodist Hymnal.