In the New Testament, we see that believers engaged in the practice of prayer, sometimes accompanied by fasting. They also came together to praise and worship the Lord. By doing so they were exercising their office as New Testament priests, in which they were ministering to God by lifting up spiritual offerings to Him. Prayer, thanksgiving, praise, and worship can all be seen as “sacrifices” offered to God.
Prayer to God can take the form of intercessions and supplications to Him for various needs. Moreover, praise and worship are befitting the Lord not only for the great things He has done, but simply because of who He is—God Almighty who created the heavens and the earth.
The Church also regularly engages in her prophetic office whereby believers come together to minister to one another by prophesying to one another, instructing one another, encouraging and building one another up.
The “kingly office”
We note that the Church today is generally quite strong in her priestly and prophetic functions whereby they minister to the Lord and minister to one another. But there is a third office in which the Church is weak, explaining why she has not yet completed the Great Commission—the final command given by Jesus Christ before He ascended to heaven. For lack of a better term, we call this third office the “kingly office.” One primary activity of Old Testament kings, especially King David, was driving out the Canaanites from the Promised Land in order to fulfill God’s promise to the descendants of Abraham. Kingly activity in the Old Testament primarily was for the purpose of establishing God’s kingdom in Israel by warring against and wiping out His enemies.
According to the Great Commission we are to go and preach the gospel to every creature, making disciples of all nations and teaching them to obey everything Jesus commanded His disciples. This is ministry not to God and not to one another. This is ministry to the lost involving attacking the kingdom of darkness by healing the sick, casting out demons, proclaiming the kingdom of God to the lost and making disciples of them.
Luke 9:1 When Jesus had called the Twelve together, he gave them power and authority to drive out all demons and to cure diseases, 2 and he sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal the sick.
Luke 10:9 Heal the sick who are there and tell them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’
Mark 16:15 He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation. 16 Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned. 17 And these signs will accompany those who believe: In my name they will drive out demons; 18 …they will place their hands on sick people, and they will get well.”
Obeying and carrying out the Great Commission does not directly involve either our priestly office or our prophetic office. Although the first two offices are certainly important in preparing ourselves to carry out the Great Commission, in themselves they will not get the job done.
Unfortunately the Church today spends much time and effort in her priestly office and her prophetic office, but little time and effort for the Great Commission. Why is this? One likely reason is because the first two offices involve relative ease, comfort, and little risk.
We like to do easy, risk-free things
It is easy to go to church once or twice (or more) each week, to gather with other believers to pray, to worship God, and to be taught the word of God. When we approach God for prayer or worship, we will be received. When we gather to build up and encourage one another, we will be received. But to carry out the Great Commission essentially means to go on the offensive against the kingdom of darkness. It means war. This requires time, effort, and sacrifice. And we will run the very possible risk of failure when the sick do not get healed, demons refuse to come out, and no one accepts our message. By contrast, there is little risk of failure when we gather together in the comfort of our home church in suburbia once or twice each week or in city-wide gatherings once a year.
Thus we see believers and churches coming together in church regularly to pray, sometimes accompanied by fasting. We see special events where believers and churches gather together for days of nonstop prayer and worship. We see conferences and seminars where believers come together to be taught and instructed in various disciplines. These of course are well and good. But what is done after that in terms of obeying the Lord’s command before He ascended to heaven?
Generally very little is done. Yes, churches will have missions conferences. They will support and send out missionaries, both short-term and long-term, to the mission field. But does every one of their believers participate in the Great Commission directly? No. They indeed are all expected to participate in the priestly and prophetic offices of the Church. They are all taught to pray and worship God, and to encourage one another. But only those who have a “special calling” become evangelists or missionaries. This has even been taught in mission courses in seminaries. But Scripture does not support this tradition. All disciples are witnesses of Jesus Christ, whether to their own communities or to the nations.
John 14:12 Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.
The Church doesn’t practice what she preaches
Just as Jesus preached the gospel of the kingdom of God, so should all those who believe in Him. Although the Church generally subscribes to this, she does not practice it. After their prayer and worship gatherings, they generally do not mobilize the disciples to reach the lost as zealously as they have gathered to pray and worship the Lord. Their behavior gives one the impression that they feel they have performed their responsibility before God once when they have gathered to pray and worship Him. While few pastors feel that way, their behavior is inconsistent with what they know from Scripture.
If we look at the life of the early Church in Acts, we see that the primary emphasis of her activity was on preaching the gospel. Acts is the story of the rapid expansion of the Church following the Day of Pentecost. The subject and title of the book (“Acts”) describe the actions and response of the apostles and disciples after the Holy Spirit came upon them as they prayed and waited upon God in the Upper Room. These actions consisted primarily not in continued prayer and worship, but rather in preaching the gospel and making disciples in obedience to the Great Commission. Nor does Acts simply describe the faith of the apostles, but rather their acts and actions as a result of their saving faith in Jesus Christ.
Are we now no longer in Acts? Of course we continue to pray and worship God. But have we already nearly completed the Great Commission so that we can now rest on our laurels and enjoy the Lord’s presence in our believers’ gatherings until He comes to take us home?
Most leaders know that this is not true. In the author’s estimation we are nowhere near completing the Great Commission. In fact there are areas of the world where broad swaths of souls have never heard the gospel. And in some predominantly Muslim countries like Indonesia and Malaysia, Christians are being converted to Islam. The Church is now weak in evangelism and nowhere as fruitful as she was in Acts when powerful miracles shook the known world and brought multitudes to Jesus Christ.
Church leaders are aware of this discrepancy, but refuse to address it directly. Some rationalize it away with the teaching of dispensationalism or cessationism whereby apostolic miracles ceased with the passing of the original apostles. Those who do not subscribe to dispensationalism simply sweep the problem under the rug and ignore it. It’s easy to ignore when the Lord is so gloriously present in the prayer/worship gathering in your comfortable church in your comfortable suburb. But if He is faithful to His word, then He will hold us accountable for failing to take the gospel to the lost after His grace is so wonderfully revealed to us in our gatherings.
Should prayer & worship gatherings change us for the better?
One of the main purposes of the Lord revealing His glory to us as we gather to pray and worship Him is to bring us closer to Himself, to help us mature and bear good fruit for Him. It is not healthy to see such events only as ends in themselves where we offer sacrifices to God simply because He is worthy—as valid as that goal may be. If the event does not also change or transform us in some way to make us more obedient and fruitful, then its usefulness can be questioned. In 1977 when the Lord graciously revealed Himself to me in a very powerful way, I became a radical follower of Jesus Christ. I gave up my advanced secular education and the American Dream to follow Jesus Christ. I literally gave up all my possessions to become a missionary to primitive regions of Indonesia. An encounter with Jesus Christ at a prayer or worship event should challenge us, change us and make us more obedient and fruitful for Him.
John 15:8 This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.
Therefore after our prayer and worship gatherings, the Church should invade the kingdom of darkness by sending out disciples to heal the sick, cast out demons, and proclaim the kingdom of God—just as faithfully and zealously as they gather to pray and to worship God.
But if the event does not change us and make us more fruitful, what was its purpose?
A pretext for the lack of power to preach the gospel?
I believe that believers can hold such events unconsciously as a pretext for not reaching out to the lost. They are aware of the Great Commission, but are reluctant to take it on with full commitment because of the sacrifice and the risk. Yet they indeed love God and want to do something for Him. So they can palliate their feelings over their lack of action by holding such gatherings for believers. There can be truth in this. We know that some Christians go church every Sunday partly out of a sense of obligation and guilt.
Why is the Church today reluctant to do what the Church did so effectively in the early days?
I believe one reason—perhaps the main reason—is the lack of power so evident in the early Church. One can proclaim the gospel with great boldness when we know that the Lord will back up and confirm the message with miraculous healings. But today the Church is a mere shell of what she was in Acts. To make up for the lack of miraculous power to draw the lost, we make up for it by preaching the God-wants-you-to-be-rich gospel of success in this life. That is church marketing at its best to draw the crowds and their offerings. We preach endlessly about God’s love and grace, but fail to mention that disciples who do not produce fruit for Him are cut down and thrown into the fire—certainly not a pleasant prospect whatever it may mean. We don’t want to frighten the sheep lest they escape through the back door along with their tithes and offerings. So we feed them only the message of extreme grace. Good works and obedience become almost dirty words not to be mentioned in polite evangelical company. We neglect to teach them that their eternal reward in the next age will be related to their works, obedience, and holiness in this life. Achieving megachurch status by any means possible—means often not found in Scripture—has almost become the byword of the 21st Century Church.
But what if we had the miracles of the early Church?
However, if the Church had the power and the miracles of the early Church, then we could preach holiness and obedience. Recall Ananias and Sapphira whom the Lord actually put to death through Peter for lying to the Holy Spirit. (Where’s the “grace”?) Believers would not only love the Lord, but also fear the Lord. We could take the gospel boldly into areas dominated by Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, and witchcraft. When the lost hear the gospel and witness the powerful miracles done by holy disciples of Jesus Christ as confirmation of the message, many of them will become His disciples.
This is not theory, but this is precisely what the Lord has called The Elijah Challenge to do. And by his grace we are doing it in various parts of the world.
As long as the Church lacks the understanding of how to proclaim the kingdom of God with such power, she will be reluctant to do anything after the prayer meetings and worship gatherings. She will continue to deceive herself into thinking that she has done her job by praying and worshiping God.
Prayer & worship should result in effective evangelism
Acts 4:31 After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly.
Acts 16:25 About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them. 26 Suddenly there was such a violent earthquake that the foundations of the prison were shaken. At once all the prison doors flew open, and everyone’s chains came loose. 27 The jailer woke up, and when he saw the prison doors open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself because he thought the prisoners had escaped. 28 But Paul shouted, “Don’t harm yourself! We are all here!” 29 The jailer called for lights, rushed in and fell trembling before Paul and Silas. 30 He then brought them out and asked, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” 31 They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved–you and your household.” 32 Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all the others in his house. 33 At that hour of the night the jailer took them and washed their wounds; then immediately he and all his household were baptized. 34 The jailer brought them into his house and set a meal before them; he was filled with joy because he had come to believe in God–he and his whole household.
In these two incidents from Acts, praying and worshiping God were followed by miraculous events which opened the door for the preaching of the word of God to the lost.
Praying and worshiping in themselves do not bring sinners to Christ. They can be rather a prelude to the miraculous, providing disciples with opportunities to preach the gospel to the lost resulting in their salvation.
In Acts 12 Herod had Peter arrested and imprisoned. The Church prayed to God earnestly for him, and the Lord sent an angel to free him miraculously. We believe after that Peter continued to spread the Word of God as God had called him to do. He did not simply spend all his time praying and fasting, as important as those activities are.
What should we then do?
After our impactful prayer and worship gatherings, we should go forth to heal the sick, cast out demons, proclaim the kingdom of God, and make disciples as Christ commanded us. Prayer must be followed by action: ora et labora. Faith without works is dead.
Surely among other things for which we pray to the Lord of the harvest at prayer meetings is the harvest. But it is not enough simply to pray. God is not going to reap the harvest for us; that is what we are commanded to do. We must equip His disciples, we must go and make disciples of all nations.
Training believers to accomplish these things is part of discipleship where they are taught to obey everything Jesus commanded His early disciples—including proclaiming the kingdom of God, healing the sick, and casting out demons.
As you go, proclaim this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received; freely give. (Matthew 10:7-8)
“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:19-20)
As important as our priestly and prophetic offices are, they themselves will not result in the fulfillment of the Great Commission. In addition to other things, they rather prepare us to complete the Great Commission. It is the third and final office—the “kingly” office—through which the Church will accomplish Christ’s final commandment. The end will not come until the gospel of the kingdom is preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations (Matthew 24:14).
Therefore while we pray, “Come quickly, Lord Jesus” in our prayer events we must be equipping and sending out His disciples to preach the gospel of the kingdom and to make disciples of all nations.