What does God do when we’re discouraged? In compassion for His people God gives us His Word, His promises, so that in the present life we’re living, we can rejoice and fulfill His purpose for our lives. The Fall Feasts of Israel are a vivid picture of God’s provision for every aspect of our lives laid out in Leviticus 23. Following the Spring Festivals that picture redemption and new life in Messiah we have a long summer of labor. Leviticus 23:22 says,
You are to reap the harvest of your land, moreover, you shall not reap to the very corners of your field nor gather the gleaning of your harvest; you are to leave them for the needy and the alien. I am the LORD your God.
This portion talks about the summer of service. Prophetically speaking this is the period of time that we are in right now. We are in a time of service, a time of labor as we seek the lost and share the Great News for our Great God and what He has done for us in Messiah, so all may get to hear the Great News (Romans 1:16). Now following that long period of service, we anticipate the Fall Festivals in the 7th month as the program of God’s redemption takes the next turn. The Fall Festivals have to do with God’s gathering His people together to Himself as the great gatherings of God.
However, before we can enter into His presence as these festivals portray, we need to know how to appear before the King of kings. In traditional Judaism, the month preceding the Feasts called, Elul, serves as a time for proper spiritual preparation. The month Elul is the sixth month of the Hebrew calendar and falls on August 18 till September 16 this year.
One of the customs is the reciting of Selichot, special prayers for forgiveness where people consider the profound issues of life and death, sin and forgiveness. The significance given to these prayers in traditional Jewish thinking shows up in the three levels of forgiveness which people hope to attain.
Traditionally, these three levels are identified by three Hebrew terms: selichah (pardon), mechilah (wiping away), and kapparah (atonement). They are all related to forgiveness, but each has its own shade of meaning. In Israel selichah is a common word for “pardon” or “excuse me.” This is the first step someone takes if a sin has been committed, whether against God or man. One asks for forgiveness, saying to the offended party, “I am sorry for what I did; I sincerely regret having done it, and will never do it again.” It is considered cruel to disbelieve a person’s sincere apology and not accept it.
Mechilah is usually translated as “wiping away” and it responds to the request, “can we normalize our relationship back as it was before I offended you?” In this level the relationship gets a “reset button.” It is more difficult than slichah but not impossible.
Kapparah is usually translated as “atonement,” (as in Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement). This level of repentance is the deepest of all because it addresses a person’s guilty conscience (Hebrews 10:22). It should be recognized that only God can heal and comfort the conscience of a person. In traditional Jewish circles “Kapparah” completes this three-part process on Yom Kippur.
We learn in the New Covenant that there is One who can fully forgive sins (Matthew 9:6) even to the core of our being and to the cleansing and healing of our souls. Hebrews 9:14 states, “how much more will the blood of Messiah, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?”
Our prayers are now of praise and thanksgiving because of His once-and-for-all atonement; there is never a need for any other offering for sin (Hebrews 10:18). Therefore, let us confess our sins knowing that Messiah’s atonement is always sufficient (1 John 1:9). The Fall Festivals are the vivid picture of how we receive our atonement and how to receive forgiveness of sins.
In Messiah’s atonement we have the grace of God to forgive one another for any offense done against us (Ephesians 4:32). Indeed, by that same grace we can not only forgive, but also comfort any who are guilt ridden by their own consciences (2 Corinthians 2:7). In Messiah’s atonement is full forgiveness, not merely restoration to a previous relationship, but “forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who have been sanctified by faith” (Acts 26:18).
The Feast of Trumpets reminds us of the day when Messiah will return; let us prepare our hearts that we will not be “ashamed at His coming” (1 John 2:28). The Day of Atonement reminds us of the day when national Israel will trust in Messiah’s atonement (Zechariah 12:10, 13:1) and will be restored back to God as His servant people. So let us plant those seeds of faith by sharing Yeshua with Jewish people and all people, for the Lord loves us all. And finally the Feast of Tabernacles reminds us that one day He will reign over all as He is glorified by all peoples (Zechariah 14:9).
As we approach the High Holy Days during this month of Elul, let us commit to pray not only that we would be prepared, but that in the true forgiveness which comes only through Messiah, Israel and all people will be prepared to meet with the Lord as it says in Amos 4:12: “Prepare to meet thy God, O Israel.”
Biblical teaching must be at the heart of prayer and worship ministry. The Samaritans did not have sound teaching, and thus it was wrong even if it was sincere (John 4:22-23).
Worship has the additional by-product of further building up disciples in the truth. From a communications perspective, there are three means of carrying truth directly to the heart: humor, pathos, and music. People will often think about what they sang in worship. The worship may bring the truth of God and His salvation deeper into their souls. Therefore, sound teaching must be the basis of our prayer and worship.
Worship teams need to be prayer leaders, that is, men and women with a strong prayer life. A good voice and musical skills have value, but are no substitute for prayer. An individual’s prayer and worship life helps foster his or her healthy relationship with the Lord, and so all team members must desire deeper levels of prayer and worship. It is a matter both of personal growth and integrity before the Lord.
An Elder-Led Responsibility
God teaches that His house would be “a house of prayer” (Isaiah 56:7). This primacy of prayer is further seen in the history of our people. In Exodus 17, the first battle after Israel came out of Egypt was with the Amalekites. In this portion of Scripture we find there was a division of labor. Joshua took the army and fought the Amalekites while Moses, along with Aaron and Hur went to the top of the mountain and with arms outstretched to God, we find them praying. That prayer ministry was the key issue in the victory. Moses’ arms coming down pictured the stopping of prayer, that is, stopping our dependence on God and our abiding in Yeshua. At those times, the army of Joshua failed. Prayer was and is the essential issue in victory—for Israel, for our homes, and for our congregations. It prepared us as a people, as to how we were to live in the land. Future victories would result from prayer.
In Exodus 17:14 Moses says, “Write this down for Joshua to read.” Why is Joshua singled out? Perhaps as an action-oriented man and leader of soldiers, he would need to be reminded to pray since his natural response might be to merely fight in his own strength. When we read the book of Joshua, we see that Joshua only had two defeats. In Joshua 7, he prayed only after the defeat; and in Joshua 9, he did not pray before negotiating with an enemy. His two defeats resulted directly from a lack of prayer. A lack of prayer can also be the cause for defeat for any congregation which gets established; consequently victory comes as leaders lead in prayer.
In the New Covenant
Paul tells Timothy that in the congregation there is to be prayer “first of all” (1 Timothy 2:1). Our community life is to be a beit teflilah, house of prayer. Benedictions, supplications, intercession, praise—all types of prayer ministries are part of our prayer priority. However, elder-led prayer is biblically normative. Men everywhere were to lift holy hands in worship, and so men are normally to be leading in prayer (1 Timothy 2:8). Why would they have to be instructed to do that? Perhaps to show that prayer would be primary in how a man manages his own home (1 Timothy 3:5). If men are not leading in prayer at home, how can we expect them to lead in prayer in the congregation?
Not only do we want to make sure we are praying as a community, we want the leaders to be praying for the community. Who knows what battles our “Joshuas” are fighting at home, school and at work? In fact, one of the marks of spiritual leadership is that they lead in prayer.
Hearts for the Lord
In the Biblical picture of heaven, the elders are forever falling down on their face before God, leading in prayer. They are prayer and worship leaders. Whether in the home or in the congregation, prayer prepares us for heavenly service like nothing else.
All prayer should be from the heart. In this regard, there is no distinction between formal liturgical prayers which the congregation prays and more informal prayers. However, people need to be taught to pray. The Messianic congregation is the place for people to grow as praying disciples. As we come into a new season together we are thankful that you are offering prayers “first of all,” and hope that you will continue to stand with us in prayer.
We were incredibly blessed to host a unique conference for Congregation Planting, which as the first in the new building brought together planters and from around the country to learn Biblical principles and share ministry approaches. What a wonderful way to end the year. Part of the fruits of the conference was a new book Establishing Healthy Messianic Congregations: Planters, Planting, and Planning. The following is an excerpt from the new book, on the role of prayer in a functioning congregation. Prayer is the most important responsibility for a congregation (and a family, community, etc.). In fact, this may be the only aspect of congregational life taking place in olam haba (the world to come). In light of this, the ministry of prayer is preparing us for our future home. Prayer and worship can be considered together because, whether it is in singing or speaking, both prayer and worship are praises and supplications directed to the Lord and intended to bless and bring honor to Him. The worship itself could be in an instrumental arrangement or a cappella, even so it is all to be praise and prayer unto HaShem.