As we continue our series of lessons on the activities we participate in when we assemble together, we are going to talk today about prayer. The ability to approach God’s throne is a great privilege. But it is also a tremendous responsibility to direct God’s people before him; after all, the one who leads prayer is speaking on behalf of an entire congregation to God!
We will make some suggestions for the public (and private) prayer in our sermon, but some things have to be cut for time’s sake. With that said, I thought I would share with you some practical suggestions I have found to be helpful. Many of these are culled from Dan Chambers book Showtime: Worship in the Age of Show Business.
- Consider writing out and reading more public prayers. That is not to make this a requirement over spontaneous prayer. But many men would probably benefit from at least making an outline in advance, if not writing the entire thing out. The point here is not so much about the specific words used, but about putting thought and preparation into our prayers.
Too many times, our public prayers tend to lapse into platitudes and generalities. Those aren’t particularly meaningful. But a prayer that is thoughtful and heartfelt can be truly inspiring. Some people can do that with little or no preparation; some cannot. By thinking about prayer in advance and even writing it out or outlining it, all of those who have the privilege of leading prayer in public can think about the specific needs of the congregation and prepare to take them before God in a meaningful way.
- Keep public prayers brief. Brief is a relative term, of course; I am sure we all have different notions on the ideal length of a sermon, for instance. The goal is not to prescribe a specific time limit, but to be conscious of the attention span of the congregation. When prayers go on and on, concentration naturally begins to wane, so that even a very meaningful prayer may end up losing its intended effect. What we are really talking about here, then, is excessively long prayers. It would be better for us to simply add more, shorter prayers in an assembly than one or two unduly long ones.
- Devote an entire service to prayer. It would probably be beneficial for us to consider conducting some sort of regular prayer meeting. As has been observed, it’s much easier to get us to study prayer as a group than it is to get us together to actually pray. This could be once a month, once a quarter, whatever interval we like, but prayer should occupy a place of importance in our lives, both individually and collectively. And our corporate prayer practice has a tendency to shape our personal practice.
In this sort of service, we might call on men to lead prayers for particular concerns: supplication on behalf of needs in the congregation; thanksgiving for what God has done and is doing among us; confession of sin; etc. That could be interspersed with selected songs and/or readings from Scripture – the Psalms in particular are a treasure trove related to prayer. In keeping with the requisite preparation we have noted, prayer assignments should hopefully be made in advance to allow adequate time for reflection on what will be said.
- Get specific. Most of the time, our public prayers are sort of “catch-all” affairs that include everything that we can possibly think of in the moment. There is nothing wrong with that. But what if we considered having a narrower, but deeper focus in our prayers? Certain prayers in the assembly could be set aside for praise, for intercession, for petition, and so forth. One of the elders recently raised the idea of a “Shepherd’s Prayer” at the close of services to send the congregation out with a blessing, and I think that is an excellent idea along this line.
There are, no doubt, other suggestions that could be made. You might not necessarily agree with all of these, or you might have your own good ideas that aren’t mentioned here. In any case, the hope is to develop a more profound experience of public prayer. We are not simply fulfilling an obligation here; we are leading the thoughts of an entire body of God’s people in approaching his throne. That’s a serious matter. Those invested with this duty should treat it accordingly.