January 11, 2012

Public Prayer

Part 3 in a series on the church’s “liturgy

The idea that Christians should gather together in prayer is surely obvious. The example of the New Testament church alone should be sufficient to convince us along these lines. “They were continually devoting themselves … to prayer” (Acts 2.42). But what kind of prayer? At least three sorts are mentioned in the New Testament:
  • Personal, private prayer – alone in your closet (e.g. Matt. 6.5-6)
  • Corporate, shared prayer – as in family worship, or the church prayer meeting (see Acts 4.23-31, Acts 13.1-2, James 5.14-15)
  • Public prayer – when one person prays aloud on behalf of the gathered group (such as Jesus’ prayer in Acts 17, or Paul’s prayers in Ephesians 1 and 3)

It is this latter sort – public prayer – with which we are concerned in this article. When, why, and how are we to engage in public prayer when we gather for our worship on the Lord’s Day? As we said last week (concerning thoughtful silence), there are no hard and fast rules that govern the length, topics, or particular persons involved in such prayers. But it is clear that they ought to be a part of Christian worship. When we gather for worship, there surely ought to be prayers offered – and publicly so. We all benefit from hearing our brothers pray aloud, and from joining them with our own silent ‘amen.’

In our context at PRBC, there are usually a minimum of five public prayers as a part of each Sunday worship service – the pastoral prayer (with which we’ll deal next week); the offertory prayer; the sermon prayers (before and after the message); and the benediction (or closing prayer).  The order of service is, perhaps, similar in your own congregation.  But what is going on (or what ought to be going on) during each of those times of prayer?

The offertory prayer. It is no small thing to handle God’s money! Thus, when we pray for the offering, we are not simply filling time, or giving people a few seconds to dig their checkbooks out. It’s important that we sincerely plead with God to bless and use our offering! So I charge you who offer these prayers to do so earnestly and thoughtfully.

The two sermon prayers. In some ways, these 30-60 second snippets can become just another part of the service – even for the preacher who prays them! But let’s not allow it to be so! Your pastor desperately needs God’s help every time he opens his mouth in the pulpit. And you need ears to hear! So would you join him, in those two brief prayers, by silently and sincerely asking God to help both you and him to love, believe, and apply what we are about to hear, or have just heard? Perhaps the single greatest thing a Christian can do for his pastor is to pray for him … especially when it comes time to proclaim God’s truth!

The benediction. If you are called upon to conclude the service, a helpful way to pray is to thank the Lord for whatever truths you have just heard from His word … and to ask that He seal these truths upon the hearts of His people as they embark upon another week of walking with Him.

Allow me, also, to offer a few general rules of thumb as to exactly how public prayer should be undertaken. Prayers, prayed aloud, should be:
  • Scriptural. Do your best to use the words of the Bible when you pray aloud. One function of public prayer is to edify those who are listening. And there is no greater edification than to hear the word of God. So bring the language of scripture into your prayers!
  • Original. That is to say, don’t wade in the shallow waters of the same old prayer clichés – ‘bless the gift and the giver,’ ‘lead, guide, and direct us,’ ‘bless her in a special way,’ ‘forgive us for the many ways we fail Thee.’ Surely you can be more thoughtful than to simply say the same exact (often thoughtless) words every week … and to cause people to tune out because of it!
  • Plural. In other words, the person praying aloud ought not be the only person praying! We pray aloud, yes, so that people can hear and be edified … but also so that people can join in! So, as you listen, do more than simply listen. Add your silent ‘amen’ to the various petitions of the different prayers. Pray along with them! For, while God surely hears when one man prays along, there are unique promises given (Matt. 18.19) when God’s people “agree” together in prayer!

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