Every church I know has a time for public prayer, when someone audibly offers a prayer on behalf of the congregation. Most evangelical churches I know, though, spend little time thinking about those prayers. They’re often spontaneous and unfocused, or they’re simply repetition of the way others pray.
Charles Spurgeon said it much better than I: “It is a great pity when the observation is forced from the hearer, ‘our minister preaches far better than he prays’ . . .. but slovenly, careless, lifeless talk in the guise of prayer, made to fill up a certain space in the service, is a weariness to man, and an abomination to God.” While I’m not arguing for simply reading prayers, here’s why we need to spend more time thinking about our public praying:
- We model praying when we pray before others. Our congregation does hear our prayers, and some folks will repeat them almost exactly. In some churches, sadly, their only opportunity to learn to pray is by listening to us—so we need to think about how we pray.
- We stand as a pastoral shepherd and priest when we pray for our congregation. In those few moments, we take the people we lead to the Father through the Son and in the power of the Spirit. Nothing about that task gives us permission to take it lightly.
- Our public praying often says something about our private praying. The leader for whom private prayer is in his DNA will pray publicly with passion for God – and that zeal will be attractive to others. Those for whom private prayer is only sporadic and perfunctory will pray publicly in a different way (like, the way Spurgeon described it).
- Our public praying often says something about our church. For example, I can at least get hints through public prayers whether the church seeks to glorify God rather than themselves, whether they have a heart for their neighbors and the nations, and whether they carry one another’s burdens. We say something about ourselves when we pray.
- Our prayers can be tied more directly to the overall focus of the worship service if we prepare well. I wrestle with this one because I don’t want prayer to become just one more element in the service; on the other hand, intentional, focused prayer ought to undergird the theme and goals of a service.
- Preparation for praying requires us to check our hearts. It’s tough to pray aloud when we’re facing church difficulties and frustrations. Sometimes, we wrongly use the public prayer time to express our emotions—and that possibility demands that we prepare our hearts well before we pray.
- Preparation demands that we make wise choices in inviting others to pray publicly. I’ve known churches who allowed members living in unforsaken sin or open rebellion to lead in prayer. Some have the privilege to lead in prayer not because they’re walking with God, but only because it’s their turn in the rotation—and nobody’s lovingly examining lives. In Spurgeon’s words, that’s surely an abomination to God.
What would you add to this list?
Charles H. Spurgeon, Lectures to My Students (pp. 54-55). Kindle Edition.