Thursdays with Todd: Leading Public Prayer Just before the Sermon

With the apostles, most ministers recognize the need to give the greater balance of their time to “prayer and the ministry of the Word” (Acts 6:4). And, these two disciplines of prayer and Word are especially visible as the preacher stands weekly in the pulpit.

In this post, I’d like to focus on the prayer we offer immediately after reading the biblical passage we intend to preach. Too often, this prayer can seem little more than a formality, even rushed in an effort to move on to the sermon. Here then are five reminders when leading a public prayer for the sermon:

  1. Keep it brief. Because we will be delivering an exposition of a biblical passage, a brief 2-3 sentence prayer will generally suffice to prepare our listeners for the study—for example: “Our Father, we ask Your Holy Spirit to be our teacher this morning as we bow to the authority of Your Word. In Jesus’ name we pray, amen.” A much lengthier prayer, on the other hand, risks the possibility of losing some of our hearers before we have begun. It’s good to remember Charles Spurgeon’s advice about public prayer: “Only one in a thousand would complain of you for being too short, while scores will murmur at your being wearisome in length.”1
  2. Keep it simple. The brief prayer preceding our sermon is not a time to introduce new theological words or other ideas that may detract from the text. Rather, this is an opportunity simply to ask God to impart His grace upon the sermon. 
  3. Keep it corporate. When leading in prayer, remember that we, too, need God’s illuminating grace. Using plural, first-person pronouns “we,” “our,” and “ourselves” reminds our listeners that we all stand on equal footing as we look to God.
  4. Keep it purposeful. Avoid preaching in the prayer. If we’ve prepared well, the sermon will do the preaching. Allow the prayer to be that purposeful moment when we take our congregation to God Himself, asking for His aid in proclaiming and hearing the Word. 
  5. Keep it fresh. Because we preach regularly, our pulpit prayers can unfortunately become dry or repetitive. One way to avoid staleness is to incorporate language into our prayer from the very text we are preaching.  Consider, for example, this prayer after reading James 1:22-25: “Lord, give us grace this morning that we would be both hearers and doers of the Word. And may our obedience in both listening and living bring glory to You.” Alternatively, many of the psalms contain helpful intercessions that are useful in our prayers. From Psalm 46:1, for example, we might pray: “God You are our refuge and strength; a very present help in trouble. We ask for Your help this morning as we study Your Word.” 

What other encouragements might you offer for public prayers for the sermon?


  1. Lectures To My Students (New York: Robert Carter & Brothers, 1890), 97.

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