Public prayer is a part of every worship service. We pray at the beginning and close of worship and sometimes in the middle. We pray for those who are sick, for safe travel to and fro, and for God to bless what we do in worship. Even though extemporaneous prayer has always been encouraged in the worship services I have been a part of, it has not always been difficult to guess what was going to be prayed. Many a Sunday I have heard someone pray for God to “guide, guard, and direct us.” We desire public prayer to be meaningful and relevant, but sometimes it just falls short.
Public prayer is the act of one individual praying to God on behalf of many. It is a privilege to be asked to lead public prayer. This act of praying on behalf of others should cause us to pause and consider this great responsibility. When we engage in public prayer we are no longer praying just for ourselves, but we are praying for the body of believers gathered together at that moment. Every Christian who is present has entrusted us to speak to God on their behalf. This is the essence of public prayer.
Public prayer should not be a simple routine. It should be something we continue to give thought and attention to. It should be something we adequately prepare for. It should be something we continue to work on. Here are 5 ways to improve public prayer.
Have at least one church leader pray at every service.
It is important for church leaders to pray on behalf of the people they lead, and it is important for members to know these leaders are praying for them. You could choose an elder, deacon, or a minister, but choose someone who is a leader. Leaders often know the needs of the congregation better than anyone else. They don’t just read the names on the bulletin; they know the people in the pews. Shepherds need to be praying for their flock. Ministers need to be praying for the people they serve. Leaders should pray both privately and publicly for the people they lead. Congregations are blessed by a leader who spends much time in prayer.
Incorporate prayers from Scripture and other sources into the worship service.
I grew up thinking extemporaneous prayer was the only way to pray, but since then I have discovered a rich tradition of praying the prayers of others. Every Sunday we come together and sing songs that have been written down and preserved over the years. No one argues that our songs should be extemporaneous. No one has ever suggested that we should just make up our own songs in the middle of worship. If we can use songs from the past, then why not use prayers from the past as well? What is wrong with praying a prayer from Scripture? I do not think we should do this all the time, but I think the church would benefit from a healthy balance of extemporaneous prayers and prayers that have been recorded and preserved over the years. These words from the past still speak to us today. They have been a blessing to me and I know they would be a blessing to others.
Remind the people who lead public prayers that they are praying for everyone.
I have heard many public prayers in my life and one of the most frustrating things is when a person leading a public prayer makes it all about themselves and their needs. Public prayer is different from personal or private prayer. When we pray publicly we are praying on behalf of everyone who is assembled together. Public prayer is not about our own personal needs and concerns. When we pray publicly we have to think about the needs and concerns of the entire congregation. We should replace pronouns like “I” and “me” with “we” and “us.” Public worship, whether it be preaching, singing, or leading prayer, is never about just one person. Public worship is a community of believers participating together in acts of worship to honor and praise our Almighty God.
Put some thought into it!
Do not wait until a few minutes before you pray to contemplate what you are going to say. Think about the prayer before you get to worship. Think about it in the days leading up to worship. Collect your thoughts before you get to the church building. Write it down, or at least write down the things you want to pray for. People can often tell whether or not you have prepared to pray, just as they can tell whether or not a preacher has prepared for his sermon. A good public prayer is one where a person has given adequate thought to the needs of the congregation, the concerns of the world, and the theme of the worship service.
Always remember to Whom you are praying.
God is not impressed with fancy words or the length of our prayer. He is concerned with our heart and with the content of our prayer. Although poetic words are nice, they should not be the focus of our prayer. Public prayer is not about the “thee” or “thou,” or whether or not we remembered our tie that morning. It is about coming before the throne of God to offer a prayer on behalf of the people of God. When Paul writes to Timothy about public prayer, his main concern is holiness and the attitude of the one praying (1 Tim. 2:8). Our prayer should be respectful and reverent. We should not have an agenda that seeks to divide or call others out. To be asked to lead a public prayer is a great honor, and we should approach it with a humble heart and a spirit of awe.
“Be not forgetful of prayer. Every time you pray, if your prayer is sincere, there will be new feeling and new meaning in it, which will give you fresh courage, and you will understand that prayer is an education.” Fyodor Dostoevsky
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