I’m not sure exactly when I read this but distinctly remember it sharpening my ability to lead others in prayer, especially in worship services. This book has been on my mind as I thinking about training a summer intern and equipping those who will pray in our services. This will be a running series that I’ll add to now and then as I write about the different prayers in our service: Invocation and Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving and Intercession, Illumination, “post sermon” (I don’t have a good name for that one), and Communion . Let’s start though with a quote from Hughes Oliphant Old regarding prayer…
A second theological foundation of intercessory prayer is the doctrine of the person and work of Christ. In his ministry on earth Jesus healed the sick, restored fallen women, and blessed children. In his Passion he interceded for both his friends and enemies. WE believe that the same Jesus who was open to the needs of men, women, and children here on earth his risen an and ascended to heaven. now in eternal glory he is still open to our needs. He is, true God and true man, even now at the right hand of the Father. In his person our true humanity in all its need and dependence is brought into the presence of the Father. Our prayers, our tears, our cries of anguish are brought before the throne of race because the Son is our brother. It is he, seated at the right hand of the Father, who is our intercessor. The intercessory prayer of the Church continues the ministry of intercession that Jesus began on earthier and completes in heaven.
Praying publicly, especially as part of a worship service is a little different than praying privately and this difference should shape our prayers in a few ways:
1. Truth: it is always important to pray in a manner that aligns with who God is and what prayer is meant to be. This is especially so in a worship service as prayers which are off will distract, confuse, or mislead those at the worship service. Even more importantly prayers which misrepresent God diminish his greatness and offend him. Practically it is easier to pray true things through including scripture or basing our prayers on scripture, using ancient prayers of the church, and simply via Christian maturity.
2. Expression: we all develop various habits of expression in prayer whether they be tones of voice or the use of certain phrases. These become quite apparent when someone is leading in public. A few that come to mind are: the overuse of the word “just” (God, would you just do this , just do that… “); outdated expressions (“being a good steward” is not about flight attendants but keen management) or unnecessary biblical terminology which confuses (asking for a “hedge of protection” based on Job 1, when “hedge” today the hedges in our back yards could protect no one). These unnecessarily distract and confuse.
3. Preparation: writing out a prayer beforehand is one aspect of preparation for prayer but not the only one. Do we pray for the preaching and the musicians in worship services? So we should also pray for those who pray. Should a preacher simply read his manuscript word for word or in some manner absorb at least a bit of the content into his heart so there is greater freedom and emotional engagement? Our aspiration should be the same in prayer. We should try to prepare our words, minds, and hearts when we know we’ll be leading in prayer.
Thanksgiving and Intercession
While the offering is being received we’ll sing and then afterwards the person reading our scripture lesson will offer a prayer of thanksgiving and intercession. To spur thoughts on “thanksgiving” a great place to begin is with a familiar passage from the bible on giving thanks to God. If nothing comes to mind, simply try entering “give thanks” in an online bible and you’ll be amazed at what you find. As the prayer leads the church in giving thanks there is so much to potentially cover: health, friendship, family, shelter, food, work, pleasure, civil and church leaders, God’s creation etc. In our particular setting we’ll want to give thanks for God’s leading and provision in our efforts to establish Grace Pres. There are clear and concrete answers to prayer along with the harder to quantify but essential elements of love, unity, and the Spirit’s power. Crowning all things for which we could give thanks is the great salvation which is ours in Christ.
In shifting from thanksgiving to intercession there are three particular areas in which I’d like this prayer to focus: God’s ongoing provision for us individually and as a church, the leadership of the church, and the civil leaders who serve and govern us. The reason I choose these three items for prayer is that they are biblically mandated and flow naturally from our thanksgiving. Furthermore, other areas of prayer will be addressed in the prayer following the sermon and our communion prayers.