Disconnected Prayers in Public Worship

“Great is Thy faithfulness
Morning by morning new mercies I see
All I have needed Thy hand hath provided
Great is Thy faithfulness, Lord unto me.”

“And now, let us pray.”
What? What do you mean “now let us pray?” We just finished praying. Who were we singing to in that song? Was that song not a prayer of gratitude and thankfulness for the Lord’s faithful meeting of our every need?

Far too often prayers prayed in public worship are either obligatory components of longstanding tradition, or are coagulators to move from one song to another. I once worked with a pastor who asked to “put a prayer right there, we’ll need a mood change by then.” Ouch! “Hey God, we are coming to you right now in order to change the mood to set up this next cool song.” Surely this is not a motivation pleasing to our Lord.

No wonder our people disconnect from what is happening in public worship when we sing our songs and pray our prayers. To some of you this may seem picky, but if we are to help our people worship through every aspect of our public gathering, it seems that they need to understand the engagement of those aspects. We have all had endless discussions about what songs people do and do not “like” (a meaningless plumbline for Christian worship). We need more discussion on what we are to mean in those songs, to whom they are directed, and to what purpose we sing them.

The same is true of public praying. In fact, the Apostle Paul addresses praying and singing in the same manner when he states, “I will pray with my mind, but I will also pray with my spirit. I will sing with my mind, but I will also sing with my spirit.” (1 Cor 14:15) As worship planners we need a comprehensive sense of what is happening as we make our way through the corporate expressions of worship and praise. This certainly includes the words and attitudes expressed by those who lead in prayer. Notice the term is “lead” in prayer. The person praying in corporate expression is in the lead role in that moment. Leading prayer means guiding the prayer for all present, who are to pray in concert with the leader.

How well do you prepare those who are called upon to lead prayer in your corporate services? Whether the prayer is being led by your pastor, a deacon or other church leader, or you, there is a need to be informed of the placement of the prayer one is called upon to lead within the total shape of the worship. Very often a public prayer that is disconnected from the flow of worship serves to unplug worshipers from any sense of ongoing correlation of worship elements. Such issues are non-issues in prescribed liturgies where prayers are written and read, and shape is given in printed form such that worshipers can see both the form and the actual verbiage to use. The issues in those churches that use prescribed liturgies more likely have to do with engagement beyond the printed page, and contextualizing the set forms such that worship addresses present day life and circumstance. Such worship is often accused of serving the form or prescription itself. Most of us Baptists resist such written prescriptions. Advanced notice and intent information, however, could aid all public prayer leaders in our churches to gain confidence and display depth in their worship leading responsibility.

I highly recommend that you, worship leader, test this premise by deepening your own preparation for prayer leading during the worship music time. The best place to start is with the Bible. The Psalms are prayers of public worship. Even psalms of private lament have been used through Judeo-Christian history as public expression. Read the prayers of Jesus, prayers of disciples, and biblical worship instruction. There are good resources to help with meaningful worship prayers that far too often are completely absent from our worship expression in the “free church”; prayers of confession and supplication, prayers of illumination, prayers of doxology and benediction, in addition to prayer of intercession. We sometimes sing these prayer, which can be an effective means of praying them, especially if everyone knows what they are doing when that takes place. For instance, a strong prayer of illumination is voiced in the song, Speak, O Lord, as well as the classic hymn, Lord, Speak to Me that I May Speak.

One of the many resources for developing public pray-ers is a book by Hughes Oliphant Old entitled Leading in Prayer: A Workbook for Worship (Eerdmans, 1995).

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One Comment on “Disconnected Prayers in Public Worship”

  1. Jonathan Nelms Says:

    This is a good word for worship leaders. All of us need study the act of praying. Here is a good quote:

    “To pray is the greatest thing we can do: and to do it well there must be calmness, time, and deliberation; otherwise it is degraded into the littlest and meanest of things. True praying has the largest results for good; and poor praying, the least. We cannot do too much of real praying; we cannot do too little of the sham. We must learn anew the worth of prayer, enter anew the school of prayer. There is nothing which it takes more time to learn.”

    from The Power of Prayer by Edward McKendree Bounds

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