Prayer in Public Worship
Prayer plays several important roles in worship when we meet together each week. While we’ll not put all of these to use every service, they do add depth and significance to our times together.
Invoke His Participation. When we pause at the beginning of our worship service to acknowledge God’s presence with us and “invite” Him to be a part of our time together, it parallels recognizing (acknowledging) an honored guest, and then inviting him to enjoy the evening — since it is in his honor after all. The prayer at the beginning of the service, the invocation, does precisely that.
Our Gift of Gratitude. You know how good it makes you feel when somebody calls you on the phone specifically to thank you for something, with no add-on requests at the end of the conversation; God has feelings too. Prayer at some point in the service just to say “Thank You” brings Him delight and helps heighten a congregation’s sense of gratitude. In this consumer-oriented culture of ours it’s a needed thing. But it takes concentration if you’ve not prayed this way before. Most of our prayers tag on a request of some sort after our thank-you’s. Take care not to – you’ll appreciate the difference it makes.
Our Gifts of Tithes and Offerings – and Time Together. Imagine with me a moment. A child spends several minutes in the privacy of his bedroom making a special little gift for his dad, then brings it into the living room where dad is reading the evening paper, drops it in his lap and nonchalantly walks away with a simple little “this is for you”. Dad smiles, doesn’t he? Calls a “thanks, Son” to him in the other room, and enjoys the gift and his son’s thoughtfulness. But imagine that youngster bringing the work of his hands to his father, waiting for a moment for Dad to finish the paragraph he’s reading so he had Dad’s full attention. “I made you something, Dad” The boy waits while his father takes it and makes the gift his own. “Do you like it? You’re welcome.” When the gift takes its place with the paper on the end table and the youngster climbs up in Dad’s lap for a couple minutes, closeness is enjoyed. Love. Conversation. Fulfillment. I wonder sometimes why we say “Here, God” and hustle on to the next item in the morning’s order of service. Maybe He thinks we’re in a hurry or something. Maybe we are.
Pastoral prayer. Does your heart warm a few degrees when you hear the pastor pray for his people and the concerns of the community? It should. Sheep appreciate knowing they are being well cared for, and in the church setting that sense is fortified when the congregation hears one of its pastoral staff entreat the Lord on their behalf. There’s much more prayer in private, naturally, but the value that comes to the church family knowing these important things we need to pray for collectively, helps the sheep relax (I say that respectfully) and enjoy the community they belong to. Our shepherd is talking to the Chief Shepherd about us, we don’t have to fret about things.
Inclusive prayer. When we pray about everything a sense of peace and tranquility settles in over the congregation. Ever notice that? I’ve seen congregations who do a pretty good job with this, and it’s a delight to be with them! It means the men of the church take the lead making prayer an intentional part of what they do when they meet together. For some more detail on how this works, visit 1 Timothy 2.1-8 and read with your congregation in mind. Don’t read with a fault-finding mindset; rather read with an eye to what you could enjoy if you included this dynamic as a consistent activity at your church — First Church.
These are some thoughts to consider. I hope they encourage you. Perhaps someone will write of your congregation what Dr. Luke wrote of the early church:
And they were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching, and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread (here it is) and to prayer. (See Acts 2.42)
(Next: The role of prayer in the preparation and delivery of sermons)