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Home > 2012 > March Online Only > A Plea for Pray-ers

Can I be frank? I'm distressed by the low quality of public prayer that is being heard in too many worship services today. Too often, prayer is used as a transition from one event to another. But what if the pastoral prayer was (as some like to say) a main event?

When Solomon dedicated the temple, a large part of his public leadership was a quite pastoral prayer. He knelt and said, "Lord, there is none like you … you've kept your promises … please give attention to my prayer … may you hear the prayer your servant prays toward his place … deliver us when we've been defeated … teach us the way to live … help us to walk in your ways … when we sin, please forgive."

This is not a lightweight prayer. It takes in everybody in the crowd. As he opens the gates of the temple, the king (little k) is interceding to the King (big K) on behalf of all who will come to worship.

I love to be in worship when young men and women are leading. And many of them lead us so well. But when they come to the place where prayer is appropriate, the substance of the prayer sometimes reveals a person who has hardly thought for a minute what they are going to say next. If the music was done like the praying, we'd probably switch bands rather quickly.

"God … we just want to thank you for this day … that we just could … just … sing to you … that we could … just … love you."

Well meant, those words. But they lack thought; they lack power, and they fail to lodge themselves in the souls of their hearers. The aged one losing control of his life who is listening for assurance. The sinner who is listening for hope. The addict who listens for deliverance. And the joyful person, who listens for thanksgiving.

Prayer can be intentional, thoughtful, powerful. Let's give our prayers the energy and depth that our Audience—and our audience—deserves.

Gordon MacDonald is editor at large of Leadership Journal and chancellor of Denver Seminary.

Watch for MacDonald's full-length article on prayer in the Spring issue of Leadership Journal. Not a subscriber? Try a free trial offer!

Gordon MacDonald is chancellor of Denver Seminary and editor-at-large for Leadership Journal. He is author of numerous books, including Going Deep: Becoming A Person of Influence.

Posted: March 12, 2012

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Displaying 1–5 of 16 comments

Hard Hearted Iowan

July 10, 2012  10:32pm

Jeff is right. I've sat through a lifetime of public prayers and they're pretty much all done in complete violation of Matthew 6:5. Luckily, it makes it easy to spot the conniving weasels among us...whether you're in the chambers of the US Senate or just at a Chamber of Commerce ribbon cutting, all you have to do is look for the people making the biggest show of piety. And just as luckily, Matthew makes it easy to stay on the right side of God when it comes to prayer: "When you pray, go into your inner room, close your door and pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you."

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Cyndi Bloise

March 27, 2012  6:16pm

I feel the same about people who say, "Father God," or any other name of God in every other sentence of the prayer. If a friend spoke to me by interjecting my name in-between every other sentence, I would wonder what was going on and if they perhaps needed a reminder of my name or something. I think people do that instead of saying "um," which is, in essence, taking the Lord's name in vain.

Paulette Archer

March 16, 2012  10:18pm

And that would be why I love liturgy. 'Almighty God, to whom all hearts are open, all desires known, and from whom no secrets are hidden, cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of your Holy Spirit, that we may more perfectly love you and worthily magnify your holy name.' Beautiful. And not a 'just' in sight. I am of the opinion that there is nothing wrong with using the well-composed prayers of others in public worship, provided they are spoken with sincerity. Sadly, there seems to be a strong trend in the church today to equate spontaneity with sincerity, whilst the considered work of composition and memorisation is seen as evidence of insincerity and false worship.

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Carl H Lenz

March 16, 2012  8:47am

There is a difference between the prayer spoken in our "closet" and the prayer voiced in public. Public prayer is worship. When participating in worship the pray-er must realize why he is there. He must open his heart and have it his intent to lead those who listen into God's presence. Sounding sincere does not make it good. If it does not praise the Lord and balance with Scripture it is not prayer and is sincerely wrong.

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Ricky Ray Taylor

March 14, 2012  9:55am

Public prayers need to be purposed to stray from the speakers personal desires and transcend to every listener. Yet, it is true that by doing so - "thought" needs to be involved beforehand on what 's to pray for. Some attempt has to be made to bring the listener to a fresh revelation towards God.

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