May my prayer be set before you like incense;
may the lifting up of my hands be like the evening sacrifice.
Psalm 141:2, NIV
The book of Psalms is full of examples of prayer: times of worship, times of desperation, in the temple and on the battlefield. The New Testament church devoted time together in fellowship, listening to the apostle’s teaching, eating together, and praying (Acts 2:42). And just like the early and ancient churches did, modern church services need to incorporate times of prayer throughout the service. God loves our prayers, both individually and corporately. Times of prayer help us to worship God, depend on God, help us to come into accordance with His will, and help us to work together with God to accomplish His purposes on the earth. Are you able to play or sing in public with ease, but suddenly get sweaty palms and feel a sense of dread when asked to pray in public? Maybe it’s the fear of making a mistake, sounding dumb, or revealing any weaknesses in our spiritual walk that leaves would-be pray-ers quaking in their shoes. But our focus in corporate prayer is the same as private prayer: we are communicating with the God who created the heavens and the earth.
If you are nervous with praying in public, you might need to take a look at your personal prayer life. Do you need to become a more proficient pray-er? Is your prayer life kind of haphazard, barely there, or even non-existent? Trying to talk to God in front of others is going to be painful if you don’t talk to God regularly in private. But we all have to start somewhere! If this is you, don’t panic, just get started by setting aside a couple minutes a day to spend time talking to God. The more time you spend growing your relationship with God, the more natural it will feel to talk to Him in public, too. If you need some guidance (and don’t we all?) seek out Scriptures on prayer, read books on prayer, and above all, just pray!
If you are planning for a prayer time to take place during a corporate worship service, ask yourself, “What is the purpose of this prayer?” Is it for the opening of worship, the pastoral prayer, a time of intercession? The purpose of your prayer will help guide you in what to say. You might want to start your prayer with Scripture; many verses in Psalms are great prayer starters and make good models for prayer, too.
When in doubt, write it out. It is ok to write your prayer out ahead of time! Think about what you want to talk to God about, and write it down (especially if you have a long list of prayer requests to share). Ask the Holy Spirit to speak to your heart and reveal what you need to be praying about and how to pray it. You can always Google a themed prayer if you need one, or use a model prayer to make your own. You could use the Lord’s Prayer as a model, or even use the ACTS model – structure your prayer with a time of adoration, a time of confession, a time of thanksgiving, and a time of supplication for self and others. As you intercede for others, remember this is a time to bring needs to God, but not necessarily a time to air your own private problems.
Avoid using those churchy sounding words, you know the ones people use all the time in prayer, such as: “we just lift them up right now.” Phrases like these aren’t wrong or even bad, but they get used so much that they become filler words with little meaning – try not to use them and instead, make your language a little more creative. Watch that the word “bless” does not become the easy way out when you are praying intercessory prayers. Instead, pray specifically for each person and their needs.
As you pray, try to avoid that “super-Christian” voice; be yourself. You don’t need to sound super spiritual to pray, and you don’t need to pray like anyone other than you. Eloquent prayers are nice to listen to, but it is much more important to speak from your heart than it is to be fancy. Don’t rush through prayer, but speak slowly. It’s ok to pause for silent prayer. It’s ok to catch a few breaths and gather your thoughts as you pray, too. Listen for the Holy Spirit to guide you as you pray.
Practice! Yes, practice your prayers. Just like you practice your music, practice praying out loud when you are spending your alone time with God (and make sure you are spending time alone with God). It will feel much less awkward if you are used to praying out loud before you pray in front of the congregation.
It helps to know your congregation, and how they prefer to address God. For some, formal archaic pronouns are reserved just for God. Others address God as Father, God Almighty, or Jesus. Does your congregation say the Lord’s Prayer together? What version is used? Knowing these things ahead of time will help feel less awkward as you pray, because you know what to expect.
Remember who you are talking to – you are talking to God, not others. Don’t give the congregation information that is meant for them, such as announcements, while you are talking to God. If you need to give the congregation some announcements, that’s fine, just not during prayer time. Keep your focus on God, His Goodness, and the needs of those you are praying for.
Do you like background music while you pray? It’s ok to pad along, but it’s also ok not to. Sometimes a little background music is nice because it disguises the ambient noise in the room; other times, silence is far more poignant and meaningful when praying.
Invite the congregation to pray along – silently, at the altar rail, on their knees, etc.
Above all, remember that prayer is communication with the almighty, most holy God who created the universe. He covets our prayers, and we are privileged to come to Him with any need, great or small. Whether your stammer or stutter through your prayer, dripping sweat and shaking in your shoes or you are able to pray with eloquent, beautiful speech and perfect grammar, remember this: God loves you and God loves when you pray to Him.
Amanda is a toddler-chasing, coffee drinking, fashion boot-wearing, Fit-bit addicted, Jesus-loving, American Baptist licensed pastor, and wife and mom to 5 small children. A life-long aspiring writer, you’ll find Amanda’s music and writing here and there, on Yahoo Shine, iTunes, a few blogs, and notes to her children’s teachers. She spends her free time absorbed in fashion, watching Pirates of the Caribbean, Googling, attempting clean eating, all while spreading autism awareness, encouraging adoption and foster care, championing the underdog, and of course, juicing.
Amanda spends her afternoons teaching some pretty lively piano lessons to students of all ages and ability, and her evenings working towards a Master of Divinity from Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in Church Music from Eastern University and a cosmetology license from Metro Beauty Academy. Her favorite places to be are the local zoo, the church piano bench, Facebook, and anywhere her family is.
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