Public prayer is a vital part of our worship together. It is a great responsibility to speak to God on behalf of the assembly. We want this part of the service to be meaningful and pleasing to God. Let me make a few suggestions.
Preparation to pray is an important ingredient. Be considerate of others. If you are not able to serve in the worship as scheduled, let someone know ahead of time. Your replacement will appreciate the advanced warning. Obviously, some public prayers do not come with advanced planning, like being called to pray in a Bible class. The greatest preparation for public prayer is our private prayer life. Public prayer is simply the overflow of private prayer.
The purpose of the prayer is a necessary consideration. An opening prayer is a call to worship. It expresses our praise to God and our desire to worship Him in spirit and truth. The main prayer of the service is usually of greater length and will include not only praise but the petitions important to the assembly. Remember the difference between public and personal. Don’t share other people’s burdens or petitions if they haven’t given you permission. Everyone on our printed prayer list has asked to be in our prayers.
It is great to be specific, but I would encourage variety as we approach the bulletin prayer list in public. There may be times to pray individually for everyone on the list. At times, we may want to emphasize certain parts of the list or summarize the list.
A prayer at the Lord’s Supper focuses on the death, resurrection, and return of Christ (“you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes,” 1 Cor. 11:26). Jesus is our model for this. He is said to have “blessed” or “given thanks” for the bread and the cup (Matt. 26:26-28, 1 Cor. 11:23-25). The prayer for the bread should focus on what the bread means to us; the prayer for the fruit of the vine should focus on what it means to us. It can include reflections our attitude and purpose in communing. It shouldn’t be a general prayer including things like prayer for the sick.
The closing prayer prepares us to go out into the world and live the faith. Although I think it is appropriate to allude to the lesson and our hope to apply it to life, avoid the temptation to preach the lesson all over again. Remember that a prayer that doesn’t match its purpose seems out of place.
Praise of God invigorates prayer. It is all too easy for us to begin and end with our petitions. Remember to praise God. Read the Psalms or the prayers in the New Testament for examples of such praise.
People need to be able to hear the public prayer. How can they say “amen” (which means “so be it”), if they have not heard (see 1 Cor. 14:16)? Speak clearly, and speak into the microphone. You really can’t get too close to the pulpit or communion microphones. If the system squeals, please don’t back away. Allow the person on the sound board to adjust. Backing away only compounds this task.
The Lord’s Prayer is a model of simplicity, yet it is filled with great meaning. It encourages us to pray. God is not seeking great eloquence from us, but open hearts. May our public prayers be meaningful and pleasing to God.