When a child is young, within their first 2 years of life, they are created with the ability to verbally communicate without knowing the definitions of what they’re saying. Their language comes from understanding the context of the words that come from Mom and Dad and doing likewise. It’s the grace of God that He has made basic and essential language so intuitive and simple for young children. What this teaches us is that language, before it is taught, is caught. And what this means for pastors is, if you want to teach your church how to pray, you don’t start with a formula or guide, though helpful; rather, you pray, and you teach them the language of prayer.
In his book, The Contemplative Pastor, Pastor Eugene Peterson says, “This is my essential educational task: to develop and draw out into articulateness this personal word, to teach people to pray. Prayer is language I [language of intimacy and relationship]. It is not language about God or the faith; it is not language in the service of God and the faith; it language to and with God in faith” (pg.93).
The question for pastors is: What’s the context for teaching my people how to pray? The answer is the prayer before the sermon. In my experience these prayers are often prayers off the front burner, a quick little transition from song to sermon, perhaps using the chorus from the last song as a spring board for the prayer. They’re quick, shallow, and our people know that it’s simply a transitional piece within the larger service order. This is a disservice to our people, a dishonoring of prayer, and a missed opportunity to teach our people the language of prayer.
The Pastor in Prayer, is a collection of prayers by Charles Spurgeon given before his sermons. As I’ve been working my way through the book I’ve noticed a pattern – you could say I’ve caught a pattern. Intentional or not, Spurgeon’s prayers have a similar cadence, they have four general categories, prayers of gospel exaltation, prayers for the unsaved, prayers for blessings and power for Sunday’s ministries, and prayers for country and the global church. Let me briefly expand each of these categories.
Prayers of Gospel Exaltation
Most pre-sermons prayers do this well, but consider how you could expand your prayer to include a fuller exposition of the gospel. When was the last time you started your service by praying for the lamenting in your church by reminding them of the Prince of Peace or the sureness of Jesus’ return to set right the evils of this world and to wipe away every tear? For example, “We look forward to the brighter days when myriads shall flock to the Crucified: above all, when we contemplate His final triumph, then is our heart very restful and our spirit rejoices in God our Savior“ (pg.24). By including different facets of the gospel in your prayer you’re giving your people a language to use in times of trial, temptation, lamentation, and worship.
Prayers for the Unsaved
Again, prayer is a language to and with God in faith. Don’t be afraid or faithless on a Sunday morning to stand up in front of your people and pray pointed prayers for the unbelievers among you. Your prayers are teaching your people, showing them you believe in the power of God to convict the world of sin, righteousness, and judgment and to save and redeem from amongst you that day. Consider this prayer from Spurgeon, “O Strong Son of God, Immortal Love…ride forth this morning with Thine arrows dipped in Thine own blood, and shoot them out amongst this audience, that the people may fall under them, wounded with the sense of sin, smitten even to self-despair with a consciousness of guilt: and, oh, that they might get healing from the hands that wound them, may they get life from the hand that kills their hope” (pg.92).
Prayers for Blessings and Power for Sunday’s Ministries
There’s a lot of moving parts on Sunday, from membership classes to child care to Sunday school, and the majority of it is run by volunteers, men and women who have graciously given of their time to support the mission of the church. Before your sermon, consider remembering them in your prayers. The effects are many,
- It reminds them to be thankful for the blessing of those who are serving
- It reminds them of the needs in certain ministries (Sunday School)
- It reminds them that we are a family with needs and responsibilities
- It reminds them that you care about the discussions in Sunday school, the effectiveness of the teachers, and the Holy Spirit’s presence to empower those interactions.
Consider something like this, “O God, wilt Thou bless the various agencies carried on by us, that we may, as a church, help and do our part in the evangelization of the world…Oh, make us more and more a living church, a church in which God shall show forth the glory of His power. Oh, how we long for this! May all ministries among us be living ministries, Holy Ghost ministries.”
Prayers for Country and the Global Church
Outside of the SCOTUS’s ruling on same-sex marriage and July 4, when was the last time you prayed for your country on a Sunday morning? And yet, it’s commanded by Paul to, pray for kings and all those in authority. Why do we not ask God more to move King’s hearts like a stream in His hand towards righteousness and freedom? Given the natural conservative leanings of Christians, this, of all the categories is something we need to work on.
Regularly praying for God’s blessing and forgives upon the country can help to defang the teeth of American idols that some of your people have. Praying for the wisdom, stewardship, and salvation of a President that might be opposed to Christianity (I assure you this is not targeted at any one specific) shows your people the peace and love found in the gospel, that regardless of the sin against us, we extend grace and love.
“Bless this country. The Lord in mercy avert the horrors of war from us. Grant that, by some means, peace may be continued, and war come to an end where it still rages; and, oh, that the policy of truth and righteousness may once more be taken up in this land, and our nation be forgiven its great national crimes. Bless the Queen with every blessing” (Pg. 98).
And finally, a prayer for the global church teaches your people about the holistic reality of Jesus’ Bride. On Sunday morning, Saints are gathering all over the globe in a disconnected expression of worship, some in shacks laid up in ghettos, others in prisons, and others in massed out mega churches, but one day that disconnected worship will be connected when Jesus returns to bring us home. Saying a prayer for the Holy Spirits’ effectiveness in other churches reminds your people of Christ’s global church, mission, and helps to show a loving heart towards Saints near and far.
Pastor, next Sunday, before you move from worship to the sermon, try slowing down and praying an extended prayer that shows your people the many facets of the gospel and models for them a language of prayer that they can learn and use for themselves.