Thursday, January 12, 2012

CT on the dying art of pulpit prayer

Here's an excerpt from a post by Carl Trueman on the importance of pastoral prayer from the pulpit.

Often Protestants concentrate so much on the sermon or the singing as the contact point between God and the congregation that we forget the importance of prayer. Yet corporate prayer is surely a means of grace (Shorter Catechism 88) and it thus requires that those leading worship pay as much attention to what they say in their prayers as they do to their sermons. The congregation should come away from the service believing that they have met with a holy and gracious God; and public prayer is a key element of that.

To listen to a lot of public prayer in churches is too often like listening in to a private quiet time -- and that is not meant as a compliment. The erosion of the boundary between public and private and the relentless march of the aesthetics of casualness have taken their toll here. It seems that unless somebody prays in public precisely as we think they might do in private, we all fear that this might be a form of affectation which prevents the prayer from being `authentic' -- whatever that might mean. Yet oftentimes there are people in the congregation on Sunday who have come from a week of pain, worry and confusion; they may be spiritually shattered; they might barely be able to string two words of a prayer together; and at this moment a good pastor can through a well-thought out and carefully expressed prayer draw their eyes heavenwards, lead them to the throne of grace and give them the words of adoration, confession, thanksgiving and intercession which they cannot find for themselves.

As an antidote to this lack, ministers should spend some time each week reading the prayers of others. The Valley of Vision is a great little collection of Puritan examples. Spurgeon's The Pastor in Prayer is simply amazing -- that he could pray spontaneously like that speaks volumes of his private devotions. Matthew Henry's A Method of Prayer is also invaluable as providing guidelines on public prayer. And not one of them contains or recommends ever having a sentence in a public prayer which contains the phrase `we just want to....'

I'm thankful that my pastors put an emphasis on this, and that our church's liturgy gives a prominent place to the pastoral prayer. Scripture tells us that the Holy Spirit helps us when we don't know how to pray. Some times that help comes in the form of listening to the prayers of others.

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