In my previous post, I made a case for incorporating a pastoral prayer into the worship service. If I’ve convinced you to consider restoring the long pastoral prayer in your worship, how can you begin to put it into practice well? Let me provide a few practical tips.
(1) Plan for Prayer in Your Service Each Week
Have you prioritized prayer in your worship order? Do you already have a schedule time where the pastor prays? Perhaps it’s in your service order already. If so, that makes your job easier as you begin to expand and enrich this time of prayer. However, if you don’t, you may need to change your weekly liturgy to make time for the pastoral prayer. If this is a newer practice for your congregation, immediately jumping into a 15 minute prayer would be divisively disorienting. Begin by praying intentionally for three to four minutes, and slowly expand its length. Depending on your congregation and cultural context, you may need to readjust the length of your worship service by either expanding the length or removing a congregational song.
(2) Prepare for the Pastoral Prayer
Pastors can fall into the same danger as any Christian, by repeating trite, tired, and meaningless phrases in our prayer. When we don’t prepare for public prayer, we tend to fall back on those well-worn paths. If you pray the same thing every week, you will find your congregation utilizing the long prayer for their morning nap! Though there is nothing wrong with spontaneous prayers, the pastor should prepare for the long prayer in order to avoid these pitfalls. How should a pastor prepare? Think about what you want to pray for ahead of time and write it down. You can either write out your prayers in entirety or write a few bullet points down on a sheet of paper and take it with you to pray.
As you prepare, seek to diversify your prayers each week by taking different topics or themes. One week you might focus your prayers on union with Christ. Other times you might focus on the spiritual growth of the congregation. On another Sunday, you might focus your prayer on the work of evangelism amongst your community. Or, you could pray for a specific tragedy in the news. Through planning you differentiate and broaden the scope of your prayers. This not only engages those who pray along with you, but teaches them the full scope of the Christian prayer life.
Does planning for the pastoral prayer seem unspiritual? I certainly don’t think so. Is there a risk for showmanship in such preparation? Certainly. There is a dangerous temptation to be like the Scribes who in “pretense make long prayers.” There is the ever-present danger of praying in such a way “that you may be seen by others.” However, this has more to do with the pastor’s heart, not the pastoral prayer. In a pastor’s preparation, he must be on guard against his own vanity to showcase his own piety before the congregation. That’s not the goal. The goal is to bring people before the throne of God in prayer and intercede on their behalf.
Pastor, prepare to pray as you would to preach, through careful thought and consideration.
(3) Fill Your Prayers with Scripture
The pastoral prayer provides a unique time to demonstrate how Scripture and prayer go hand in hand together. As you prepare to pray corporately, think about how you can incorporate the Scriptures into the language of your prayer. Let the Bible inform how you pray. This practice not only enriches your prayers, but helps you diversify your prayers with the language of God’s word. Sprinkle the word of God throughout your prayers and allude to it frequently. As illustrated below, you can even use a scripture as the outline for your prayer.
Recovering the Pastoral Prayer
Recovering the pastoral prayer would greatly enrich our corporate worship, and help stimulate our hearts to spirit-filled worship each week. A pastor who wishes to faithfully lead the church in worship must lead in prayer. This means given the time and attention corporate prayer needs in our weekly service order.
Sample Pastoral Prayer
In conclusion, let me provide a recent pastoral prayer at my own congregation as an example. This prayer was loosely modeled from Psalm 8:
Oh Lord, our Lord how majestic is your name in all the earth!
You have set your glory above the heavens. Out of the mouth of babies and infants, you have established strength. Though the infinite wisdom of your Gospel is reckoned utter foolishness to the wise of this world, we believe it is the power of God unto salvation. Yet, you’ve made the Gospel simple enough that babies and infants can understand. Spirit of God, grant us understanding of your wisdom. Give us the mind of Christ, as we set our hearts upon your inspired Word. Teach us the truth, so that we might live it out before your presence. Reveal to us your might, power, and majesty. Elevate our minds above the temporary concerns of this earth, and take us into your heavenly theater. Let us gaze upon your handiwork. For you’ve created all things, and all your creation is very good.
As we gaze upon the beauty of the swirling colors in the sky or the tapestry of detail woven together in the assembly of every microscopic cell, we stand amazed at your creativity and power. There is nothing outside of your knowledge. For you know the number of the grains of sand upon the shore, and you count the millions of fish that swim in the depths of the sea. You’ve placed the stars in their place, and have ordered the orbit of the planets. You’ve calculated the precise rotation of the earth and moon, so that every day we have both day and night. Even when the sun, earth, and moon align, nothing will eclipse the glory of the creator!
For you, oh God, have not only created the cosmos, but sustain its operation. You are the sovereign one who directs the rhythm of the created order and who orchestrates human history. In your infinite wisdom, you wisely guide and direct our steps. For no challenge or difficulty surprises you! No tragedy or suffering takes you off guard! You are the wise administer of your creation, directing the cosmos in such a way that maximizes the glory of your name!
Yet, in your infinite and mysterious wisdom, you’ve chosen to set your affections on us. What is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him? Yet you have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor. You have entrusted us with this creation, and have called us to exercise dominion and authority over it. Yet, we’ve failed you time and again. Rather than stewarding the cosmos for your glory, we’ve used your creation for our own selfish ends. Rather than worship you—the one and only, invisible and true God—we’ve worshiped creation instead. We’ve constructed idols of wood and bronze, of sex and money. Our pride has inflated and our selfishness swells. Though we’ve failed you in our sin, rebelling against your holy word, you’ve sent your Son to redeem us and reconcile us back to you. For the Son of God has come to save sinners, of whom we are the worst! Though we deserve your just wrath and condemnation, you’ve diverted your anger upon your son. For Christ endured the penalty for our sins as our substitute. Lord, in light of such love and mercy, we are left without words. We do not deserve the love you’ve given to us—all of this by your amazing grace!
Yet, Christ has risen in power resurrected—the new Adam for a new human race, no longer tainted by sins dreaded curse! Father, in him, you’ve created a new humanity, cloaked in the righteousness of Christ and birthed by the power of your Spirit. You’ve given us a new heart, with new desires. You’ve given us a heart for you, that delights in you. You’ve unshackled our hearts from the slavery of our former idolatry, and now grant us freedom to walk in the light of your beloved Son! Day by day, you are renewing us into his image, and will not stop until your work of grace in our lives is completed. And on that day, when Christ returns and the trumpet sounds, in the twinkling of an eye, the perishable will put on the imperishable, and our mortal bodies will put on immortality—and we will be like him! Then, death will be swallowed up in victory, and its fatal sting removed!
Oh Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!