I remember the first time I was really asked to word a public prayer. I was a freshman at Freed-Hardeman University and a buddy of mine was speaking at one of our nightly commons devotionals. He wanted me to pray before he spoke and so I agreed. I did not grow up in the church and so I was not accustomed to praying or even doing so in front of about 600 students. I do not remember what I said but I do remember the nervousness that shivered through my bones and hearing the sound of my voice echo through the commons made me want to throw up.
Public prayer is a daunting task for anyone asked to do it. Unfortunately I have done it so many times that I get into a bit of performance mode when I get up there but each time it still makes me feel uneasy. Most people, when they pray, seem to copy (or adapt) from the prayers they have heard in the assembly. This is perhaps why phrases like “guide, guard and direct us” have become staples in people’s prayers across the country.
So where do you start when it comes to public prayer? I have seven tips for you…
#1 – Speak up
When you get to the microphone (if there is one) get within about the length from you thumb stretched out to your pinky. Begin the prayer with a voice louder than conversational to test the microphone. One thing I always have kept in mind is that the older folks really appreciate it when you are loud and don’t tail off. I can’t tell you how many times I have sat there with my head bowed only to hear the song leader go right into a song. I must have missed the “amen.” No…they tailed off and I didn’t hear them. Speak up.
#2 – Focus on content
Hopefully you will have time to prepare but if you don’t then use the acrostic A.C.T.S. to help you out. Adoration, confession thanksgiving and supplication (requests). It also might help to look out how the biblical characters prayed and even journey through the psalms to use them in your repertoire. Consider what is occurring in the life of a congregation like big decisions, recent births or deaths and ministry milestones.
#3 – Practice makes permanent
Not perfect but permanent. Pray often at home or practice in front of a mirror. Let the overflow of your prayer life at home bleed into the public life at the assembly. We practice for work presentations, ball games, skits and a host of other things why not practice your prayer?
#4 – If you must, write it out.
I vividly remember getting into an argument with a classmate because he said that if someone writes their prayer out it seems unauthentic. I asked him, “How do I know you praying without notes is authentic?” He didn’t say much after that. I know a brother who always wrote his prayers down because he was dyslexic and wanted to make sure he said exactly what he intended. Not a bad practice. Besides, the audience is supposed to have their heads bowed and eyes closed anyways.
#5 – Remember the three S’s: short, simple and the Spirit
Remember the one in your church who gets up and prays for what seems like an eternity? Everyone does. When leading public prayer the focus is on God and not on our words so keep it short and simple. No need to use Elizabethton English or fancy theological jargon, just keep it simple and lead us in a conversation with God. Sometimes you won’t know what to say so the third “s” is Spirit and he will help you in this prayer.
#6 – You will mess up…roll with it.
You are probably going to say a tongue twister and get something messed up or freeze knowing you were supposed to mention something but you forgot. It’s ok. God’s got this and you just keep on rolling. If people laugh remember that you are up there and they are not and really they don’t have room to criticize. But it is also ok for you to laugh. I heard about a brother who got up to pray and he usually closed with, “…and father guide, guard and direct us and give us a home with thee in heaven.” But instead this brother said, “…and give us a home with thee in hell.” I was not there but if I would have said that I would have paused, laughed and thanked God for funny moments and then continue.
#7 – Visualize you standing before God.
Public prayer is not a time to sermonize, gossip, call people out or even to pray how you want to. It is an opportunity for you to go on behalf of a few hundred people and talk with God. Where you stand brother, God is in your midst and that is a beautifully frightening thing to think about. The very ground that Moses removed his sandals on is the same ground upon which you utter a few words into a microphone. That should leads us not to pride, pomp, routine, half-hardheartedness but to humility.
What did I miss?