Pastoral Prayer as Worship

Pastoral Prayer as Worship

In our attempt to be more efficient and due to our commitment to the clock, we often trim things from the services that should be guarded and insert things that have no place in the worship service.  At least, that’s my personal opinion as I survey church worship services while traveling and reevaluate our own worship service back home.  When trimming things from your own worship service in order to become more efficient, could I make one plea?  Don’t take away the pastoral prayer.

I’ve witnessed people in the church become angry because someone moved a particular piece of church furniture or because a guest unknowingly sat in their typical seat on Sunday.  I know how this looks and feels from the perspective of a pastor, but I’d like to put out a request to guard the pastoral prayer and keep it secure in the life of the weekly worship service.  In fact, an argument could be made that we don’t need less praying—if anything, we need more praying in our worship.

Defining the Pastoral Prayer

To pray is to communicate with God, but there are different types of prayer.  There is a time and place for private prayer, family prayer, and corporate prayer with the church.  In Geneva back in the sixteenth-century, John Calvin led his church to incorporate the invocation, a prayer of confession, prayers of illumination (before and after the sermon), and a pastoral prayer.  These public prayer times in the life of the church are important.  For the sake of this article, we will focus on the pastoral prayer.

The pastoral prayer is the moment in which the pastor leads the people before the throne of grace, and seeks to prepare the congregation for worship.  A working definition of the pastoral prayer is as follows:

The public and intentional prayer led by the pastor-teacher in effort to praise our Trinitarian God, intercede for the church’s sin, and a public petition for the church’s immediate needs.

This intentional time of worship in prayer should be well thought out, prepared beforehand, and it should avoid the use of filler words, repetitive phrases, cliches, and “spiritual” sounding vocabulary.

Important Elements of the Pastoral Prayer

A pastoral prayer must be pastoral.  It should go without saying, but a responsibility to pray for the people and to lead the church in prayer is something that should be carried out with respect, humility, and responsibility.  D. A. Carson writes:

In the last century the great English preacher Charles Spurgeon did not mind sharing his pulpit:  others sometimes preached in his home church even when he was present.  But when it came to the “pastoral prayer,” if he was present, he reserved that part of the service for himself.  This decision did not arise out of any priestly conviction that his prayers were more efficacious than others.  Rather, it arose from his love for his people, his high view of prayer, his conviction that public prayer should not only intercede with God but also instruct and edify and encourage the saints. [1]

From that statement, I take the following list of elements:

  1. Pastoral Sensitivity and Affection
  2. Intercession
  3. Instruction
  4. Edification
  5. Encouragement

To pray well is a constant battle for the Christian, and to pray in public well takes time and specific intentionality.  The pastor who offers the pastoral prayer must be careful not to ramble and to fill up the prayer with filler words.  In English class back in high school we often used filler words to meet the minimum length of the assigned paper.  When praying, and especially praying in public, we need to refrain from such practices.  George Muller once wrote the following, “Our prayer meetings have been a blessing to us and united us more than ever in the work.” [2]  He wasn’t writing about the public prayer meeting or the pastoral prayer, but Muller understood the importance of prayer and he led his orphan ministry to the throne of grace daily.  It’s one thing for a pastor to preach well, but if he is not leading the church to the throne in prayer, his preaching will likely fall on deaf ears.


  1. D. A. Carson, A Call to Spiritual Reformation: Priorities from Paul and His prayers, (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 1992), 34-35.
  2. George Muller, The Autobiography of George Muller, (New Kensington, PA, Whitaker House, 1984), 127.

Prayer . . . For the Purpose of Godliness

Prayer . . . For the Purpose of Godliness

This summer, we are reading Don Whitney’s book Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life together.  With certain goals for us as individuals, we all desire to grow in grace and personal holiness.  The purpose of this study is to help us make necessary adjustments in our spiritual lives that will enable us to achieve such goals by incorporating the use of spiritual disciplines.

In the previous two chapters, Don Whitney made the point that the most important of the spiritual disciplines is Bible intake.  In this chapter (chapter 4), he takes a good look at the discipline of prayer.  In the opening words of this chapter, Don Whitney writes, “Despite the penultimate importance of prayer, however, statistical surveys and experience seem to agree that a large percentage of professing Christians spend little time in sustained prayer” (79).

Prayer Is Expected

Jesus expects His children to pray.  This point is made abundantly clear as Whitney cites several passages (Matt. 6:5, 6, 7, 9; Luke 11:9; Luke 18:1).   He goes on to suggest that Jesus’ words in the Bible are personal expectations for us as His children.  Not only does Jesus expect us to pray, but the totality of God’s Word makes it clear that followers of Christ are to be praying people.

  • Colossians 4:2 – Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving.
  • 1 Thessalonians 5:17 – Pray without ceasing.

Don Whitney writes, “When our awareness of the greatness of God and the gospel is dim, our prayer lives will be small.”  These words are true and helpful as we consider the foundational reasons behind the prayerlessness that plagues a large percentage of God’s people.

Prayer Is Learned

Just as Whitney pointed to poor methods that prevent people from memorizing the Bible, in like manner, he makes the claim that that people are not praying more is based on the fact that they’ve never been taught to pray.  Don Whitney writes, “If you’ve ever learned a foreign language, you know that you learn it best when you actually have to speak it” (85).  He does a good job of pressing the point that we must learn to pray.  The best way to do this is by consistent practice.

Whitney goes to the Puritans and provides several good quotations to demonstrate the need to meditate upon the Scriptures as a good way of praying through God’s Word.  He quotes William Bridge who said, “Reading without meditation is unfruitful; meditation without reading is hurtful; to meditate and to read without prayer upon both, is without blessing” (88).

Prayer Is Answered

Not only are we called to pray and to learn to pray better, but we are to trust God by faith to answer our prayers.  Psalm 65:2 says, “O you who hear prayer.”  What did Jesus teach us in Matthew 7:7-8?  The point is clear, God answers prayer.  This is not only a great comfort to our souls, but a true blessing to God’s children.  God wants us to pray and God desires to answer His people who pray.

Catch up in this series:

Opening Article
Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3

Questions to Consider:

  1.  Because prayer is expected, will you pray?
  2. Since prayer is learned, will you learn to pray?
  3. Since prayer is answered, will you persistently pray?

J.C. Ryle once said:

What is the reason that some believers are so much brighter and holier than others?  I believe the difference, in nineteen cases out of twenty, arises from different habits about private prayer.  I believe that those who are not eminently holy pray little, and those who are eminently holy pray much (98).

Next Week: Next week, we will turn to chapter 5 and look at the subject of worship. Read ahead and think through the content of that chapter, and we will gather here next week to discuss what we’re learning.

Discussion: Post your comments, thoughts, and questions in the comments section. I will engage with you at times, but the purpose is to allow everyone to have a conversation regarding what we are learning and considering through this book. I do hope you will be encouraged.

 

Thoughts on Thoughts and Prayers

Thoughts on Thoughts and Prayers

My thoughts and prayers are with you.  This is a very common phrase that we hear from friends, see on social media, and hear spoken by politicians.  What exactly does that mean?  Recently, following the San Bernardino shooting, President Obama said, “My thoughts and prayers are with the families of the victims in San Bernardino.”  Exactly what does this mean?

In the wake of the shooting, the New York Daily News critiqued political candidates for tweeting statements about their “thoughts and prayers” suggesting in their opening line, “Prayer isn’t working.”  It’s quite clear that our culture is confused about the subject of prayer.  Some believe prayer is a waste of time.  Others believe prayer is to be treated like a rabbit’s foot for good fortune.  Still others “send” prayers to people rather than to God.

Those who mock God and claim that prayer is a waste of time should remember that God will not be mocked.  Everyone who blasphemes His name and ridicules those who pray to Him will one day be brought to humility.  The Scripture says that every knee will bow to Jesus one day and every tongue will confess that He is Lord (Philippians 2:5-11).

My concern with this issue is centered upon the professing Christian who is sending prayers to people rather than to God.  Stop sending prayers to people, it’s a waste of time.  Below I’ve included biblical reasons why we should direct our prayers to God rather than to people.

  • Jesus provided us a sufficient model in the Lord’s prayer (Matt. 6:5-14).
  • Prayer is communication to God, not a good luck charm or for good vibes (1 Sam. 2:1).
  • Prayer is dependency upon the sovereignty of God, not on prayer itself (2 Chron. 6:40; Neh. 1:6).
  • Prayer is not a public practice first, it’s designed to be a private practice that occasionally becomes public (Matt. 6:7-9).

Jesus was not against praying in public, but He certainly stood in opposition to shallow and empty prayers that were made in public to the eyes and ears of men rather than to God.  James Montgomery Boice, in his commentary on the Sermon on the Mount, stated:

I believe that not one prayer in a hundred of those that fill our churches on a Sunday morning is actually made to Almighty God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. They are made to men or to the praying one himself, and that includes the prayers of preachers as well as those of the members of the congregation. [1]

In both national and personal tragedies, we will likely read and hear statements such as:

  • Sending prayers now.
  • Sending prayers your way.
  • My thoughts are with you.
  • My thoughts and prayers are with you.

Certainly many people have good intentions in what they mean by such comments in a Facebook post where you are requesting prayer, but in many cases, it reveals that we simply don’t know the purpose of prayer.  If prayer, by it’s very purpose, is to communicate to God and cast our dependency upon His divine sovereignty, shouldn’t our posture and our language reveal that?  Charles Spurgeon once said, “Prayer girds human weakness with divine strength, turns human folly into heavenly wisdom, and gives to troubled mortals the peace of God. We know not what prayer can do.”

We must learn to pray, and in order to do so we must read the Bible and develop a proper understanding of prayer.  George Muller, in his autobiography, provided a good warning for us to consider:

In every good work, we must depend on the Lord. If anyone rises so that he may give the time which he takes from sleep to prayer and meditation, let him be sure that Satan will try to put obstacles in the way. [2]

Thinking about people in times of tragedy is a good thing.  Praying for them is better.  Sending thoughts and prayers to them is impossible outside of a written thought or prayer e-mailed or sent in letter form to their mailbox.  We all need to learn to talk to God on behalf of ourselves and on behalf of others.  Prayer is not a means of us getting better luck.  Prayer is ultimately about the glory of God.


  1. James Montgomery Boice, The Sermon on the Mount (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1972), 185.
  2. George Muller, The Autobiography of George Muller, (Whitaker House Publications, 1984), 119.

Prayer Renewal

Prayer Renewal

When this post publishes, I will be on the beach with my family for our annual week long beach party vacation.  We enjoy many things while on vacation such as food, swimming, waves, sand castle building, kayaking, and a host of other activities.  However, one thing that I’ve found time to do on vacation while sitting on the beach and enjoying the sun, sand, and surf is to focus on prayer.

Several years ago, while walking on the beach, I discovered a mailbox on a remote section of the beach with letters to God inside.  Apparently, locals and tourists frequent this mailbox in the early hours of the morning and leave notes to God.  I couldn’t help myself.  I read several letters on paper and scribbled on seashells.  As I read these letters, it became apparent that people desire a personal connection with God – the One who created the massive ocean that’s merely feet away.

One thing that Christians do very well is neglect prayer.  We are good about church attendance, singing, and other noticeable aspects of the Christian life, but since prayer is private and intimate, we often neglect it.  If you’re like me, even as a pastor it’s easy to crowd out prayer in the busy seasons of life.

Prayer is our direct vein of communication that we have from the dust of earth to the throne of heaven, and we still neglect it.  The early church was characterized by prayer.  That’s apparent from Acts.  In fact, James, the half brother of Jesus and author of the epistle of James in the New Testament was known as “Camel Knees” by many of his friends because he spent so much time on his knees praying.  It was Martyn Lloyd-Jones who once said, “Man is at his greatest and highest when on his knees he comes face to face to God.”

Consider the following:

  • We have access to the throne of God by the blood of Jesus (Hebrews 4:16).
  • Jesus has given us specific directions regarding prayer (Matthew 6:5-13).
  • Jesus often was seen going up on the mountain to get alone with the Father.
  • Confession of sin is necessary for ongoing sanctification (1 John 1:9).
  • Many of the Psalms are prayers to God from a heart of distress and a heart of joy.
  • Private prayer and intimate time with the Lord is commanded (Matthew 6:5-6).
  • We are to pray for one another (James 5:16).
  • Pray for your pastors (Hebrews 13:17-18).

James Montgomery Boice abandoned his optimism that he was known for on one occasion when he told his congregation:

I believe that not one prayer in a hundred of those that fill our churches on a Sunday morning is actually made to Almighty God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. They are made to men or to the praying one himself, and that includes the prayers of preachers as well as those of the members of the congregation. [1]

When it comes time to load the van for your annual trip to your family’s “happy place” this summer, it may be a good idea to spend some time thinking, pondering, reflecting, and planning your prayer life.  I find that driving long distances helps me think.  Upon arrival, take time to walk on the sand early in the morning as the sun rises and talk to God.  Those intimate moments will often spark a more committed prayer life upon your return home.  If we neglect something in life, we must labor to make sure it isn’t prayer.


[1] R. Kent Hughes, The Sermon on the Mount: The Message of the Kingdom, Preaching the Word (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2001), 150.

The Purpose of Prayer

The Purpose of Prayer

This morning at 4:30am, my phone rang.  It was my mother.  She was calling to inform me that my grandmother was hospitalized in the middle of the night.  She was calling to ask me to pray.

What is the purpose of prayer?  Isn’t God in control of all things?  Why do we, as weak humans need to pray?  Does God really hear us praying to Him?  How is that even possible when potentially millions of people are praying at the same time around the world?  All of these questions are worthy of a response.  However, let’s consider the subject of prayer from two main vantage points – the privilege and purpose of prayer.

The Privilege of Prayer

In ancient times, to go before a king would be a privileged opportunity of a lifetime.  Many people would live their entire lives without having the privilege to speak to the king or to stand before his throne.  As we look back at Esther, she revealed to us the point that if a person was not summoned to stand before the king, to just enter into his presence unannounced would be a death sentence (Esther 4:10-11).

As we survey the worship practices of Israel in the Old Testament, we see that God provided the people with specific instructions regarding the construction of the mobile tabernacle.  The book of Exodus contains the detailed instructions of this tent-like structure that was used for the purpose of worship.  God desired for His people to worship Him and to worship Him in a specific manner.  However, as we look at the tabernacle, it’s obvious that certain restrictions and boundaries were set in place.  Only the Levite priests were called to enter the holy place to carry out the rituals of their worship practice and interact with the furniture that was inside.  Behind the second veil was the most holy place and that’s where the Ark of the Covenant was located.  Only the high priest could enter there into the direct presence of God and this was only on the day of atonement – Yom Kippur.  All of Israel had to stand back from the presence of God.

After Jesus’ death on the cross, the temple veil was ripped in half (from top to bottom).  Obviously God tore the veil and made a statement in the process.  We have access to enter the presence of God through Jesus Christ.  This is what the writer to the Hebrews explained in Hebrews 10:19-22:

Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, [20] by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, [21] and since we have a great priest over the house of God, [22] let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.

We can now enter the holy places with confidence by the blood of Jesus.  Jesus has opened for us the curtain – through his own flesh.  What would have been a death sentence to rush before the presence of God in the holy of holies is now a privilege that God has granted to His children.  It’s not that we must pray or that we have to pray.  The right attitude towards prayer is that we are privileged to pray.

The Purpose of Prayer

God doesn’t need us.  Sometimes we get the wrong picture of God.  He is self-existent and self-reliant.  He doesn’t get board and He doesn’t need companions or friends.  He created humanity and all of the expanse of the universe simply for His glory.  Therefore, when we pray, we aren’t informing God of anything.  He doesn’t need to read the USA Today or New York Times.  God possesses perfect knowledge at all times – without depending on the newsfeed from any Apple device.  So, what’s the point of prayer?

The main foundation of prayer is to demonstrate our need for God.  Simply put – we are needy people and our greatest need is not air to breathe or food to eat.  Our greatest need in this life and the life to come is God.  In one of his sermons on prayer, D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones said, “Man is at his greatest and highest when on his knees he comes face to face to God.”

The right posture of prayer is humility as we consider the transcendence of God and His sovereign control over our small brief life.  Wayne Grudem, in his Systematic Theology, defines prayer by saying, “Prayer is personal communication with God.”  While this is a rather broad definition, it’s true.  We communicate with God and this communication involves praise, needs, worship, and confession of sin.  John Bunyan, the puritan preacher from England, wrote I Will Pray With the Spirit and With the Understanding Also- or, A discourse touching prayer while he was in prison in 1662.  He defines prayer as follows:

“Prayer is a sincere, sensible, affectionate pouring out of the heart or soul to God, through Christ, in the strength and assistance of the Holy Spirit, for such things as God has promised, or according to the Word of God, for the good of the church, with submission in faith to the will of God.”

 As we consider the big picture of life, we immediately come to realize that we can’t meet the multifaceted needs of our world.  We can’t even meet the diverse needs of our own small life.  In prayer, we beseech the throne of God in humility and confidence to ask for His will to be done.  We ask for the need to be met.  We pray in the early hours of the morning for our church family.  As I prayed for my grandmother this morning, I’m trusting in my sovereign God to heal her body and restore her health.  I can’t do that.  I need God.

We need God, therefore we pray.  As we continue through life, we must avoid the idea that we need Apple devices more than we need God.  A person who doesn’t pray is saying – “God – I don’t need you.” May we all avoid such self reliance.  When you and I battle with prayer and what to say as we pray, turn to Psalm 73:25-26 and start off your prayer with this text:

Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you. [26] My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.

 

A Prayer for Our Church:  by John Piper

A Prayer for Our Church: by John Piper

In 2000, John Piper was serving as the senior pastor for preaching and vision of the Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis.  He penned a prayer for his church as he viewed some of the needs of the congregation in that particular day.  His prayer is one that many other churches should consider praying in our present day.

“A Prayer for Our Church”

by:  John Piper

O Lord, by the truth of your Word, and the power of your Spirit and the ministry of your body, build men and women at Bethlehem . . .

    • Who don’t love the world more than God,
    • who don’t care if they make much money,
    • who don’t care if they own a house,
    • who don’t care if they have a new car or two cars,
    • who don’t need recent styles,
    • who don’t care if they get famous,
    • who don’t miss steak or fancy fare,
    • who don’t expect that life should be comfortable and easy,
    • who don’t feed their minds on TV each night,
    • who don’t measure truth with their finger in the wind,
    • who don’t get paralyzed by others’ disapproval,
    • who don’t return evil for evil,
    • who don’t hold grudges,
    • who don’t gossip,
    • who don’t twist the truth,
    • who don’t brag or boast,
    • who don’t whine or use body language to get pity,
    • who don’t criticize more than praise,
    • who don’t hang out in cliques,
    • who don’t eat too much or exercise too little;

But

  • who are ablaze for God,
  • who are utterly God-besotted,
  • who are filled with the Holy Spirit,
  • who strive to know the height and depth of Christ’s love,
  • who are crucified to the world and dead to sin,
  • who are purified by the Word and addicted to righteousness,
  • who are mighty in memorizing and using the Scriptures,
  • who keep the Lord’s Day holy and refreshing,
  • who are broken by the consciousness of sin,
  • who are thrilled by the wonder of free grace,
  • who are stunned into humble silence by the riches of God’s glory,
  • who are persevering constantly in prayer,
  • who are ruthless in self-denial,
  • who are fearless in public witness to Christ’s Lordship,
  • who are able to unmask error and blow away doctrinal haze,
  • who are tough in standing for the truth,
  • who are tender in touching hurting people,
  • who are passionate about reaching the peoples who have no church,
  • who are pro-life for the sake of babies and moms and dads and the glory of God,
  • who are keepers of all their promises, including marriage vows,
  • who are content with what they have and trusting the promises of God,
  • who are patient and kind and meek when life is hard.

Pressing for all there is in Christ,

Pastor John

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“A Prayer for Our Church” – on the Desiring God website.