Charles Spurgeon suggested that the pastoral prayer may be the most important element of the church’s corporate worship. That may have been a bit of hyperbole. It may even be apocryphal. But I would suggest that a time for the pastor to publicly intercede for the people he serves should figure prominently in our Lord’s Day gatherings.
Let us who serve as pastors not take for granted our times to pray publicly for those we serve. Those pastors who have a gift for extemporaneous speech may be especially susceptible to not giving much preparation or even thought to our public prayers. The time of pastoral prayer can be either "filler" between songs or a time of effectual ministry in the lives of our people. Let us take pains to ensure the later is true.
1. Know the people in your church.
Know about those who are suffering in your congregation. You will not be able to pray for every sufferer by name each Sunday. But you ought to know about those who are having surgery that week, those who have just received difficult diagnoses, and those who have lost loved ones. This means that we must know what is happening in lives of those we serve as pastor. CEO pastors will find it difficult if not impossible to pray well for their congregation.
2. Pray in the language of the baptized.
Season your prayers with biblical language and categories. I am not advocating that our prayers be comprehensible to only those with seminary degrees. Rather our prayers ought to acknowledge that the Scriptures give us a unique vocabulary. These words and doctrines indicate that we live in a kingdom that is not of this world. We all “do theology” when we pray. Be sure your prayers give your people a deeper understanding of God and his ways. Read the prayers recorded in the Bible as models. Pray for your people the way Paul prayed for the Ephesians (3:14-21).
3. Pray for healing every Lord’s Day.
If you have preached well then your people will know that the Lord does not always grant physical healing. They will know that sometimes the Lord gives endurance rather than physical wellness. But that should not make us shy about making our requests known. Let us plead compassionately for the sake of the sick in our church.
4. Pray for wayward children.
If you have more than a dozen families in your church then chances are strong that there is at least one wayward child represented. This is a source of significant pain in the lives of those who parent a prodigal. Pray for those children and their families (not by name unless the parent has requested it).
5. Pray for the other churches in your community.
Almost every Sunday I pray for those churches in our community who are still faithfully proclaiming the gospel. I pray for their continued faithfulness and fruitfulness. I pray this way not only because I believe these prayers to be effectual but because it also reminds us that we are not competing with other faithful churches. Indeed, we want to “root” for those churches.
6. Don’t use your prayer to make announcements.
You’ve heard this before: “And Lord as you know our community meal at 6:00 this evening for the low price of $5.00 for each adult and $3.00 for children under 12 will be a wonderful outreach for each of us to invite a neighbor or co-worker…” If you must, announce those sorts of things prior to praying. Also, you don’t need to inform the Lord what time and in which hospital a particular surgery is happening. Such announcements are more distracting than prayerful.
Public prayer is important enough to merit good preparation. Consider writing a manuscript. Certainly jot down some notes and carry those into the pulpit.
The following three books ought to be in the library of every pastor:
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