I was asked to lead last Sunday’s congregational prayer in one of our church’s services. Congregational prayers in church usually have a tendency to turn into a laundry list of publicly listed prayer requests. Personally, I am not comfortable with that.
While praying as one body for the publicly communicated needs of specific congregants is not necessarily a bad thing, I don’t think the middle of the worship service is the proper venue for it. We have the in-between-Sundays to build congregational solidarity. On top of that, congregants may get used to listening to a congregational prayer just to update themselves on what’s happening to others, especially those from the services held in other time slots. I should know, I’ve treated the congregational prayer in that way for quite some time, like a newsfeed in prayer format.
If you’re reading this, then you’re most likely connected to the Net. You can Google “congregational prayer” and “pastoral prayer” to have an idea of what people think a congregational prayer should be about.
Personally, I think that first and foremost, the congregational prayer is an act of corporate worship. We talk to God as one body, and receive from God as one body.
As with many teachings on prayer, the congregational prayer may contain any of the A.C.T.S.’s (Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, and Supplication). Yet the manner in which this is done is supposed to highlight the Object of worship, and His relationship to the unified local body of believers. Thus, I would personally refrain from mentioning individual “prayer requests”, if asked to lead the congregation in prayer.
That being said, I spent a few
hours days trying to discern for myself what a congregational prayer should be like. I wanted to hear God first, discern what He is telling the church to be and do. What about God’s character and person do we need to be reminded of? I tried to place myself in the shoes of the congregants – who were mostly students and young adults. What were the current event in our context, and how were these affecting us? What were the inner cries of the hearts of these individuals?
The prayer had to be specific to our context, but at the same time, not too personal as to reflect one person’s views rather than the body’s. It had to be dead-honest, for we can hide nothing from God, but still had to be worded in such a way that worships God properly. Lastly, the prayer had to be prompted by the Spirit, and not a mere creation of a human mind. The Old Testament is filled with many congregational prayers (Solomon’s prayer of dedication, David’s prayer, the Levites’ prayer in Nehemiah), often at important junctions in the life of God’s chosen people. They were all elegant, yet raw, honest, and powerful. They all showed God for who He was, and the people for who they were and what they lacked. Each word stirred up something in the hearers – worship and contrition, joy and sorrow, jubilation and thanksgiving.
To lead the congregation in prayer is to pastor each heart into the presence of God. Each word must contribute to that. I know that it would not be good if I just did another impromptu with just outlines. Each word that would come out of my mouth should usher the hearers closer to God. On the other hand, I had to remind myself that there’s also the danger of just making a prayer to “perform” up front, in the same way that song leaders bring glory to themselves rather than God while singing “praise and worship songs.” Upon realizing that, I panicked. I said yes to a responsibility that must not be taken lightly. And so, I prayed to God to help me write down a prayer. Ironic. This attempt is crude, but this is what I ended up with:
O God, the God who made the heavens,
You are forever faithful and true,
Matchless in holiness and worth
The embodiment of justice and love,
Wellspring of life and all good things,
Bringer of rain to both the righteous and the unrighteous.
We, your people come before you in humble worship. A collection of broken spirits hanging by Your thread of grace. As a body we confess our shortcomings. Forgive us Lord –
For evil thoughts that crossed our minds – covetousness, lust, contempt, malice
For harboring these thoughts in our hearts,
For carrying out these thoughts into actions…
For good works imagined but not done
For ignoring the Spirit’s prompting to action
For words that wounded others
For affirmations and prayers left unsaid
For time wasted in the worries and cares of this world
For faithlessness and unbelief that manifest themselves in all ways imaginable
For all the ways we have been selfish,
For the dishonesty and inconsistency in our lives,
For all the masks we put on as we face others,
For all the ways we dishonored your name.
As one people we acknowledge our sins before you, with full contrition and repentance, without excuses. Pour out, pour out, O God, mercy and grace from your throne.
We cannot thank you enough, O Lord, for the gift of life, in body and in Spirit.
In you we live, and move, and have our being.
Indeed, you are the source of every good thing which we do not rightfully deserve.
We thank you for your provisions – food, finances, family, and friends.
For the supply of faith to trust in you.
For the continuously outpouring grace.
For your power at work in our lives as we live out your commandments
For your love that embraces, enables, and empowers.
Instill in our hearts the desire to know you and do your will,
Flood our minds with thoughts that please you,
Permeate our hearts with godly desires
Turn our hands into conduits of grace
Plant our feet on solid rock
Cover us in your full armor
Enable us to see the world through your eyes,
As we face another week of trials and temptations and petty distractions
Of work and requirements that need to be accomplished
Of battles against the self – the flesh and this world
Of opportunities that may never come again.
Father, sanctify your church
Mold us O Lord, into a true spirtual community,
Where we are free to be broken, vulnerable, unmasked and unafraid
Where acceptance, love and restoration trumps gossip and judgment and condemnation
Where the life of Christ is poured out onto the darkest crevasses of our souls.
Where we can truly be brothers and sisters to each other.
O Lord, may you bring healing to the afflicted among us.
May you comfort those who are downcast and grieving
May you strengthen those who are about to give up
May those of us who labor for your Kingdom feel your presence
May those of us who suffer for your sake feel the warmth of your fellowship
Protect us from the schemes of the Evil one.
Allow us to act wisely in all situations.
Enable us to entrust everything to you in full humility.
Remind us that you are on your throne, and fully in control of everything that’s happening around us.
O Lord, our hope is in you.
Your Word will never fail.
May you receive the worship of your people.