“ Since then we have a great high Priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the son of God. Let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathise with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we might receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” Hebrew 4:14-16, English Standard Edition
From the Old Testament to the New Testament, it is clear that we are to come to the throne of grace and to bring our prayer requests. We have confidence to come into that presence because we have a high priest who can identify with us.
In prayer we need to prepare our hearts. In 2 Chronicles 7:14 God’s people are called upon to pray, to humbly confess their dependence upon him and have a change of heart from their wicked ways then he would hear from heaven and would heal their land.
While there is no tick list of how we should conduct corporate prayer in the Bible it is clear that it takes place. It is worth noting that the psalms of ascent were often used and sung as prayers in congregation worship. Moving into the New Testament the Dr Luke has a real emphasis upon prayer in his gospel and narrative of Acts. For in Acts we often see a united people gathered together to pray to determine God’s will and to help them in making decision in sometimes somewhat difficult situations.
Open times of prayer
In the rest of this post I want to look at the practicalities of having open time of prayer within a service. It is something which I would encourage because it is an opportunity for the congregation feel involved and express their prayers as led by the Spirit. These can really be special times in the life of your fellowship. Some pointers follow on the matter:
Presenting the prayer requests..whether you are having intercessory prayer you will need to find a way of a keeping a focus in prayers. Make sure you are up to date with the news whether it is church family news, the community or the wider world. You may want to verbalise these or put the list on powerpoint or in the church bulletin so that folks can turn to these when they are praying. It may be if you are praying about something specific like a missionary organisation or a particular initative you might want to include a video clip which will be a useful resource in aiding your prayers.
Don’t embarrass anyone: We should involve a prayer time which is relaxed and people should not feel pressurised to pray out loud if they do not feel comfortable. It may put people at ease if you explain what will happen. Eg that this open prayer time is open to anyone to pray as they feel led but there is no pressure and that you would open and then close that prayer time at an appropriate point.
Encourage people to take part: Others may feel nervous but don’t really feel they could pray out loud. One way of encouraging is to have a “thank you” prayer time having sung a worship song which are declared characteristics of God you can then ,lead folks into a prayer where we limit ourselves to one liners saying thank you God for…
Don’t allow open times of prayer to overwhelm the service. Prayer is great but we need to ensure that we have devoted time to the hearing of God’s word. Apart from that as you hear God’s Word you may find that something within the sermon provides an answer to what had been prayed about earlier in the open time of prayer.
Ensure your guests feel involved. We need to be sensitive to those who are our guests at any service. They may not know the people we are praying about and as result may feel isolated. It may be some Sundays that you might want to forgo such a time. ON the other side of the coin, you may if you discern it would be right to ask the guest if there was anything they would like mention to be prayed for on that morning or evening.
How can we involve prayer in larger congregations? If we are praying as a whole body then we need to ensure that everybody can hear so that they too can add their amen. It may be that if it is bigger place that there is a roving mike that can be passed about by stewards or sound team. It may be that it would be useful to separate into small groups of 3 or 4 to pray.
I have really appreciated these times of open prayer whether in the congregation or leading worship but personally have found them to work better where there have been small numbers. The encouraging thing is to see people who previously couldn’t pray in public being able to go from one-liners to being able to confidently pray out loud.