THE MATTER OF METHOD
As we enter upon a new volume, and the statement will not be construed as alluding to any particular article, it is desirable to state clearly that the discussions of method appearing in this section from month to month are not presented as having some special official approval. They are not recorded with the thought that all shall adopt them. Rather, they are the candid and helpful recitals of how various men are grappling their problems. The Ministry came into being with one of its understood objectives the provision of a forum, or clearing house, wherein workers could frankly exchange experiences, convictions, and suggestions on methods. Through this expression will come such strength, modification, and change as will improve our work as a whole. We venture to repeat here a principle often iterated in these columns: In methods of work there is no one best way. Let each find and use the plan best suited to his personality and gifts, and to the circumstances under which he works. So come on with your suggestions and experiences for the benefit of all. Editors.
BY TAYLOR G. BUNCH
The Scriptures and the example of Christ furnish authority for much secret prayer, but very little in comparison for public prayer. The sermon on the mount was preceded by an entire night of secret prayer, but there is no record that Jesus offered a public prayer either at the beginning or at the close of that epochal discourse. In fact, the New Testament is silent regarding public invocations in connection with any of Christ's discourses. It is true that Jesus closed His farewell talk to the disciples in the upper room with the memorable prayer of John 17; but that was not a public prayer, even though doubtless prayed in the presence of the disciples.
No doubt Jesus did offer public prayers; otherwise He would not have authorized them by giving an appropriate prayer for public worship. But He gave what is commonly known as "the Lord's prayer" after warning His disciples against the public prayers of the scribes and Pharisees.
"When thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou halt shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly. But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking. Be not ye therefore like unto them: for your Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask Him. After this manner therefore pray ye: Our Father which art in heaven," etc. Matt 6:5-13.
The prayers of the "hypocrites" and the "heathen" were condemned by Jesus for three reasons: First, because they were offered in prominent public places "to be seen of men;" second, because of the constant repetition of set words and phrases, which He called "vain repetitions;" third, because of the many and long prayers offered, which Jesus called "much speaking." Their prayers were formal, numerous, and long, and therefore not acceptable to God.
The Lord's prayer is the ideal public invocation in both length and content. The man slow of speech can pray it in thirty seconds. We are instructed to make our public prayers very short.
"When you pray, be brief, come right to the point. Do not preach the Lord a sermon in your long prayers." —"Testimonies," Vol. V, p. 201.
"Those who are most superficial generally have the most to say. Their prayers are long and mechanical. They weary the angels and the people who listen to them. Our prayers should be short and right to the point. Let the long, tiresome petitions be left for the closet, if any have such to offer. Let the Spirit of God into your hearts, and it will sweep away all dry formality."—/d., Vol. IV, pp. 70, 71.
The ideal prayer uses the name of the Lord but once, and that in the opening sentence or salutation. We are warned against bringing the sacred name of the Almighty down to the level of the common by too much repetition. It is not at all uncommon for the name of the Lord to be used from fifteen to twenty-five times during a single public prayer.
"The repetition of set, customary phrases, when the heart feels no need of God, is of the same character as the 'vain repetitions' of the heathen." —"3fount of Blessing," p. 129.
"By the thoughtless mention of God in common conversation, by appeals to Him in trivial matters, and by the frequent and thoughtless repetition of His name, we dishonor Him."—"Patriarchs and Prophets," pp. 306, 307.
"Give us this day," indicates that the purpose of a public prayer is to ask for the blessings needed for the present, and not to deal with a regrettable past or an unknown and uncertain future. "Our" and "us" indicate that the public petition should be made in behalf of those present, and should not embrace the whole world, and subjects and needs in distant places. Nor should it include personal and family needs. The one chosen to offer prayer is the spokesman for the entire congregation, and should always use the pronouns "our" and "us," and never "I," "me," or "my," nor even "they" and "them."
"The prayers offered by ministers previous to their discourses, are frequently long and inappropriate. They embrace a whole round of subjects that have no reference to the necessities of the occasion or the wants of the people. Such prayers are suitable for the closet, but should not be offered in public. The hearers become weary, and long for the minister to close."— "Testimonies," Vol. V, p. 201.
"We should not come to the house of God to pray for our families. . . . When the subjects of our prayers are at a distance, the closet is the proper place to plead with God for them. When in the house of God, we should pray for a present blessing."—Id., Vol. I pp. 145, 146.
In the Lord's prayer there are no vain repetitions. It is possible to repeat set and pet phrases so often in a prayer that it becomes but little better than a written prayer committed to memory. The "much speaking" and "vain repetitions" doubtless include, also, the offering of too many prayers in connection with a public service, unless it be a prayer meeting, where all the petitions are centered on one great need.
In the light of the Scriptures, the example of Christ, and the instruction given us through the Spirit of prophecy, are we justified in having so many prayers in behalf of so many different objects in connection with our Sabbath services? It is not at all unusual for from six to ten prayers to be offered during the Sabbath school and church service. Has not the time come for a reformation in regard to public prayer? Should we not greatly simplify our services, and reduce the number and length of our public petitions? At the same time let us by precept and example endeavor to lead our people to the secret chamber to tarry long with our heavenly Father, who sees and hears in secret and rewards openly.
Loma Linda, Calif.