Prayer is an important part of every public service. A modern congregation of any size would not think of engaging in any form ot worship without an opening public prayer to invoke the Lord's blessings upon what is to be done and said. But there is danger of this prayer becoming a mere form or otherwise failing to fulfill its divine purpose.
The prayer recorded in Matthew 6:9-13, and given by Christ in answer to the request of His disciples, "Lord, teach us to pray," is the "sample prayer" for public worship. The use of "our" and "us" indicates that it was designed for public use. In a public prayer one person is chosen to speak for all present. He is the mouthpiece of all, and his requests should not be of a private or individual nature. They should deal with the general needs of the congregation, the things desired or needed by all present. "Our" and "us" indicate that such prayers are offered in behalf of those present, and "this day" shows that they are to meet a present need. The people have come together to receive a present blessing and the public prayer should not envelop the world, embrace all humanity, reach back too far into the past, or forward into the future. It should center on those present and the purpose of their coming together.
This is in harmony with the instruction given through the Spirit of prophecy : "We should not come to the house of God to make that a place to pray for our families. . . . The proper place for us to pray for our families is at the family altar. 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, our prayers should be for a present blessing."—Spiritual Gifts, vol. 4, part 2, p. 31.
Since the person who prays in public is the spokesman for all present, it is his duty to so pray that all present can hear what he says to God in their behalf. The voice must be "lifted up" and made audible to all, so they can manifest their ap-provals with silent or audible amens. "Let those who pray and those who speak pronounce their -words properly, and speak in clear, distinct, even tones. . . . Satan rejoices when the prayers offered to God are almost inaudible. . . . Let the testimonies borne and the prayers offered be clear and distinct."—Gospel Workers, p. 88.
The model public prayer is very short. It can be prayed slowly in one minute and yet its petitions embrace everything needed by any congregation, and, in fact, by all mankind. Most public prayers are entirely too long. Most of them should be cut in two, and many of them should be tithed. Usually those who pray the least in secret offer the longest prayers in public. "Ye have wearied the Lord with your words" (Mal. 2:17), is the Lord's charge against all who offer long, dry public prayers. Much counsel has been given us on this point, but it has not been heeded.
"When you pray, be brief, come right to the point. Do not preach the Lord a sermon in your long prayers. . . . 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. 5, p. 201.
Of some ministers it is said that "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 to the closet, if any have such to offer. Let the Spirit of God into your hearts, and it will sweep away all dry formality."—Ibid., vol. 4. p. 71. Speaking of the sample public prayer given by Christ, the Lord's messenger wrote:
"Christ impressed upon His disciples the idea that their prayers should be short, expressing just what they wanted, and no more. He gives the length and substance of their prayers. . .How comprehensive this sample prayer! It covers the actual need of all. One or two minutes is long enough for an ordinary prayer. . . . But many offer prayer in a dry, sermonizing manner. These pray to men, not to God. . . . All such prayers are as sounding brass and a tinkling cymbal. They are made no account of in heaven. Angels of God are wearied with them, as well as mortals who are compelled to listen to them."—/bid., vol. 2, pp. 581, 582. (Italics mine.)
"All should feel it a Christian duty to pray short. Tell the Lord just what you want, without going all over the world. In private prayer, all have the privilege of praying as long as they desire, and of being as explicit as they please. They can pray for all their relatives and friends. The closet is the place to tell all their private difficulties, and trials, and temptations. A common meeting to worship God is not the place to open the privacies of the heart."—Ibid., p. 578.
These are samples of scores of statements emphasizing the importance of following in length and substance the ideal public prayer. The person who does the praying seldom realizes how long his prayer is. If he timed his public prayers he would probably receive a shock. Occasionally a person hears an ideal public prayer indicating that the instruction on this point has been read and accepted and put into practice. However, this is the exception rather than the rule. Many of our leaders are the worst transgressors. Christ's modern disciples need to repeat to Him the request, "Lord, teach us to pray," and then read and obey the instructions He has given.