Public prayer is an act of divine worship just as much as the preaching of a sermon, and should be so considered. It does seem that the Christian minister should study carefully the purpose and effectiveness of public prayer. The disciples were so anxious to know what form prayer ought to take that they personally requested Jesus to teach them to pray. The model prayer which Jesus gave them has been commented upon by many writers, so it is not essential that we deal with an analysis of the prayer itself. It is the mode of prayer, the contributing factors to conducting public prayer in the pulpit, whether it be in an evangelistic series of meetings or in the church itself, that will be considered.
First of all, we should consider the proper attitude in prayer. Shall we stand, sit with bowed heads, or kneel? Have you ever at tended a Roman Catholic Church service? You find no one standing there while prayer is offered. In fact, in Latin countries, when Roman Catholic processions pass through the streets, the Roman Catholic believer will kneel on the street or on the sidewalk, wherever he may be, without regard for conditions. It is possible for us to learn something, even from Babylon. The messenger of the Lord has said:
"Both in public and in private worship, it is our privilege to bow on our knees before the Lord when we offer our petitions to Him. Jesus, our example, 'kneeled down, and prayed.' Of His disciples it is recorded that they, too, 'kneeled down, and prayed.' Paul declared, 'I bow my knees unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.' In confessing before God the sins of Israel, Ezra knelt. Daniel 'kneeled upon his knees three times a day, and prayed, and gave thanks before his God.' "—Gospel Workers, p. 178.
With the increasing membership, the erecting and furnishing of our larger churches, and the placing of pastors over larger centers of Seventh-day Adventist congregations, there is• danger of our becoming "like the nations" around us—that is, like the other denominations. Although we rejoice to see a spirit of reverence and decorum come into our divine services, at the same time we fear that there may be a tendency to go a bit to the extreme by the bringing in of a ritualism which savors of stagnating Christianity, for where form increases, spirituality decreases—"having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof."
It seems to be the custom in some of our churches now to have soft music accompany the prayer that is offered from the sacred desk. Whether this is pleasing to the Lord or not is not for me to say. Nevertheless, one wonders what the purpose is. Is it to soothe the minds of the people, the preacher, or the Lord, when the organ or piano plays softly while the minister prays for the people?' The first time that I experienced this innovation I felt a distinct unrest in my heart all through the prayer I offered, and I wished that the organist would cease his playing, and let the people listen to • the prayer instead of to the music. It seemed as though I was expected to follow the cadence of the music and thus sonorously pray to an accompaniment of music instead of unburdening my heart before the Lord in behalf of Israel.
Interestingly enough, the Bible says, "The Lord is in his holy temple: let all the earth keep silence before him." Hab. 2:2O. It also speaks of that angel that "came and stood at the altar, having .a golden censer; and there was given unto him much incense, that he should offer it with [or add it to] the prayers of all saints upon the golden altar which was before the throne. And the smoke of the in cense, which came with the prayers of the saints, ascended up before God out of the angel's hand." Rev. 8:3, 4.
Thus Jesus presents the prayers of His people before the Father. "Between the cherubim was a golden censer, and as the prayers of the saints, offered in faith, came up to Jesus, and he presented them to His father, a cloud of fragrance arose from the incense, looking like smoke of most' beautiful colors."—Early Writings, p. 252.
Give Study to Attitudes in Prayer
Is our music offered with prayer to take the place of the incense? We trust such is not the intention. Should we not give careful study to our attitudes in prayer, and be careful not to inject anything into this precious part of the divine service that will divert the minds of the people from the words uttered at the sacred desk? The following counsel is quite applicable at this juncture:
"True reverence for God is inspired by a sense of His infinite greatness and a realization of His presence. With this sense of the Unseen, every heart should be deeply impressed. The hour and place of prayer are sacred, because God is there; and as reverence is manifested in attitude and demeanor, the feeling that inspires it will be deepened. 'Holy and reverend is His name,' the psalmist declares. Angels, when they speak that name, veil their faces. With what reverence, then, should we, who are fallen and sinful, take it upon our lips!"—Gospel Workers, p. 178.
"Let ministers and all who offer public prayer learn to pray in such a way that God will be glorified and the hearers will be blessed. Let them speak slowly and distinctly, and in tones loud enough to be heard by all, so that the people may unite in saying Amen."—Testimonies, vol. 6, p. 383.
Well may we lift up our hearts to heaven, where Jesus ministers in the presence of the Father, and say, "Teach us to pray."