"Lord, Teach Us to Pray"

Prayer is an important element of our religious life

To attend Dr. Dinsdale Young's church in London was to enter into a real worship experience. He was a powerful Methodist preacher with a magnificent voice and a magnetic personality. The church is in a strategic center in the very heart of the great West End of London. It is just opposite Westminster Abbey. Dr. Young has since passed to his rest, but he certainly gave the impression of being a true champion of the cause of Christ. How he loved the gospel! He was a Puritan in outlook and training. But even more impressive than his preaching were his prayers.

Those pastoral prayers were truly a moving experience. They were not short; we might even condemn them because they sometimes lengthened into six or even eight minutes. But there was a power in those prayers that made one absolutely un conscious of the passage of time. He seemed to take upon his great heart the needs of the whole community. The church, as I have mentioned, is right across from the Abbey, and alongside the building was a hospital. Around the corner is No. 10 Downing Street, the residence of the prime minister. Behind the Abbey are the great Houses of Parliament. Down the street is the Home Office, where the interests of a great empire are served. Behind the church are the busy trading centers of the West End, with all the department stores and the haste and hurry of congested centers such as Piccadilly Circus, Leicester Square, Trafalgar Square, the Strand, et cetera.

A Pastor's Prayer

Into this church poured thousands of worshipers who seemed to feel that this man was indeed their shepherd. After the hymns and the Scripture reading, that rugged but polished Puritan preacher would in his thoughtful pastoral prayer lift his congregation into the very presence of God. I have wept more than once as I have poured out my own soul in his prayer.

In an unhurried way, in just one sentence he would pray for the sufferers in the hospital, the children with broken limbs, the mothers with broken hearts. He would pray for the multitude of sight-seers coming to the Abbey (Westminster Abbey, as you know, is as much a museum as it is a church), and would plead that their hearts might be touched and turned to the living God. Then he would pray for the prime minister and the Cabinet officers, the government whose great ramifications reach to the ends of the earth. Then his thoughts would move out over the world; he would pray for the other nations, for their leaders, sometimes mentioning them by name, but always most reverently. He would pray for the great cause of missions in primitive lands. He would take in the needs of the city the transportation attendants, the schoolteachers, the homeless children. And as he spoke you felt your own heart linked with his.

Then he would come back to the congregation and say something like this: "And now, Lord, here are Thy people. Oh, how poor we are! Help us to sense that Thou art here with us. There is a widow here today, Lord. Her heart is breaking. Comfort her. And there is a man here who is meeting a crisis in his business. Lord, remember him." His mentioning these familiar inci dents revealed that he was a shepherd who knew his sheep. What he said may have touched fifty other people while he was praying for that one. It was all so unhurried and yet all so moving. That great, godly man seemed to lift the whole congregation into the presence of God.

As he closed his prayer he would perhaps say: "And now, Lord, with the eye of faith we see Jesus at the throne of grace, His hands pierced, His side wounded; it is in His virtues we present ourselves to Thee. His forgiving love has covered our sins, and we are dressed anew in His righteousness. Help us, then, to magnify His Word today." As he closed, everybody's mind was solemnly focused on Jesus, and then with quiet dignity he would say, "Amen, and amen!" Nobody wanted to move. All were hushed into reverent silence. Quietly they would either resume their seats, or if they were sitting, they would lean back again. But everybody would heave a quiet sigh of spiritual satisfaction. Nobody wanted to do anything for a moment.

Then he would change the atmosphere by saying, "Now let us magnify the Lord as we sing ." Nothing was ever hurried about his meetings, but the great crowd would stand to praise the Lord as seeing Him who is invisible. It was worship at its best. True, it was on the wrong day, but it was in the right spirit!

The Pastoral Prayer

No part of the worship service is so important as the pastoral prayer, and yet too often it seems to be regarded as a very ordinary performance. To pray in the Spirit requires more than the ability to fit a few worn-out phrases together. Jesus said, "When thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and ... shut thy door." The Master was not defining a physical act, nor was He concerned merely with the place of prayer. But His command implies an attitude. To pray in the Spirit on behalf of the congregation demands a concentration of mind and soul so complete that the door is indeed shut to all else but the Father. When one is talking to God his words must flow from a heart radiant with a sense of divine love. Moreover, he must bear on his heart the needs of the congregation, for it is on their behalf he is speaking.

"To carry a congregation to the throne of grace is one of the most taxing of all labors to any man who realizes what public worship really is," declares Charles Jefferson. And Henry Ward Beecher emphasizes the same truth in these sobering words:

"Hundreds of times as I rose to pray and glanced at the congregation, I could not keep back the tears. There came to my mind such a sense of their wants, there were so many hidden sorrows, so many weights and burdens, so many doubts and dangers, so many states of weakness! I had such a sense of compassion for them, that it seemed to me as if I could hardly open my mouth to speak. When I take my people and carry them before God to plead for them . . . there is no time that Jesus is so crowned with glory, no time when I get so far into heaven as then. I forget the body, I live in the spirit. It seems as if God permitted me to lay my hand on the very Tree of Life and shake down from it both leaves and fruit for the healing of my people." Quoted in The Art of Preaching by Charles R. Brown, p. 216.

Are we educating ourselves and our elders to pray like that? These ministers did not have our message, but they did have a sense of the sacredness of their service that we could wish might possess us all. We may speak glibly about "finishing the work," but to really finish our task we need more than slogans, organization, and promotion. We need a Spirit-filled ministry.

God is waiting, not for the passage of time, but for the leaders of His people to take hold of His power. And prayer is in the hand of faith the key to our every problem.

"Lord, teach us to pray."

 

 


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May 1952

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