The words prayer and precarious are from the ecclesiastical Latin and are cognate words. A precarious situation is one in which the controllable factors have greatly diminished. Often men wait for such a situation before they pray. Consequently, prayer is defined in the minds of some as "a begging for our needs while depending upon unknown circumstances and the will of another." Actually our will is a factor in answered prayers. Jesus said, "What things soever ye desire, . . . believe . . . and ye shall have them" (Mark 11:24). This text indicates that the will of the one praying is an important factor.
The will of God is to answer our prayers, but our wills need educating and they need their horizons enlarged. It is when the will is thus re-educated and strengthened that "prayer is heaven's ordained means of success."—The Acts of the Apostles, p. 564.
Public prayer is more formal than private prayer, more organized, less personal, and shorter. It involves the worshipful attitude of the speaker, or prayer, and of the listeners, as well as the content of the prayer itself.
There are many occasions for public prayer in addition to the invocations, offertory prayers, pastoral prayers, and benedictions of the regular church service. The Sabbath school, prayer meetings, youth meetings, weddings, funerals, church dedications, the dedication of infants, patriotic assemblies, et cetera, are all occasions for public prayer. Then there are prayers for healing, prayers at family worship, and prayers in the home during pastoral visits, and at various group meetings or prayer bands. The prayers for each of these different occasiOns will have their own specific spiritual connotations.
The Purpose of Prayer
One of the main purposes of prayer is to lead us consciously into the presence of the living God. Public prayer is to provide corporate fellowship with God. This fellowship demands of us decorum, organization, reverence, consecration, and clarity of thinking.
Another purpose of prayer is to thank God for His abundant blessings. If more of our praying were an expression of gratitude to God, we would have more for which to be grateful. Thanksgiving is usually underemphasized in our praying. This fact is stressed by Ellen G. White in The Review and Herald, November 1, 1881, page 274: "Should we not oftener render thanksgiving to the Giver of all our blessings? We need to cultivate gratitude." And again in Christ's Object Lessons: "If . . . our hearts . . . go out in thanksgiving and praise to Him, we shall have a continual freshness in our religious life."—Page 129.
A further purpose for prayer is to invoke God's blessings. Unfortunately, all too frequently we assume that this part of our prayer is about the only reason for praying. Yet God does love to hear men's requests. "He [God] is well pleased when they [His people] make the very highest demands upon Him."—The Desire of Ages, p. 668.
Probably the most important purpose of prayer is to enable us to experience the joy of true fellowship in the presence of God. The supreme blessing of this corporate fellowship cannot be overestimated.
The Specific Occasion
Each prayer occasion is different and naturally must be dealt with in the manner suitable to the occasion and its particular needs. Every occasion is a time for prayer, either inwardly or audibly, privately or publicly, for "men ought always to pray" (Luke 18:1). In a special sense "every difficulty [is] a call to prayer."—Prophets and Kings, p. 31.
Impromptu prayers should not be omitted when it is not possible to make preparation; but a preparation should be made for a given prayer as one would prepare for any other part of the public worship. Even extemporaneous prayers will usually be better than impromptu prayers. The impromptu prayer is made on the spur of the moment without preparation. The extemporaneous prayer may not be put on paper, but thought can be given to its organization beforehand.
Obvionsly the one who prays must be spiritually prepared to pray. And then when he prepares, his prayer will indeed be a prayer unto God, and not merely smooth words to be heard by men.
A prayer does not have to lose its potency simply because it has been written. Hymns and Scripture are written before they are used. Are hymns and Scripture more necessary to public worship than prayer? If any one of these can be written effectively beforehand, why cannot prayers be so written?
One will object that a written prayer is too formal. If there anything wrong with organization or form in itself? Form is like a cup—in it is carried the nectar to be served. If the form, or cup, becomes more important than the nectar, then the form or cup has usurped a false use. On the other hand, the nectar might be served in a rude manner, as from a tin cup, but it would be much more enjoyable from a lovely goblet.
A prayer that borders on the too formal may be better than the prayer that is completely disorganized and rambling. The reading of printed prayers would help most men to absorb some idea of prayer forms. The writing of pray ers, even though they were never read, would greatly help many. "There is a divine science in prayer, and . . . [Christ] brings to view principles that all need to understand."—Christ's Object Lessons, p. 142. We all need to learn how to pray more effectively.
Form of Prayer
The form of prayer should not be complex in the least. Prayer should be studied, not only as to effectiveness, but as to form. In general "our prayers will take the form of a conversation with God."—Ibid., p. 129. Form should also be studied as to sequence. The following order is suggested:
- The salutation voiced in reverence and worship comes first, and should be short and simple. It does not seem to be in good taste to keep repeating the Lord's name all through the prayer as in the salutation.
- Praise and thanksgiving follow. This is more important than some may think. Thanksgiving will increase the number of prayer answers we receive because praise prepares our hearts with capacity to receive those answers.
- Then comes the seeking of forgiveness. We all need forgiveness. On this point it must be remembered that the practice of praise and thanksgiving in the spirit of a surrendered heart will also give us capacity to receive God's proffered forgiveness.
- After the seeking of forgiveness specific requests should follow. Our prayer requests do not make God ready to give, but they do make us ready to receive. Voicing them with God's help gives us a more receptive attitude.
- The prayer closes with an Amen. This word is much too lightly repeated. The word has deep meaning. If asked what the word means, some of us say "So let it be." Actually we say that phrase too easily. When we say Amen, we should understand that it means, "We will not interfere; we will not get in the way of having our prayers answered; we will keep the channel open; we will not knowingly hinder the answer—let it be so." How potent that word becomes, and how dangerous, if we do not really mean it!
We may well consider the form of the Lord's Prayer. First there is the salutation, which is brief. Then there are the items of praise, honor, and submission. After that come the requests for physical and spiritual help. Admiration for God's power follows. Last is the Amen. How simple and brief is this prayer!
Length of Public Prayers
It should not be necessary to discuss the tediousness of long public prayers, for we as ministers are keenly aware of the effect of long prayers on a congregation. However, it is well for all of us to take inventory occasionally. We have much valued counsel on this matter from which we glean the following:
Let men learn to pray .. . prayers short and right to the point.—Testimonies, vol. 8, p. 147.
Our prayers need not be loud and long.—Messages to Young People, p. 247.
The prayers offered . . . are frequently long and inappropriate. . . . Brethren, carry the people with you in your prayers. Go to your Saviour . . . , tell Him what you need on that occasion.—Testimonies, vol. 5, p. 201. (The implication in this quotation is that long prayers do not carry the congregation with the one who prays, or the prayer.)
Long prayers in a congregation are tedious to those who listen, and do not prepare the hearts of the people for the sermon which is to follow.—ELLEN G. WHITE in The Review and Herald, May 28, 1895, p. 1.
It is generally the case that the less of heaven's vitality there is in a prayer, the more lengthy it is. —Ibid., Jan. 14, 1902, p. 17.
The intensity of prayer is an important factor, because the warmhearted prayer brings results. This is pointed out in James 5:16: "The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much."
Posture in Prayer
Posture in prayer is very significant. We as Seventh-day Adventists believe that kneeling is the proper posture in prayer. Biblical practice substantiates this view. However, there are times and places when it is not possible to kneel while praying, but this should not keep us from praying.
We must learn to glance upward in sincere desire, sending a prayer to Heaven in all places and under all circumstances.—ELLEN G. WHITE in The Signs of the Times, April 14, 1890.
The Christian can not always be in the position of prayer, but his thoughts and desires can always be upward.—ELLEN G. WHITE in The Youth's Instructor, March 5, 1903.
It is not always necessary to bow upon your knees in order to pray.—The Ministry of Healing, p. 510.
As a general rule it is advisable to pray with eyes closed, but this rule may have to be broken at times. For instance one might want to pray with a group while driving an automobile, but he certainly would not close his eyes under such circumstances. Whenever possible it is best for the eyes to be closed, that we may more completely shut the world out and shut ourselves within God's presence.
Mental Attitudes in Prayer
First there should be a willingness to learn how to pray. "Let men learn to pray."—Testimonies, vol. 8, p. 147. "We should educate the mind so that we can hold communion with God constantly."—ELLEN G. WHITE in The Signs of the Times, April 14, 1890.
There must be a willingness to relax spiritually as we rely in simple faith upon the promise: "The eternal God is thy refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms" (Deut. 33:27).
There ought to be an earnest willingness to know more of the limitless blessings which may be ours in God's presence.
There must of necessity be a willingness on our part actually to face the present occasion and its specific problem. Too many times we are unwilling to face life in all its reality.
A willingness to accept God's solution even before we actually know what that solution may be, is an imperative attitude in all true prayer. This is a manifestation of faith. For those who have put it to a test it is a faith built on past experience with God.
Sincerity, honesty, and earnestness are vital attitudes, or the prayer will be nothing but a make-believe. The prayer must be interested in what he is praying, if he expects the congregation to be interested. One of the prerequisites of being interesting is being interested.
Above all, there must be an earnest desire for divine fellowship, not only in the prayer, but also in the auditors. They will sense this fellowship more quickly if they raise their hearts in silent prayer while the audible prayer is being offered.
Public prayer should never be used to express purely personal or family needs, or to air personal grievances. Public prayer is not the time to preach, to reprove, to be pompous, or to confess the sins of the individual members of the congregation. It is the time to weld together in corporate worship and brotherly love the whole congregation by leading them into the very presence of God.
The great underlying desire of all true prayer is the longing to make our lives conform to the Christ pattern of living and serving.
We are to "work in harmony with our prayers."—Testimonies, vol. 6, p. 61. We are "to pray in the mind and Spirit of Jesus, while we work His works."—ELLEN G. WHITE in Bible Echo, Dec., 1887, p. 178. Consecrated prayer and Christian action are closely related. Let our lives be a living Amen to our prayers. This is true worship.
To all true prayer Jesus is the Amen personified. "These things saith the Amen, the faithful and true witness" (Rev. 3:14). His life was a witness to His identification with His Father's will. He never interfered with the answer the Father gave. He was and is in act, as well as in word, the living Amen.