Leading God’s People in Prayer
I wonder if you had some butterflies last Sunday morning when you were asked to lead us in prayer. One thing for sure – through your face and your prayer, we could sense your love for God, your enthusiasm and the energy for God’s work.
Since Sunday I’ve had a few thoughts going around my mind on the subject of “leading God’s people in prayer.” I’d like to share these with you as I know your heart is very open to keep learning as a younger servant of God.
Let me preface my reflections by highlighting three facts:
1) How we pray is very much an expression of our spirituality and individuality. This means that it’s not my part to dictate to you what and how you should pray when leading God’s people in prayer. Not at all! As you read through these thoughts, listen to what the Holy Spirit wants to say to you.
2) We are all on a learning curve when it comes to prayer. I personally have written a book on prayer (in Indonesian), I’ve taught often on prayer, and obviously I’ve been a praying man in private and in public for many years. But I do not see myself as a “master pray-er.” We all have so much more to learn and experience when it comes to prayer.
3) When we pray in public, there are two sides to our prayers: from one angle, it’s “you (singular) and your Father” in free and open communication; and from another angle, it’s “you (plural) and our Father” in fellowship together. It’s our challenge whenever we are asked to lead others in prayer to keep these two dimensions in balance. It’s “you” in prayer with your Father, but it’s also “us” in prayer together with “our Father.” So try to lead us into God’s throne-room, praying for those matters that reflect the needs of God’s family as a whole.
Now to four reflections which I’m hoping will give you some fundamental guidelines for leading God’s people in prayer.
My first reflection is the inseparable link between our praying in private (personal prayer) and our praying in public. Praying upfront will inevitably show whether or not we enjoy an intimate relationship with God in private prayer. What does this say to us? If nothing else, it tells us that we cannot fake prayer. Prayer is possibly the most intensely “spiritual” aspect of our entire Christian life – the barometer of the health of our entire relationship with God. A dear friend of mine, Dr. Peter Deyneka (a wonderful Russian believer and the founder of the Slavic Gospel Association, a man of prayer), used to say: “Much prayer, much power; little prayer, little power; no prayer, no power.” I don’t think we need to say too much else on this point, do we? God calls us to come apart to be alone with Him. That time refreshes our inner spirit in very powerful ways, preparing us for life’s experiences in the real world, including joining with God’s people in prayer.
My second reflection is that our praying needs to express what prayer truly is, that is, a real conversation with a real Person: God our Father and with His Son, Jesus, through the Spirit’s help. Sometimes when I hear people praying in public, I feel like their prayer is little more than a formal prayer addressing the people around them, not addressing God. But how beautiful to join in with someone who shares matters from the heart with God’s heart! How can we pray like this in public when at the same time we are very conscious of other people listening to our prayer? What helps me personally is pausing a moment or two before I begin praying giving myself time to remember to whom I am about to speak. Don’t you agree that this thought is closely linked with Jesus’ central teaching about prayer in The Lord’s Prayer? Jesus taught His followers to begin their prayer by saying: “our Father in heaven.” This is much more than a formula. It’s primarily about ensuring that we fix our thoughts on God as we begin praying to Him.
My third reflection I have learned from reading about the life of another great man of prayer, James Fraser. (He was a missionary church-planter among the Lisu people in SW China in the 1930s & 1940s.) Before entering into a time of intercession for the Lisu people, he would pray for the help of the Holy Spirit so that his prayer would be in tune with the mind of the Spirit. I’ve also found this practice very helpful. Whenever I’m asked to lead others in prayer, I try to pause a moment and pray a silent prayer asking God for the help of His Spirit in what I pray. Praying this doesn’t eliminate all personal weaknesses from our prayers. However, it does open the way for the Holy Spirit to pray through us according to God’s will.
My fourth and final reflection concerning leading God’s people in prayer is the imperative of basing our prayers firmly on the foundation of God’s Word. Biblical prayers aren’t just the expression of man’s ideas or feelings. They are rooted in truth that God has spoken and revealed through His Word. This encourages us to pray biblically, that is, to actively bring God’s truth into our prayers. Sometimes when we pray in public, we are asked to pray for this and that. But what we pray for – that’s the point I’m wanting to make here. To illustrate my point, some years ago I heard a well-known British preacher, Rev. David Pawson, speaking about what and how we should pray for Australia in a time of drought. (At that time many parts of our dry land had not had rain for months.) The usual prayer prayed in church services in times of drought – and not a wrong prayer! – was and is: “God, please send the rain.” But Rev. Pawson said that praying with God’s heart and in keeping with His Word will focus on His heart for our nation – not just to bring back “the good life” but to use the crisis to bring many people in our nation to their knees in repentance and faith in Jesus. That is a good example of leading God’s people in biblical praying – not praying sentimentally but spiritually, that is, in keeping with His Word. As a side-benefit from such biblical prayers, Christians can be awakened into an awareness of God’s priorities versus man’s immediate priorities.
Jerry, let me say in closing how much God loves to hear our prayers – prayed in private, prayed in public. So relax whenever you are asked to pray in public. Your Father’s face is smiling down on you as you pray.