As is my custom in the Pastor's Pondering section of The Beacon, I am going to address one aspect of the worship service and this time it is the “Prayers of the People.” I hope you have spent some time contemplating the prayers of the people and what that extended prayer is all about. If you have, then you are probably aware that the focus of this prayer is to lift up the petitions or requests of the congregation. In this prayer one man stands before God in prayer leading the rest of the congregation. The prayers raised by the one man are the prayers of the whole congregation.
You may have noticed that the way we do the prayers of the people is different from many other churches. What we call the “prayers of the people” is most often called the “pastoral prayer” and is delivered by one of the pastors of the church. In other words one of the shepherds of the flock leads the people in prayer. As the Teaching Elder here at FRPC I would tell you that the pastoral prayer is as important to the life of the congregation as the preaching of the word. Such men as John Calvin and Charles Spurgeon agree with me, or more properly, I with them. Therefore this prayer must be taken very seriously. It is to be a reverent prayer, but that doesn't exclude it from being a joyful prayer.
Some of you might ask, and some of you have, “why do we have men besides the elders delivering this prayer?” The answer to that question has several facets. First of all that has been the tradition here for at least the last seven years or so. I inherited it when I came and have seen no compelling reason to stop this tradition. If you will pay attention during the year you will notice that I do about one-fifth to one quarter of the prayers of the people. I like having men from the congregation leading in the prayers for several reasons. Before I elaborate on that, let me say, if we had a Sunday night service as well then I would always deliver the pastoral prayer in the morning service and have other men lead in the Sunday evening service. Since that is not the case, I've chosen to share the prayer with others. There are a couple of reasons for that choice on my part. It does lend breadth and life to our prayers as you hear the different personalities come through in prayer. Not every one who leads in prayer is going to approach prayer needs in the same way and that keeps the congregation from being lulled into inattention, which as we all know is something we are prone to do. Also it challenges men to get up and lead in worship which helps them to grow. The congregation is also challenged as we seek to lead in prayer using scripture as a guide. The idea is for us to model praying through the scriptures, so listen for that during these prayers.
There is another question I would like to address and that is, what constitutes appropriate prayers to bring during the prayers of the people? We want to avoid this prayer simply becoming what some people call an “organ recital.” By that I mean it is not all about healing this persons medical problem and that person's medical problem. Understand me clearly here! I'm not saying it is inappropriate to lift up people's medical issues, it is an important part of what we do, however if that is all this prayer is we are falling woefully short. The focus of our prayers should be the kingdom of God being advanced here in our midst. We must pray that God would work through the church to grow the kingdom through the spread of the gospel. We must pray that God would help us to be the church of Jesus Christ as He has called us. We must pray that He would raise up workers to send out into the plentiful harvest. This prayer should be full of life and passion. It is certainly appropriate that this be a prayer of pleading for God's mercy and for God to work mightily on behalf of our congregation, our loved ones, our nation, etc.. So the next time we come to that point in the worship service where we address the prayers of the people, understand this, you have a responsibility. Whomever is in the pulpit leading the prayer, that person is representing you and when it comes time to say, “Amen,” be sure you know to what you are adding your agreement. These are the prayers of the people and you are a part of that people.