Scripture directs believers to: “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” (1 Thess. 5:16-18, ESV). Prayer is meant for personal and public communication with God, and it is beneficial to have a biblical understanding of the rich variety of prayer.
D. L. Moody once said about prayer: “My experience is that those who pray most in their closets generally make short prayers in public.”1 To help focus prayer, Jesus even provided a model for believers in Matthew 6:9-13.
Thoughts on prayer
Brother Lawrence of the Resurrection (1614 –1691) was a Roman Catholic lay minister who served in a Parisian monastery. A book compiled after his death—the classic The Practice of the Presence of God—presents the intimacy he experienced with God in prayer. He was known to live in continual prayer while accomplishing menial tasks in the monastery’s kitchen. Lawrence said of persistent prayer, “…we ought to act with God in the greatest simplicity, speaking to Him frankly and plainly, and imploring His assistance in our affairs, just as they happen.”2
Oswald Chambers said of the power of prayer: “God has established things so that prayer, on the basis of redemption, changes the way a person looks at things. Prayer is not a matter of changing things externally, but one of working miracles in a person’s inner nature.”3 D. L. Moody echoes Chambers (pun intended!):
Prayer—prevailing prayer—involves the whole of our being. It affects our minds because we are occupied with God; it affects our wills because we desire to be yielded to God; and it affects our emotions because we are consumed with a love for God.4
Various kinds of prayer
Prayers from the Bible have been scrutinized and expertly organized by scholars such as Hughes Oliphant Old. The following categories (which are traditionally regarded) help worshipers to be mindful and purposeful while publically praying during worship. There is an art to leading public prayer: pre-written prayers can leave room for improvisation, and spontaneity must be accompanied with plenty of forethought.
1) The Invocation
One may break down a proper invocation into three parts: 1) The naming of God; 2) the request that he accept our worship, and 3) the sealing of the prayer in the name of Jesus. An invocation is Trinitarian because, of course, wherein we name God the Father to whom we pray; it claims the promise of Jesus that he is with us when we meet as a body of believers; and names the Holy Spirit through whom intercession of Christ is received.5
2) The Psalms as Prayer
The Psalms have been referred to as ‘The Lord’s Song.’ Psalm 42: 8 states that the song of the Lord can become the song of our own hearts. Psalm 42: 8 says “By day the Lord directs his love, at night his song is with me—a prayer to the God of my life” (NIV). Not only are the psalms useful for praying, they also carry a substantial teaching component.
Dr. John D. Witvliet wrote that the Psalms are not only works of art, but they may also be used as a primer—a basic grammar for Christian worship.6 The psalms teach us basic forms of prayer.
3) Prayers of Confession and Supplication
Worship must include confession of sin. “This is difficult for our age,” said Old, “but without it our worship lacks integrity. It is a matter of honesty. God is offended by sin, and yet he accepts sinners. Honesty demands that when we approach God sin be confessed. Otherwise, we have an uneasy conscience about it, and, even worse, we compromise the holiness of God.”7
4) The Prayer for Illumination
The prayer of illumination brings to bear the doctrine of the Holy Spirit and the doctrine of revelation. Old described these types of prayers as an epiclesis, which calls upon God from on high to reveal himself by the reading of Scripture and preaching.
5) Prayers of Intercession
Prayers of intercession are a continuation of Jesus’ ministry today—a practice carried over from the synagogue; prayers of confession and supplication are more private in nature, intercession is more public. Praying for others is a relational activity, involving the help of the Holy Spirit, through Jesus to God, on behalf of others and us. Intercessory prayer is important for the Christ-follower, fostering a cycle of unity between us personally, the Trinity, and other believers.
6) Communion Prayers
Communion prayers through history are derived from the Old Testament Passover, adapted from Jesus’ Last Supper, which displayed a thanksgiving quality, thus, the actual definition of the word the ‘Eucharist.’
7) Prayers of Thanksgiving
‘Praise’ is more appropriately placed at the beginning of a service and ‘thanksgiving’ at the end. Praise acknowledges God’s presence in the sanctuary and thanksgiving acknowledges that God has provided for us.8
Even though many of the previous variations of prayer are not strictly practiced in many evangelical churches, it is helpful to understand the rich diversity of biblical prayer in the history of Christian worship.
1 D. L. Moody, Prevailing Prayer (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2016), 19.
2 Brother Lawrence, The Brother Lawrence Collection: Practice and Presence of God (Floyd, VA: Sublime Books, 2015), Kindle Editions locations 112-113.
3 Oswald Chambers, “The Purpose of Prayer,” My Utmost for His Highest, August 28, 2017, https://utmost.org/the-purpose-of-prayer/ (accessed April 13, 2017).
4 Moody, Prevailing Prayer, 8.
5 Hughes Oliphant Old, Leading in Prayer: A Workbook for Worship (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1995), 11-17.
6 John D Witvliet, The Biblical Psalms in Christian Worship: A Brief Introduction and Guide to Resources (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2007) Kindle Edition locations 422-423.
7 Old, Leading in Prayer, 79.
8 Ibid., 296.
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