National  Pastors'  Prayer  Network

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#051
    
Uncommon Prayer for Worship Services
    by Phil Miglioratti
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Let us pray . . . every eye closed . . . every head bowed.

In many churches, times of prayer have become the most neglected, unplanned, non-engaging moments of a worship service. The congregation, gathered to express their heartfelt worship to Almighty God, is told to sit, be still, and remain silent. This is hardly the active participation described and demanded in biblical worship.

>From its beginning the New Testament church was a praying church. Every believer was present and participating. Note these instances:

*    The Upper Room (Acts 1:14)
*    Post-Pentecost (Acts 2:42)
*    Resisting the Sanhedrin (Acts 4:24,31)
*    Resolving conflict (Acts 6:4)
*    Enduring persecution (Acts 12:5)
*    Launching global missions (Acts 13:2)

Apostolic teaching urged the church to make prayer a priority (1 Tim. 2:1). When Paul exhorted the believers in Colosse to "devote yourselves to prayer" (Col. 4:2), he was literally saying "spend much time together in the place of prayer." When he wrote to "the saints" (all the believers) in Ephesus (Eph. 1:2), he instructed them to "pray in the Spirit on all occasions" (Eph. 6:18). Prayer was both the responsibility and the divine opportunity of each person in the congregation. Prayer was never intended to be the spectator event it has become.

Worship leaders and planning teams must include corporate prayer when they design worship services for the church. Those assembled must have opportunity to address God (praise and adoration), express their needs (petitions and requests), and be led by the Holy Spirit as He helps us pray (listening and reflecting).

"How will we facilitate congregational prayer?" is a central question for planning any gathering for worship, celebration, or teaching. Merely listening to the choir sing or the preacher pray is not the biblical model, nor is the best way to connect people to God in our increasingly interactive culture.

 

A Place to Begin
 


As a worship leader or as a member of the worship team, ask yourself:

What is our motivation? Change for the sake of change is an inadequate reason to insert something new into the Sunday morning order or worship .. Providing an opportunity to connect people to God in a life-transforming and church-transforming way must be the motivation that propels and guides us.

What will we do to make the meaning clear? Most members in a congregation are ready, willing, and able to step into new territories of prayer; but they need to know more than what you want them to do: "Please stand and ___." They also need to know why: "The Scriptures tell us to give thanks, so, please stand and ___."

What is the most suitable and beneficial method? Select or design activities that quickly and directly connect people to God in prayer. Respect tradition and be keenly aware of your congregation's comfort zone, but also gently lead the church into expressions and experiences of praise and petition that result in fresh encounters with the living God.

Prepare people if you are going to ask them to do something new or different: "I am going to ask you to participate this morning in a way that is new to many of us. I believe it will enable us as a body to obey our Lord as we present our requests to Him. You may join others in a small prayer group, remain seated and pray silently, or join a group but not pray aloud."

Give people the option not to participate if they are physically unable to comply (to kneel, for instance) or because they do not have a personal relationship with the Lord ("You may choose to remain seated").

Tell the congregation what you are going to ask them to do. Give people the freedom to choose how they will participate. Lovingly challenge (not chide) them to step outside their comfort zones.

 

A Few Questions
 


What action would best enable every member of the church to focus on God when we pray? Which methods have received the most favorable response in the past? Which activities have we overused lately? As you plan, consider:

*    Purpose-praise, petition, thanksgiving, confession.
*    Posture-stand, kneel, bow, prostrate.
*    Participation-recite in unison, form a group, come to the altar.


How will we ask for feedback? Resistance to a new form of prayer may have more to do with the way it has been introduced or explained than it does to an unwillingness to try new methods.

Whom can we ask to submit ideas of ways to lead the congregation into prayer? The best methods are often the simplest. Invite the Holy Spirit to give you His creative ideas each time you plan. The way to find the appropriate prayer activity is through your own activity of prayer!

 

Uncommon Prayer Helps
 


A few suggestions may stimulate your thinking.

1.    Between verses of a hymn, invite the congregation to pray in pairs, focusing on the lyrics they have just sung.
2.    Between verses of a choir selection, have someone prepared to pray (on microphone or standing in the congregation), using the lyric of the preceding verse to focus the prayer.
3.    At the beginning of the service, ask the congregation to write a praise or petition on a card provided. Instruct them to bring the cards to the front and place them in a basket at any time during the worship service, whenever the Holy Spirit prompts them.
4.    Use introductory remarks to guide the prayer time: "As a sign of our praise and adoration of God, please stand;" or "As a sign of our humility, please kneel (if you are physically able) as we confess our sins;" or "As a sign of our unity in Christ, please form a group with three or four others. We will recite the Lord's Prayer together."
5.    Invite parents and children to pray together-holding hands, forming circles, or walking together to pray at the altar.
6.    Ask the congregation to pray silently after each worship song, using the song's lyrics to focus their prayers. Select songs that establish a flow of thought-praise, repentance, intercession, commitment.
7.    Use visuals to focus prayer: Banners -"Great is the Lord!"; Flags -"Pray for the nation of ___;" Posters -"Our youth are reminding us of their summer mission trip;" Bulletin inserts -"Today, with churches across the country, we are asking God for improved race relations;" PowerPoint® - “Pray with your eyes open. Offer a prayer for each of these needs." Use words, images, photographs, or people's faces.
8.    Spend a series of Sundays praying for various church ministries: "This morning, as our Sunday School teachers and workers stand among us, we will pray for them and the people they serve. Please focus on someone near you. Walk over to that person and pray aloud for God's blessing as that person serves God in our Sunday School."
9.    Ask the congregation to listen prayerfully to the song being sung (solo or ensemble). Then invite everyone to stand and respond with small-group prayer.
10.    Invite the congregation to pray before the offering is taken: "This morning, before we invite you to offer your gifts to God (the offering), please find a partner and ask the Lord to bless what we are giving and to use it for His glory."
11.    Use Scripture for guided prayer: "As I read this morning's Scripture, I will pause after each section and invite you to pray, using the verses we have just heard to direct our prayers."
12.    Use the church prayer list or specific church ministries to guide a prayer: "Please take your bulletin (or the church prayer list) with you as we form groups of three or four. Ask the Holy Spirit to guide you to one of the activities or ministries as you pray for our church. You may be led to pray for our staff or that all of us as members will be faithful to our mission (or vision) statement."
13.    Ask someone to voice brief prayers that will help the congregation focus their thoughts during an instrumental. Pause after each voiced prayer to allow time for silent prayer in the church.
14.    When the children or youth or a specific ministry group sings before the congregation, invite their leaders to come forward after the song; pray for the leaders and the entire group.
15.    In advance ask several people to be prepared to pray after a choir anthem, basing their prayer on the message of the song.
16.    After the message, invite people to pray in groups before the final song.

Our goal is to invite the church into a divine conversation that originates in the heart of Almighty God and is revealed to us by the leading and empowering of the Holy Sprit, and to offer prayer to the Father in the name and authority of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. May the Lord use us to bring His people into His presence-body, soul, and spirit-to the glory of God!

Let us pray . . . Everyone stand . . . and . . .
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Scripture quotations are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version, copyright (c) 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission.

This article was adapted from the Winter 2002-2003 issue of Let's Worship Magazine.

Visit  http://www.lifeway.com  for books, Bibles, magazines, curriculum, conferences and a wide variety of church leadership and ministry resources
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 © 2001-2002   LifeWay Christian Resources

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