One of the privileges and duties of pastors is to say public prayers. In the past week, I said two such prayers: one at a recreational event, one in a civic setting - unspecified to make lawsuits harder. Just curious: are such prayers said, offered, prayed, given, invoked…?
These two occasions stirred thought and created a few good questions. I trust I am not over-thinking this, making a simple matter complicated. (My children have on rare occasion accused me of doing that.) Shouldn’t one just get out there and pray?
The God we serve and the people we seek to lead into His presence in the few moments of prayer deserve careful thought, prayer and some level of preparation.
At the ball game, I prayed for safety, good sportsmanship, the satisfaction of doing one’s best, and all of it to be done to the glory of God. I had no written text, no notes – other than mental. Just simply, as a friend at the game said, throwing out the first pitch – verbal.
At the civic event, I had / used / said / read / offered a written prayer: eyes open, Bible open (to hide the notes – is that lying?), voice louder to be heard by all, in Jesus’ name. And yes, I wrote it – it was not an "Internet special."
It used to bother me to see – why were my eyes open? – people reading prayers at public events: inaugurations, dedications, weddings, and funerals. Yet, having been in some of those spots, I can appreciate going the text route.
More than once I have been tired enough to start a bedtime prayer with "Lord, thank you for this food..." How terrible does it sound to say special occasions call for special prayers? Not to impress either people or God –as if we could– but to fit the moment, meet the need.
Certainly the prayer said before cake and ice cream at a child’s birthday party is different than one said at a child’s funeral. One requires much less thought than the other.
Should public prayers be written, rehearsed, reviewed and edited before the event? Or should they be spontaneous, Spirit-lead (false dichotomy alert), from the heart (alert #2), and sincere (#3)?
Why is it seen as relying on God when one waits until they stand up to pray, trusting Him for words for the moment? Is not the same Spirit able to lead in quiet moments of preparation as well? Is He not willing to guide hours or even days prior to such events? One could argue that waiting until the moment is presuming on Him.
When Jesus said to not worry about what you would say in front of civic leaders, He was referring to when you were dragged there for your faith. Not about being invited to express faith and seek God’s merciful help and guidance.
When Nehemiah appeared before the king to request permission to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem, it was after weeks of prayer and careful thought. What he said was critical, his life was on the line.
The Bible is full of written or pre-thought out prayers, ones crafted to the occasion (see Ezra 9, Nehemiah 1 and 9, Luke 2:46-55, the Psalms, Revelation, Jonah 2).
While prayers should be heartfelt and never mindless repetition, that does not preclude making use of a written or memorized prayer ("Our Father, which art…").
Are public prayers times to preach, to speak for God as one speaks -pretends to? - to God; the role of the prophet. Or are they times to speak to God on behalf of all present; being a priest? Is it an invitation for an invocation or an opportunity to impugn and indict?
A closing note of humor and irony: at the game, a teen from my church took great delight in telling me the microphone went in and out and you could only hear half of what I was saying. (Yo Josh, 50 % is better than you usually do. Sorry. Just remember who bought you that slice of pizza.)
Josh’s gleeful report reminded me to remember to Whom I was praying. Though I was praying to be heard by all there, what mattered most was being heard by God.
In case you are interested, and since it is already written, here is the prayer I used / lifted up / read / gave (which is it?) at the government function:
Almighty God, Lord of villages, towns, sprawling suburbs and vast urban areas, we pause to purposefully be mindful of You and to seek Your wisdom and mercies.
Thank you for the sacrificial service of each of our public officials; those elected, those appointed, those hired on. We honor You for their important and tireless work, much of it unseen and under-appreciated.
Thank You that all of our efforts are before You, and that they are noticed and rewarded.
Keep each of our leaders mindful of the needs of those they represent and serve. Help each of us to humbly set aside any selfish or pride-driven agendas. Make us unyielding where necessary and flexible where needed and appropriate. May our desire to win or garner recognition be transformed into a passion to please You and do right by others.
Grant grace that each of us, as fellow citizens, would act justly, love mercy and walk humbly with You, our God. These things we ask in Jesus’ name, amen.