The Long Prayer

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A while back I had an email exchange with someone about the demise of the “long prayer” also known as the “congregational prayer” or “prayers of the people."  That conversation got me wondering; is the congregational prayer a thing of the past or has it survived in some congregations and if so what does it look like? 

I believe it has survived in some congregations and even thrived.  I know of someone who was so moved by a congregational prayer that she kept returning to that church and eventually became a member. What attracted her was the fact that she saw herself in the prayer as one of the people (though unknown) who was being prayed for. But that is part of the struggle isn’t it?  How do we make that prayer general enough to give voice to the prayers of the people gathered yet specific enough so that folks know that they are being prayed for?  Is it enough to insert a list here and there something like “Lord, heal and comfort the sick in our congregation: Nellie VanderBaun, Jim Sarx, Chris Marshall, and…” or does that feel too much like a grocery list?  Ought we to pray specifically for Nellie’s knee surgery, for the surgeons, her husband who needs to take on additional responsibilities with the children, the kids who need to survive on her husband’s cooking, and for all who will volunteer to help them during this time of need? Or do we rightly assume that God knows the specifics already and mentioning her name is sufficient?

Then of course is the very right idea that the prayers of the people ought to extend beyond our immediate congregation and reflect the prayers of God’s people worldwide. So this prayer should include prayers for government leaders: local, state, provincial, national and international.  We need to be praying for the persecuted church, for the righting of social injustices, for wisdom regarding difficult social issues, for the raising up of Christian men and women who serve in ministry, for our missionaries, our church staff and volunteers, our denomination and its ministries, for those reeling from earthquakes, tsunamis, floods, and tornados; whether or not those things are occurring in our own community.  But how do we do all of that within the allotted 2 minute time slot in our 60 minute service that is planned down to the minute?  How do we pray for all those things and keep people praying with us rather than doze off? 

Is it time to give up on the long prayer and accept that it only works in a small number of churches who hold on to traditional forms of worship?  Or is it time to revive this practice?

What do you think?

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Community Builder

I wonder if our "long prayer" is too short.  Perhaps we need a different view of what is being done.  What if instead of a pastor leading a "prayers of God's people", the pastor shares the highlights of what we will be praying for and then invites the congregation to gather with those near them and pray.  I remember attending a church of another denomination many years ago and being struck by the fact that when they go to the "congregational prayer" the congregation prayed.  Once in my present context, being nudged quite persistently by the Holy Spirit as far as I could tell, instead of me leading a congregational prayer, I invited the congregation to stand up and gather here and there in the sanctuary and share a few prayer requests with each other and pray for each other.  If anyone did not wish to participate, they were invited to remain seated and pray silently for the needs of the congregation and the world we live in. 

Now this Sunday happened to follow a funeral of a young adult child of members of our congregation the day before.  The reactions after Sunday were both strongly positive and strongly negative.  A few were very upset that we "did not pray for the grieving parents!" Many more found the practice to be moving and meaningful ... including the grieving parents who had a group come around them and intercede on behalf of their suffering!  Also a single mother, her first time in our church and in any church for a while, told the people near her what she was struggling with and they prayed for her.  She continues to come here with her son now.  Those reactions confirmed for me that it was the Spirit leading me to do this that morning.  The negative reactions also indicate to me that the "long prayer" is safer than praying for each other.  A few members told me that it was a stretch for them to do that praying and they are uncomfortable with it because they end up crying as they try to pray for each other. 

Having the pastor only speak the prayers of the congregation in worship, tacitly communicates, I think, that it is the pastor's job to pray and the people's job to listen.  Not much in keeping with the priestly office of all believers.  And by the way, most of my congregational prayers tend to be lists of people either ill, injured or dying or grieving.  In a mid to large congregation, that takes up the bulk of the time.  It is meaningful and supportive to many, but I wonder if what encourages them is that the "church" is praying for them out loud.  Is that any different than the congregation taking time to actually pray for specific people in person, out loud, in worship?  We have also, at times where there seem to be numerous crises going on have had people come forward and we gather around them to pray for them including people who can come forward on behalf of someone.

I think the church praying in the service of worship is an essential part of what we are called to do.  However, let's not let the medium (pastor does all the praying) communicate the opposite message of what the Body is called to do.  Thanks Joyce!

Participant

I'm with you Colin, that our long prayer is too short...  I'm sorry but if we consider 2 minutes a long prayer, we're in trouble...  sorry, another pet peeve of mine is when we will have a minute or so of silent prayer and it's 10, maybe 15 seconds...  dang, it takes more time than that (usually a lot more) to be still and quiet our souls...

it's already next to impossible to convince people that we should be praying corporately together in addition to the Sunday svc.    I've heard so many excuses, one excuse I've heard, is it's easier to let someone else pray...  argh!!!   this one is sad and funny... they weren't sure if God heard them when they prayed in Dutch...  of course He does...  if He can understand praying in tongues, Dutch is a piece of cake...  oh, wait, did I mention praying in tongues on a CRC forum...  oops!    That one people are really uncomfortable with...  even if it's not done corporately... 

We have almost completely lost corporate prayer...  it's "Our Father", it's teach US how to pray, they were praying in one accord, NT prayer was often in a communal context  (Acts 1:14; 4:24)..  even the prayer "closet" in the KJV times (1600's), was the kings and queens sitting room off their chamber that was used as a gathering place with their closest friends and family, it was not our modern day concept of our closets...  

crying while we're praying...  in the CRC?!?!   Praise God...  it might not be pretty, but it's powerful, those tears are powerful prayers...  Jesus prayed with tears...   it's called travail, don't know that I've seen it too often in the CRC...  and yes, it does make us uncomfortable, because we aren't used to it.   LORD, multiply the tears in prayer on behalf of the hurting and wounded...  in fact, a few days ago, I just listened to the late David Wilkersons  "A call to anguish"...  let's see if I can find the link again..it's about 7 minutes. 

   http://video.christianpost.com/a-call-to-anguish-by-david-wilkerson-2506/
 

I'm sure the scriptures mention the concept of crying out to God" several times...  pretty sure it was usually King David, who was a man after God's heart... 

here's a powerful testimony by Keith Green...about 1:50 in he shares on when he wrote Oh LORD, You're beautiful... and how he was feeling cold and distant in his relationship, and so God "told" him..."cry", and Keith said I can't or don't feel like cyring... God "said"  "I'll wait"...  the result is this amazing song...  this video doesn't have all the verses, so I encourage you to check out all the verses...

 www.youtube.com/watch?v=Di4Pw93fKv8&feature=player_embedded
 

my prayer is that instead of people saying "I'll pray for you", they will pray for that person right on the spot, whether it's over the phone or in the back of church, or in the grocery store, or at the park, or wherever it comes up...   my prayer is that we'll be praying and worshipping 24/7...   just like in the temple of David... 

but back to corporate prayer...  we somehow have gotten significantly out of balance between private and corporate prayer...  they are both equally important...  I apologize if my frustration with our lack of enthusiasm for corporate prayer is coming through with snarky remarks...  hehehehe =)

 btw, Colin... are you going to be able to make it to the prayer summit next week...   and was the young adult, Rudy's son, and if so how long ago was this?  (I met Rudy at the prayer summit at the Firs in B'ham last yearish).     thx.  Bev S (Susan Dotinga's niece from Lynden)

Participant

here's Keith's song with all the verses... very powerful... especially if you've never heard v2 and 3...

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uVgPQm06g2c&feature=related 

 

Participant

Most Sundays we have a Community Prayer, our name for the Long Prayer. It varies in length and content. We do pray for specific people but we often add such phrases as "and all others who are struggling with chronic conditions". We try to keep tabs on what we pray for so that we are praying for our cities, province and federal governments, the world etc at some point in a 2 month period. We pray according to the needs that are expressed by the people during a time of sharing. Sometimes our prayers are headline driven such as the tsunami and earthquake in Japan. We also pray in general terms for people in our congregation who are struggling physically, emotionally, mentally. I often find myself "prayed for" without being named and that is a comfort.

We also provide opportunity for personal prayer after the service with prayer team members or during the week as arranged.

If we miss the community prayer 2 weeks in a row, I feel like something important is missing and will often bring it up at our planning meetings. I think it's important for the church to pray together. I also think that praying together models how to pray for those who are new to the faith. It's a blessing I hope we never go without.

Participant

This morning, as I was thinking about the "long" prayer question some more, I was reminded of a very long prayer, one that lasted over 100 years.  The Moravians in 1727 started praying 24/7 in one hour shifts known as the Hourly Intercession, and this continued for over 100 years...  through it they pioneered lay missionaries, sending the first lay missionaries out in 1732 or so...  in 1780's William Carey, the father of modern missions, read an article about what the Moravians were doing and so he went to his baptist brethren, and asked "why can't we do what the Moravians have done"... it wasn't well received at first, and it was several more years before his mission work began with the support of his denomination...

may the fire on the altar never go out...  Lev. 6:13

 

One suggestion:  (maybe two suggestions):   Have the preacher do the congregational prayer once in four times, and have an elder lead it the other three out of four times or so.   When we have a visiting preacher, we almost always have an elder lead the congregational prayers instead of the preacher, and the elders take turns doing this.    On some special sundays we may have three or four people lead in various parts of the congregational prayer.   I do think we should stop calling it the "long" prayer, a term which I have not heard for a long time.   It is not about making the prayer long.   It is about praying for the blessings and thanks and needs of the congregation.   Some of those needs also include paying attention to the disasters and needs of others, and to other global issues.  

"Prayer is the soul's sincere desire, unuttered or expressed."   But prayer is many things, including communicating with God, and demonstrating what is important to God.  God already knows every thought, every desire, every need.   Still He wants us to come to him, in prayer.  Prayer teaches us who we are , and public prayer teaches each other who God is.  

Prayer of Christ for three hours in the garden of Gethsemene.   The Psalms of David which are mostly prayers of praise and supplication.   Many of our hymns are actually prayers. 

A service that is planned to exactly 60 minutes and only permits a two-minute prayer, might not be a good thing.   It might be serving an idol of some sort, the idol of time, or the idol of competing interests.    Making a public prayer personal, when possible, may be as good as a sermon, or better, in describing our relationship to God.  

I am new to the CRC, having been in reverse chronilogical order a United Methodist, atheist, Jew, so this is a new question for me. I always thought church was a primary prayer place. It is where we commune with God on a regular basis, so how could we hold a worship service if we don't talk to God.  Sometimes I think we confuse God with Santa Claus. Its not just intercessory prayer that is important to our life as Christians, but also praise prayer. We need to thank God not only for all he has done in our life, but just for the fact He is God and has chosen us as His people.  We need to stop thinking about ourselves and what prayer does for us and the time it takes from us and refocus on God.  St. Augustine called it right love - if you have God at the center of your love life, then you are in a right love, if anything else is at the center, your life is off kilter.

Just this past Sunday, I heard the women behind me mutter about the fact that we have four prayers in a row -first an opening prayer, then a prayer over the children, then the congregational prayer and then a prayer over the offering. She was actually complaining about it.

I don't understand this attitude or one that limits time for prayer in a worship service.  Prayer is a necessary part of any time that we spend with our Lord and especially in worship service.  I agree with the person above who mentioned the Lord's Prayer. I think we need to add that to our service if only on Communion Sunday. I think we lose alot of our connection to God when we eleminate the prayer that Jesus taught us.

Grace, Debbie Grossberg

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