How to Pray in Public

Public Prayer (from Gospel Workers)

The prayers offered in public should be short and to the point. God does not require us to make the season of worship tedious by lengthy petitions. Christ did not enforce upon His disciples wearisome ceremonies and long prayers. “When thou prayest,” He said, “thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men.” [Matthew 6:5.]

The Pharisees had stated hours for prayer; and when, as often came to pass, they were abroad at the appointed time, they would pause wherever they might be,—perhaps in the street or in the marketplace, amid the hurrying throng of men,—and there in a loud voice rehearse their formal prayers. Such worship, offered merely for self-glorification, called forth unsparing rebuke from Jesus. Yet he did not discountenance public prayer; for He Himself prayed with His disciples and with the multitude. But He impressed upon His disciples the thought that their public prayers should be short.

A few minutes is long enough for any ordinary public petition. There may be instances where supplication is in a special manner indited by the Spirit of God. The yearning soul becomes agonized, and groans after God. The spirit wrestles as did Jacob, and will not be at rest without the special manifestation of the power of God. At such times it may be fitting that the petition be of greater length.

Many tedious prayers are offered, which are more like giving the Lord a lecture than presenting to Him a request. It would be better if those offering such prayers would confine themselves to the one that Christ taught His disciples to offer. Long prayers are tiring to those who hear, and do not prepare the people to listen to the instruction that is to follow.

It is often because secret prayer is neglected that long, tedious prayers are offered in public. Let not ministers go over in their petitions a week of neglected duties, hoping to atone for their neglect and to pacify conscience. Such prayers frequently result in bringing others down to a low level of spirituality.

Before entering the desk, the minister should seek God in his closet, and come into close connection with Him. There he may lift his thirsty soul to God, and be refreshed with the dew of grace. Then with an unction from the Holy Spirit upon him, giving him a burden for souls, he will not dismiss a congregation without presenting before them Jesus Christ, the sinner’s only refuge. Feeling that he many never again meet these hearers, he will make appeals that will reach their hearts. And the Master, who knows the hearts of men, will give him utterance, helping him to speak the words he ought to speak at the right time and with power.

Reverence in Prayer

Some think it a mark of humility to pray to God in a common manner, as if talking with a human being. They profane His name by needlessly and irreverently mingling with their prayers the words, “God Almighty,”—awful, sacred words, which should never pass the lips except in subdued tones and with a feeling of awe.

High-flown language is inappropriate in prayer, whether the petition be offered in the pulpit, in the family circle, or in secret. Especially should the one offering public prayer use simple language, that others may understand what is said and unite with the petition.

It is the heart-felt prayer of faith that is heard in heaven and answered on earth. God understands the needs of humanity. He knows what we desire before we ask Him. He sees the soul’s conflict with doubt and temptation. He marks the sincerity of the suppliant. He will accept the humiliation and affliction of the soul. “To this man will I look,” He declares, “even to him that is poor and of a contrite spirit, and trembleth at My word.” [Isaiah 66:2.]

It is our privilege to pray with confidence, the Spirit inditing our petitions. With simplicity we should state our needs to the Lord, and claim His promise with such faith that those in the congregation will know that we have learned to prevail with God in prayer. They will be encouraged to believe that the Lord’s presence is in the meeting, and will open their hearts to receive His blessing. Their faith in our sincerity will be increased, and they will listen with willing ears to the instruction given.

Our prayers should be full of tenderness and love. When we yearn for a deeper, broader realization of the Saviour’s love, we shall cry to God for more wisdom. If ever there was a need of soul-stirring prayers and sermons, it is now. The end of all things is at hand. O that we could see as we should the necessity of seeking the Lord with all the heart! Then we should find Him.

May God teach His people how to pray. Let the teachers in our schools and the ministers in our churches, learn daily in the school of Christ. Then they will pray with earnestness, and their requests will be heard and answered. Then the word will be proclaimed with power.

Our Attitude in Prayer

Both in public and in private worship, it is our privilege to bow on our knees before the Lord when we offer our petitions to Him. Jesus, our example, “kneeled down, and prayed.” [Luke 22:41.] Of His disciples it is recorded that they, too, “kneeled down, and prayed.” [Acts 9:40; 20:36; 21:5.] Paul declared, “I bow my knees unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” [Ephesians 3:14.] In confessing before God the sins of Israel, Ezra knelt. [See Ezra 9:5.] Daniel “kneeled upon his knees three times a day, and prayed, and gave thanks before his God.” [Daniel 6:10.]

True reverence for God is inspired by a sense of His infinite greatness and a realization of His presence. With this sense of the Unseen, every heart should be deeply impressed. The hour and place of prayer are sacred, because God is there; and as reverence is manifested in attitude and demeanor, the feeling that inspires it will be deepened. “Holy and reverend is His name,” [Psalm 111:9.] the psalmist declares. Angels, when they speak that name, veil their faces. With what reverence, then, should we, who are fallen and sinful, take it upon our lips!

Well would it be for old and young to ponder those words of Scripture that show how the place marked by God’s special presence should be regarded. “Put off thy shoes from off thy feet,” He commanded Moses at the burning bush, “for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground.” [Exodus 3:5.] Jacob, after beholding the vision of the angels, exclaimed, “The Lord is in this place; and I knew it not…. This is none other but the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.” [Genesis 28:16, 17.]

“The Lord is in His holy temple: let all the earth keep silence before Him.” [Habakkuk 2:20.]

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Prosy, sermonizing prayers are uncalled for and out of place in public. A short prayer, offered in fervor and faith, will soften the hearts of the hearers; but during long prayers they wait impatiently, as if wishing that every word might end it. Had the minister making such a prayer wrestled with God in his chamber until he felt that his faith could grasp the promise, “Ask, and it shall be given you,” he would in his public prayer have come to the point at once, asking with earnestness and faith for grace for himself and his hearers.

— E.G. White, Gospel Workers, pp. 175- 179

Further Thoughts on Public Prayer

There are few who rightly appreciate or improve the precious privilege of prayer. We should go to Jesus and tell Him all our needs. We may bring Him our little cares and perplexities as well as our greater troubles. Whatever arises to disturb or distress us, we should take it to the Lord in prayer. When we feel that we need the presence of Christ at every step, Satan will have little opportunity to intrude his temptations. It is his studied effort to keep us away from our best and most sympathizing friend. We should make no one our confidant but Jesus. We can safely commune with Him of all that is in our hearts.

Brethren and sisters, when you assemble for social worship, believe that Jesus meets with you; believe that He is willing to bless you. Turn the eye away from self; look unto Jesus, talk of His matchless love. By beholding Him you will become changed into His likeness. When you pray, be brief, come right to the point. Do not preach the Lord a sermon in your long prayers. Ask for the bread of life as a hungry child asks bread of his earthly father. God will bestow upon us every needed blessing if we ask Him in simplicity and faith.

The prayers offered by ministers previous to their discourses are frequently long and inappropriate. They embrace a whole round of subjects that have no reference to the necessities of the occasion or the wants of the people. Such prayers are suitable for the closet, but should not be offered in public. The hearers become weary and long for the minister to close. Brethren, carry the people with you in your prayers. Go to your Saviour in faith, tell Him what you need on that occasion. Let the soul go out after God with intense longing for the blessing needed at that time.

Prayer is the most holy exercise of the soul. It should be sincere, humble, earnest—the desires of a renewed heart breathed in the presence of a holy God. When the suppliant feels that he is in the divine presence, self will be forgotten. He will have no desire to display human talent; he will not seek to please the ear of men, but to obtain the blessing which the soul craves.

If we would only take the Lord at His word, what blessings might be ours! Would that there were more fervent, effectual prayer. Christ will be the helper of all who seek Him in faith.

— E.G. White, 5 Testimonies, pp. 200-202

Historical Author

This is a republished article or book excerpt from early Adventist history. The author will be credited at the end of the article.

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