Public Prayer

Dr. John Boyd, Holywood, N. Ireland

In the previous consideration of the two model prayers that the Lord taught His disciples, we noted that the first model dealt mainly with the believer's private, personal prayer. The second model, Luke 11. 1-13, seems con­cerned rather with instructions con­cerning public praying, by a company of God's people.

Note the occasion of its presentation. The Lord did not often pray in the presence of His disciples, but once when He did so, one of His disciples was so impressed by His praying that, after the Lord had ceased, he asked the Master to teach His disciples to pray, as John the Baptist had taught his disciples, Luke 11.1. The Lord then addressed His disciples more as a company, not as in the model in Mat­thew 6. 6 r.v., "when thou prayest, enter into thine inner chamber, and having shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret, and thy Father which seeth in secret shall re­compense thee". But in Luke 11. 2 the plural is used rather, "When ye pray, ye say", or it may be in the imperative mood, "say ye". The Greek word here translated "say" is lego, meaning "to give oral expression to", "to utter definite words", and being in the plural, would suggest that many brethren in the company should pray, a longer exercise than if only one person addressed God.

After having impressed on the dis­ciples the value of praying in secret in Matthew 6. 6, the Lord set before them a model prayer. But now, in Luke 11.2-4, He gives them another, slightly different model. In the Matthew 6 model, more words are used than in the model of Luke 11. Also, in the Greek text of the Matthew prayer there are seven petitions, whilst in the Luke model there are only five.

Note the number of words in these two prayers—in the Greek text, and in each of two translations :

Matt. 6 Luke 11

Greek Text  57 words 38 words

Authorised Version 65 words 57 words Revised Version 55 words 39 words

One important difference between these two pattern prayers is that the Matthew model was possibly intended for private prayer, and the Luke model for public prayer. Does this not suggest to us that we ought to spend more time praying in private than in public? It would seem that, though more words were used in the model for private praying, this was not to be attained by means of "vain repetitions" or "much speaking", Matt. 6. 7, but by giving more time and attention to our peti­tions. This the Lord taught by His own example in spending whole nights in praying alone with His Father, Mark 6. 46, 48.

It will be seen that in the Revised Version the pattern prayer of Luke 11 is much shorter than the model of Matthew 6. The invocation is shorter, simply "Father". Besides, two peti­tions are omitted, (1) "Thy will be done, as in heaven, so on earth", and (2) "deliver us from the evil one". This indicates that personal, private praying should occupy more time than a collec­tive prayer in public. Seeing that the public prayer is shorter, more brethren than usual should be able to take part in the prayer meeting, making it pos­sible for all the brethren in the com­pany to pray, as they alone are author­ized to pray publicly, 1 Tim. 2. 8. This would result in fewer long pauses in our prayer meetings.

The use of the word "say" in Luke 1. 2 teaches us that the prayers in a public gathering should be vocal, and heard by all, so that others can understand what is said, and be in a position to add their "Amen", 1 Cor. 14. 16. There is no room for so-called "silent pray­ers"; the brethren should all be exer­cised to pray audibly, no matter how briefly. Public prayers should consist of a few short petitions. In this we do well to seek the help of the Holy Spirit to decide on our petitions—according to the will of the Father, that His Name may be glorified, and our prayers an­swered. Most public prayers in Scrip­ture are short—from two seconds to five minutes. The model prayer in Luke 11 could be spoken reverently in forty-five seconds.

There is no need to prolong or ampli­fy our petitions. Just tell God what is on your mind, and leave the answer to Him. We need not unduly enlarge the requests we present, by telling God when, and how He should answer them. He knows better than we how to answer.

The petitions in our public prayers, first, should make much of the Father— to hallow His Name, to reverence Him, to manifest our subjection to His rule, and our obedience to His will. In pre­senting simple petitions for our own needs in public, let us observe the fre­quency of the word "us" in the model prayer, Luke 11. 3-4. Let us remember to pray for the others in the company— what they need, and especially the sisters. This expresses our fellowship, the one with the other, as together we approach God.

The conduct of a prayer meeting can be well appreciated in an example from Acts 12. 1-17. There had been a crisis in the church at Jerusalem; the apostle James had been slain by Herod, who had arrested Peter with the same intention, and had cast him into prison. But the believers betook themselves to prayer. The conduct of this prayer meeting is an apt illustration for us today. First, "prayer was made ... of the church",—all were at the prayer meeting, v. 5. Many were gath­ered together to pray, v. 12. What a contrast to the small numbers of assembly members who attend some prayer meetings today. These prayed to God, in whom alone their faith was centred. The praying was in earnest, v. 5 r.v., a word used to describe the Lord's prayer in Gethsemane, Luke 22. 44. They were serious about their pray­ing ; it was fervent, sincere. The Authorized Version translates this word "without ceasing", reminding us of the importunity the Lord commend­ed in Luke 11.8, where the Greek word translated "importunity" is lit. "without shame"; they were not ashamed of their continuous prayer. There seemed to have been no pauses. Their praying was definite—it was for Peter. One theme filled their minds; there was no wandering of their thoughts. Their prayers were answered —quickly, unexpectedly. Even those who had been praying were surprised. Let us remember that God is still the same. He would have us prove Him even now; He will open the windows of heaven, and pour out a blessing on us. If we come earnestly to Him in prayer, He would teach us how great a God He is.