Counsel to those who Pray in Public
IT IS MUCH TO BE DESIRED that our hearts might be so affected with a sense of divine things, and so closely engaged when we are worshipping God, that it might not be in the power of little circumstances to interrupt and perplex us, and to make us think the service wearisome, and the time which we employ in it tedious.
But as our infirmities are many and great, and as the enemy of our souls is watchful to discompose us, if care is not taken by those who pray aloud, the exercise of prayer may become a burden, and even an occasion of sin.
Prayers too Long
The chief fault of some good prayers is that they are too long; not that I think we should pray by the clock, and limit our¬selves to a precise number of minutes; but it is better of the two that the hearers should wish the prayer had been longer, than spend half or a considerable part of the time in wishing it was over.
This is frequently owing to an unnecessary enlargement upon every circumstance that offers, as well as to the repetition of the same things. If we have been copious in pleading for spiritual blessing, it may be best to be brief and summary in our interceding for others. There are, doubtless, seasons when the Lord is pleased to favour those who pray with a peculiar liberty; they speak at length, because they feel deeply; they have a wrestling spirit, and hardly know when to leave off. When this is the case, they who join with them are seldom wearied, though the prayer should be protracted beyond the usual limits.
But I believe it sometimes happens, both in praying and preaching, that we are apt to spin out our time to the greatest length when in reality we have least to say. Long prayers should in general be avoided, or else even spiritual hearers will be unable to keep up their attention. And here I would just notice an impropriety sometimes met with, that when a person gives expectation that he is just going to conclude his prayer, something not thought of in its proper place occurring that instant to his mind leads him as it were to begin again.
Preaching mixed with Prayer
The prayers of some good men are more like preaching than praying. They rather express the Lord's mind to the people than the desires of the people to the Lord. Indeed, this can hardly be called prayer. It might, in another place, stand for part of a good sermon; but it will afford little help to those who desire to pray with their hearts. Prayer should be sententious, and made up of breathings to the Lord. It should be not only scriptural and evangelical, but experimental: a simple and unstudied expression of the wants and feelings of the soul.
The Stranger at the Gate or the Child at Home?
Often the prayers of persons of superior abilities are, though accurate and regular, so dry and starched that they afford little either of pleasure or profit to a spiritual mind. The studied addresses with which some approach the throne of grace reminds us of a stranger coming to a great man's door; he knocks and waits, and goes through a course of ceremony before he gains admittance; while a child of the family uses no ceremony at all, but enters when he pleases because he knows he is at home.
It is true we ought always to draw near the Lord with great humiliation of spirit, and a sense of our unworthiness; but this spirit is not always expressed or promoted by a pompous enumeration of the names and titles of the God with whom we have to do.
Repeating words unnecessarily
Many, perhaps most people, who pray in public, have some favourite word or expression which recurs too often in their prayers, and is frequently used as a mere expletive, having no necessary connection with the sense of what they are saying. The most disagreeable of these is when the name of the blessed Lord, with the addition of one or more epithets, such as great, glorious, holy, almighty, etc., is introduced so often and without necessity, that it seems neither to indicate a due reverence in the person who uses it nor to be suited to excite reverence in those who hear.
I will not say that this is taking the name of God in vain, in the usual scriptural sense of the phrase; it is, however, a great impropriety, and should be guarded against. It would be well if they who use redundant expressions had a kind friend to caution them against their peculiarities.
By kind permission of Light and Liberty