Leading in Prayer
W. E. Vine, Bath
It has doubtless been frequently observed how varied is the nature of the prayers addressed to the Lord in a prayer meeting. How happily the assembled saints will recognize a prayer which is indited by the Spirit of God, the prayer which is prayed "in the Holy Spirit", Jude 205 cf. 1 Cor. 14.15, and thus unite with fervent outpouring of the heart to the Lord! And how much is wrought by the power of God in response thereto!
Not all prayers prayed in public are of this character, however. There seems to be quite a variety of ways in which the Lord is addressed. There is, for instance, what may be termed
The Innuendo Prayer. This takes place when a brother desires to give some kind of hint to one or another of those present concerning a matter to which he has felt inclined to take exception or draw attention. Addressing the Lord, he would at the same time seek to give a reminder that something needs rectifying in the assembly, or in the life of an individual. This mode of leading people in prayer is dishonouring to God. If there is something wrong, there is a divinely appointed mode of dealing with it, but to mention the matter, or give a hint about it in prayer for the company to hear, is underhand, and should be rigidly avoided. It may savour of cowardice, there being a shrinking from dealing with the matter privately and faithfully in the spirit of grace and love. The hint may amount to a mere innuendo, but it must be exceedingly distasteful to the Lord. The one who adopts it evidently wants a fellowbeliever to hear what he has to say, rather than the Lord. There is
The Protracted Prayer. This is a kind of prayer which, by reason of its exhaustive character, wearies those who are seeking to follow. Some prayers are protracted to such a length that if the feelings of those present were uttered it would be found that they had been really longing for the "Amen". This kind of prayer is contrary to the Lord's instructions for those who are gathered together. His command was, "After this manner therefore pray ye". Then follows what has been called "The Lord's Prayer", which is really the disciples' prayer. It contains seven requests. In the original the whole prayer contains 67 words. The instruction "After this manner" shows not only that it was not intended to be uttered by way of constant repetition, but that united prayer in the gathering is to be characterized by suitable brevity. The record of the prayers in the New Testament confirms this desirability of brevity in public prayer.
To take up a number of subjects that come to one's mind in the course of a prayer is one thing; to supplicate concerning those matters with which the Spirit of God has burdened the heart, is another, and this latter makes all the difference. Moreover, when a number are assembled, long prayers tend to quench the Holy Spirit, in preventing others from taking part who might be led of the Lord to do so were there time. This tends to mar the power of a Prayer Meeting. A remark by Spurgeon is appropriate. He gives advice as follows: "Never appear to be closing and then start off again for another five minutes. When friends make up their minds that you are about to conclude, they cannot with a jerk proceed again in a devout spirit. I have known men tantalize us with the hope that they were drawing to a close, and then take a fresh lease two or three times. This is most unwise and unpleasant".
Then there is what may be termed
The Expository Prayer. This consists of incorporating into the prayer an exposition of Scripture, something partly intended for the edification of the hearers. While a prayer should be scriptural, and many helpful prayers contain brief quotations from the Word of God, helping us to address Him in the spirit of worship, as well as in supplication with thanksgiving, yet we should refrain from introducing a number of truths from Scripture as if we were unfolding portions thereof. Our oral prayers are not designed of God to impart expositions from the holy page, to those whom we are leading.
Again, there is what we may call
The Colloquial Prayer. Now holy familiarity with God is a very blessed thing, and a divine intimacy often characterizes the prayer of one who is in the habit of holding much communion with God in private. But it is quite another thing to lead saints in prayer in a manner which savours of an ordinary conversation carried on by one person with another. The tone of such prayers neither is reverent nor is it helpful to those who have a proper regard for the majesty and dignity of Him whom we are addressing. By all means let us avoid a kind of religious drawl or an ecclesiastical monotony of tone, but let us be on our guard also against the sort of utterance that gives the impression that we are carrying on a kind of chat or familiar colloquial discourse.
In this connection we would draw attention to the evil of the employment of certain endearing terms in addressing the Lord in the presence of fellow-believers. The use, for instance, of such phrases as "Dear Lord", "Loving Father", is scarcely consistent with the relation existing between the Lord and ourselves. There is nothing to endorse it in Scripture. Such expressions do not tend to give the impress of spirituality; they often offend the ears of those who, while they love the Lord, are deeply and rightly imbued with a spirit of reverence.
There is also
The Repetitive Prayer. By this we refer to a tendency to repeat constantly, that is to say, in every two or three of the utterances, the mode of address with which the prayer may well begin, such as "Oh God our Father", or "Oh God". It has been well said that God's Name is not to be a stop-gap to make up for our want of words, as if we must carry on our utterances in one continuous flow, without pausing for a second or two. Why prepare for the next utterance by again addressing the Lord in the way in which we did only a sentence or two previously? This mode of repetition is not helpful to those who are following the prayer.
In conclusion, let our prayers always be addressed to Him, and not be intended to instruct our hearers. Let what we say be addressed ever in a humble and lowly spirit, marked indeed by earnestness, by the pouring out of the heart, Psa. 62. 8, but always in the realization of the character of Him in whose presence we are. Let our prayers be characterized, too, by definiteness. God knows our own hearts, but for the sake of those who are seeking to join with us our prayers need to be free from vagueness and confusion. At the same time we do well to avoid endeavouring to please those who are with us by adopting fine phrases and unduly eloquent expressions. It is a solemn and responsible thing to lead God's people in prayer. Only by the leading and help of the Holy Spirit can we do so acceptably to the Lord.