How to Pray in Public

In a typical Southern Baptist church–if there is any such animal!–the pastor and other ministers handle most of the pulpit duties. The times when a deacon can be counted on to lead in public prayer is more likely to come before the offering and in the Lord’s Supper.

When a layman approaches the pulpit to lead in prayer, there is no telling what will happen then. If it’s true that most pastors have never had training in public praying, it’s ten times as sure that the laypeople haven’t.

What we get when the typical layman comes to the microphone to lead a prayer is some or all of the following:

–trite statements he has heard other people pray again and again

–vain repetitions

–awkward attempts to be genuine and fresh

–awkward attempts to admonish the congregation about some issue, usually their laxity in giving

–a total unawareness of the time element. He/she may be too brief or go on and on and on.

The typical layman feels out of place doing this. There are exceptions, thankfully, and some wonderful ones. But in most churches, the deacons and other lay leadership would rather take a beating than to pray in public.

A pastor friend announced to his deacons that they would no longer be leading offertory prayers. He expected resistance and was prepared to respond to it. Instead, without exception, they cheered the news. “They felt like a burden had been lifted off their shoulders,” he said.

I understand that. But I regret it. In truth, this could be a wonderful time for a man or woman of the Lord to render service of an unusual nature to the congregation and indirectly to the Lord.

Here are ten suggestions on how any of us–preachers, staffers, deacons, laity–can improve our public prayers.

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Unity Among the Lord’s People: It’s Bigger Than We Think

I pray that they all may be one…that the world may believe that You sent Me.(John 17:21)

I have a strong suspicion that the Lord is almost the only One among us who truly knows the value of unity within His Body.

To put it another way: Even those who love the Lord with all their heart, who treasure His word and work to obey Him, seem not to place a high enough value on unity within the Body.

Mr. Burger King pulled into town one day and decided to check out his franchises. Driving up Route 45, the business district of the city, he spotted one of his fast-food restaurants. It seemed to be doing okay, so that pleased him.

Then, he spotted something that puzzled him.

Right beside that Burger King was another one, identical to the first. What in the world was going on, he wondered.

Then it got worse.

Across the highway in the next block was another one. Three Burger-Kings that close together? What kind of marketing is this?

Before he left town that day, Mr. Burger King had found fourteen of his franchise restaurants in that community, most of them within half a block of one another.

Something was badly wrong. Some district manager was in bad trouble.

One day, the Lord Jesus came to our town. He spotted the First Baptist on one corner, First United Methodist on the other corner, the Presbyterians across the way, and the Assembly of God down the block. In the next block was the Catholics, the Latter Day Saints, and the synagogue.

And of course, each one claimed to be using the original recipe.

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When It’s Okay to Call Your Enemy an Idiot

The July/August issue of “The Atlantic” has an article that blew me away. “Why We Should Mock Terrorists” has as its alternate title “The Case for Calling Them Nitwits.”

I do like this. Finally (I felt when seeing it), someone has struck the right note about these terrorists. They are truly fools.

Underneath the graphics on the lead page of the article we read: They blow each other up by mistake. They bungle even simple schemes. They get intimate with cows and donkeys. Our terrorist enemies trade on the perception that they’re well trained and religiously devout, but in fact, many are fools and perverts who are far less organized and sophisticated than we imagine. Can being more realistic about who our foes actually are help us stop the truly dangerous ones?

We want to think these jihadists are purists in their faith and disciplined in their devotion to their God. Hardly, it turns out. In fact, we learn that a great many of these terrorists can’t even read and write. All they know is what their wrong-headed leaders tell them. And like dunces, they believe all they hear and never turn a critical eye to anything.

Such people are not only our foes; they are their own worst enemies.

Hence my question: When is it all right to call your enemy an idiot and a nitwit?

Wrong answer: when it’s true.

Right answer: When your goal is not to win him over, but to destroy him.

If your goal is to win him, then gentler methods are called for. You will want to understand his position, sympathize with where he is coming from, answer his objections, and reason with him. You’ll need to build a relationship with him.

But if the enemy needs to be sent into the nether-regions, all bets are off. Forget the nicer stuff and take the gloves off. Tell him the truth about himself.

Believe it or not, there is some Scriptural grounds for doing that.

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Shhhh. Don’t Tell the Pastor.

Okay. Don’t anyone tell the preacher we’re all going to encourage him.

Let him think it was spontaneous on your part.

What I want you to do is something you’ve almost quit doing. No, I’m not talking about praying for him, although there is that.

Write him a letter.

Handwrite it. Make it two pages, no more. Make it positive and uplifting.

And when you do, I can tell you several things that are true of that letter once it arrives at the pastor’s desk….

—It will be a rarity. He gets very little first class mail these days. Everything is done by computers.

—He will keep the letter for a long time.

—It will bless him (and possibly his family members) for years to come, particularly when he comes across it years from now.

Case in point. Last night, I ran across a letter from Christy dated July 15, 1997. Here is what this young lady–perhaps a high school senior–wrote to her preacher.

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How I Know It’s From God

“Grandpa,” little Leigh Anne asked, “How do I know when it’s God talking to me and when it’s just me talking to myself?”

Pastor James Richardson told his beloved little one, “Honey, that’s one of the hardest questions you’ll ever face in this life.”

Someone asked me the same question the other day.

Here is my attempt to answer it.

First, let’s identify the wrong answers. I know it’s of God because of the warm feeling inside me. I’ve had several Mormons tell me that. Bad answer. A dangerous one, even.

Some of us remember the Debbie Boone hit from a generation ago. “This can’t be wrong; it feels so right.”

All over the world worshipers in a thousand religions read their holy books and come away with warm feelings. Doubtless, many interpret the inner emotional reaction as a verification of their faith’s validity. They go forward into the day, assured that their faith is solid, their belief well-anchored, their lives well-lived.

I know it’s of God because it fits my convictions. This hardly deserves comment.

I know it’s of God because it’s something I was wanting to do anyway. Ditto.

There has to be a better way.

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