How to...Begin and End Prayer
An encounter between God’s people and the living God is the very essence of worship. Here are some tips to help worship leaders lead God’s people in prayer.
- Nurture your own spirituality.
We cannot lead others into a conversation with One who is a stranger to us.
- Plan your prayer, rather than depending on the inspiration of the moment.
Write down some of your ideas. Preparing should not mean writing an essay to God and then reading it to the people. But do write down the beginning and end of the prayer and consider outlining the middle (while still allowing yourself the freedom of a natural conversation with God).
- Use feeling words, the language of the heart, not the doctrinal speech of the intellect.
- Remember that prayer is simply talking with God. Resist strongly any urge to preach or teach.
Moving Into Prayer
- Involve the congregation.
If you lead worship in a small congregation, you may wish to offer a time for shared prayer concerns. In a larger church a prayer list in the bulletin or on the video screen may work better. In either case, don’t let health and safety issues dominate the prayers.
- Create an environment where God’s people will intimately converse with God by
- moving from the pulpit to the communion table.
- inviting those who are able to kneel.
- using a short time of directed silence (“God’s Word says ‘Be still and know that I am God.’ Let us quietly recognize God’s presence as we prepare to pray.”)
- Lead into prayer with a familiar chorus or hymn.
An ascriptive song (addressed to God) is better than a descriptive song (about God). For example, “Jesus, Name Above All Names” is better than “What a Friend We Have In Jesus.”
The Invitation to Prayer
- Keep it simple.
“Let us pray,” will usually do, or “Let’s pray together.” “Shall we pray?” is a question, and you’re not taking a vote. “Please pray with me,” sounds more like this is going to be the leader’s prayer than the congregation’s prayer.
- If prayer follows an ascriptive hymn or song, don’t interrupt with any transition.
Just continue the prayer already implicit in the song. For example, if you sing “God in three persons, blessed Trinity!” move directly into “O Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, You are so holy . . . ”
- Vary the words you use to address God.
The first sentence of the prayer opens the door into this sacred space. While we each fall into using our favorite phrase (“O Lord God . . . ”, “Father God . . . ”, “Dear Lord . . . ”), we need to avoid creating clichés or rendering our language dead by overuse.
- Use visual words that identify God and describe our relationship with God.
The Scriptures provide many rich images:
- “O God, you are the Rock of our Salvation and today we need a Gibraltar to cling to.”
- “You are the Potter, Lord, and we are like clay in your hand.”
If an image of God provides the theme for the service, let that image tie together hymns, anthems, and message as well as the prayers.
- In our hurried, distracted lives, our prayers may need to begin where people are.
- “O God, what a beautiful week you’ve given us. We’ve seen you in sunsets and flowers.”
- “Lord, the tragedies we’ve heard about this week make us wonder, “Why, Lord, why?”
Whether you begin with the six o’clock news or with the Scriptures, the goal is always to bring the authentic concerns of people into the powerful presence of God. Prayer is a bridge that needs to be anchored at both ends.
Closing the Prayer
- Teach your congregation to say the Amen together, strongly and consistently.
It will take some teaching about the nature of worship, the meaning of the word “Amen,” and the biblical precedent (1 Cor. 14:16; 2 Cor. 1:20), but involving people with a song at the beginning and a unison Amen at the end will help them stay focused throughout the prayer.
- Use a similar ending each time you pray.
This will let people know when to join in on the Amen. “For Jesus’ sake” is a little worn. “Through Jesus Christ our Lord” or “In the strong and loving name of Jesus” meet the biblical injunction to ask “in my name” (John 14:13-14).