Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Our Pastor's Prayers

"See him on his knees: he talks with God; he pours out his heart before the Lord; and in return—whether the world chooses to believe it or not, it is a matter of fact with us—in return the great Invisible Spirit pours into the praying heart a stream of sacred comfort, stays it in its time of trouble, and gives it to rejoice in its moments of sadness." ~ C. H. Spurgeon

For yesterday's devotion time, I opened a book I just received from Grace To You entitled "At the Throne of Grace - A Book of Prayers" by Pastor John MacArthur.  After reading the forward written by his children, the preface written by MacArthur, and the first prayer, I am confident that it will become a treasured book.  It will be one of those that can be read over and over again because of the depth of his expressions to God with cited Scripture verses to further exhort and encourage.  They may be Pastor MacArthur's words, but they reflect what I am sometimes unable to express.

I often wish that I had the same eloquence that men like my own Pastor, Paul Guay, MacArthur, and Spurgeon were so blessed with.  When you read their writings or hear their utterances, there is never a question as to what it is they are conveying.  Although they may have a stack of papers in front of them blackened by ink with their sermon notes, the words that flow during their delivery issue from their hearts.  It is from there that the Holy Spirit speaks through them in order that we, God's children, are able to glean His perfect will for us.  They are teachers in the true Biblical form of the word and the man who is privileged to sit under men like these are truly blessed.

But we sometimes view prayer as a more personal relationship with God, one we are unwilling to share with others.  I understand Pastor MacArthur's hesitancy to allow them to be put into book form.  After all, for the honest preacher they are an unwritten and unpracticed intimate conversation with his God, an expression from the place with which only he and the LORD are familiar.  His concerns that they may be wrongly used are well-founded.  All too often, people merely go through the motions as they stand in public prayer, reciting by rote, half-listening, then mumbling "Amen" at its conclusion without really understanding where they are standing and the One who is seated before them.

The pastoral prayer given before the service starts is perhaps the most important time of worship.  It is the Pastor who is able to open his heart and make it visible to others that unites us to humbly approach the throne of grace where our Holy God is seated.  We stand together as one like-minded body with similar petitions, drawing us closer to the LORD we love.  This all so important prayer prepares our hearts and minds for what is coming next.  It is an opening statement to God that we have gathered to come before Him in worship, praising Him, laying our petitions before Him, and anxious to hear His word.

The second prayer in MacArthur's book had a different theme.  It told the Gospel of Jesus Christ in its fullness.  I believe the prayer's intent was to reach into the minds and hearts of those who may have been sitting idle in their pews, unconcerned or unaware of all that God the Father through God the Son has done for them.  And for those who had already received salvation, it was confirmation of this truth; a reminder, so to speak.  Reading Pastor MacArthur's words took me back to my beginning,  the time of not knowing Him and of my former depravity.  They made me appreciate the love God has for His children, and of the selfless sacrifice He made to save me.

When our Pastor starts the service with prayer, rarely does he speak for himself.  Rather, he employs what is commonly called the "third person" form of the subject.  The pronoun goes from being singular and aimed at oneself (I and me) to plural (we, us), drawing the congregation together as one body with similar conditions, praise, hopes, and pleas.  Although it is a way of uniting us with one voice, our hearts meld together and we join with him as we approach the throne of grace to lay our petitions before the LORD.

There is nothing wrong with wanting to be alone with God, to commune in prayer with Him in the privacy of your "inner room" (Matt. 6:6) where it is just you and Him.  These are moments of intimacy and closeness that are unequaled, for the believing man is confident he is in God's presence and that He hears every word.  Jesus often slipped away from the throngs to have those intimate moments with the Father (Mark 1:35; Mark 6:46; Luke 5:16; Luke 9:18; Luke 22:41).  But we should also delight and take comfort in the times when others are speaking for us.  God's presence is no less real, and His ear is just as receptive in these circumstances.

The pastoral prayers that are being spoken define the commonality we have with each other.  They are a way of sharing the precious and divine attribute of knowing Jesus Christ and the gift of salvation He has so graciously bestowed upon us.  It is a way for God to draw our minds and hearts away from the pressing issues that may have followed us into His sanctuary, and to place our focus on Him as our worship begins.  The Pastor's words prepare our hearts for the sermon to come that will further exhort and encourage us.

Although there are those who have been gifted with the ability to speak fluently or persuasively, just the simple words of an honest heart is all that is necessary to secure an audience with God.  It is often said that others covet our prayers for them and their needs.  But the LORD covets them the most.  He longs to hear from us, regardless of the number of words used or how they appear to sound to others.  Whether our prayers are presented singularly or in unison, He is waiting for us to approach Him without fear or feelings of inadequacy.

Therefore, when your Pastor stands before you and asks you to bow your head with him in prayer, do so with all humbleness.  Be grateful for the faithful servant God has placed before you, one who is willing to speak not only for himself, but to also include you and your needs  in his prayers (1Tim. 2:1-2). 

Unite with him in spirit as he adds your unspoken praise or requests to his own.  Delight in the knowledge that the family of God to which you belong are joined together in what God desires the most from us: desiring His presence and approaching Him in humble gratitude.

And when your Pastor is done, don't just mutter your agreement.  Let your "Amen" be filled with heartfelt sincerity, expressing recognition with one united voice for the prayer that has been presented before the throne of grace.

1 comment:

Karie said...

Hi Karen, you are right about the privilege of praying. What an amazing opportunity our God offers us, to come to Him, whenever and wherever we are, in prayer. Some of my most precious experiences have been as I have knelt in prayer. I know our Father hears us pray, He listens and cares so deeply about whatever concerns us. How much He loves us to give us this precious gift of speaking with Him.