When it comes to prayer in corporate worship, there are two things that amaze me. The first thing is how little corporate prayer there is in most worship services. The pastoral prayer has all but vanished.
But the second thing that amazes me is how parochial our praying is. In some churches, World War IV could have begun, and a reference to it would not show up in the worship service. If we do pray for our world, it usually involves praying for our nation.
Now don’t get me wrong, I am all for praying for our nation. But we ought also to pray for our world. On what basis? Start with Isaiah 56.7 where the Lord says “for my house will be called a house of prayer for all nations.” This was a passage repeated by Jesus when he drove the money changers out of the temple as recorded in Matthew 21.13. Then go to 1 Timothy 2.1-4 where Paul writes, “I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercessions and thanksgiving be made for everyone—for kings and all those in authority.” Notice the “everyone” and the “all those in authority.” It continues and says “This is good and pleases God our savior who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.” Here the “all” speaks of “all kinds of people,” not limited to any ethnic group.
If you go to the BBC website, they have a feature which I watch when I am in a hurry. It is titled “watch one minute world news” and in a brief time quickly reviews the top international stories. Fox News has a similar feature with their nightly “Around the World in 80 seconds.” It is a quick recap of stories making the headlines from around the globe. When I view these, I wonder why we can’t pray with that kind of global expansiveness at least one Sunday a month.
Is it possible? Sure it is, it can be done just as succinctly as the BBC and Fox. Try it by adding 80 seconds to your prayers. You could include one of the top stories of the week. The focus could be on the persecuted church, or some natural disaster. It could be a concern taken from the missions handbook Operation World. The one limitation of sticking with the agenda of the BBC or FOX is that their focus rarely includes the body of Christ.
Of all the churches I have ever visited, the one that does this best is All Souls Church in London. They took a bidding prayer (where we bid people to pray for things) from the Anglican tradition. The prayer had about seven parts. After each topic was introduced, there was a silence, and then the repeated phrase, “Lord, in your mercy” followed by the congregation’s “hear our prayer.”
It started with prayers thanking God for his mercy and salvation. Next came a pray for grace and wisdom for national leaders. Then a prayer for ministers dedicated to truth. This was followed by a prayer for those who are suffering and in need—naming specific people and nations. Then came a prayer for justice in the world, also bringing some oppression to the mind of the worshippers. Then came a prayer acknowledging God’s supremacy in history. This was followed by a prayer for clean hearts and renewal by the Holy Spirit. The whole prayer took about five minutes. But afterwards, I felt as if I had prayed. And not just prayed, but prayed significantly, in a way that reordered my thoughts, and widened my span of prayer. It broke through the parochialism that is so often the norm when we pray on Sundays. Try it.
PS For the past few Sundays, in the churches I’ve visited, I have been listening to see if anyone would be mentioning in their pulpit prayers the massive oil spill in the gulf. It is the worst enviornmental disaster our nation has ever faced. So far….not a word. How about peace in the Middle East as things grow more tense by the week? Not a word.
We can criticize our government all we want for not recognizing the National Day of Prayer, but perhaps the nearer and greater problem is that our churches are neglecting robust, world-caring prayer as well. Humm……we’ve got work to do.