Psalms, Notes and Echoes
[Praying Aloud - Part 5]
You can talk endlessly about ‘praying aloud,’ but sometimes you just have to do it.
So let me offer a final post with some humble suggestions about techniques and tips for praying aloud. These are by no means definitive, but a few things I have learned along the way in leading my family, congregation, or fellow believers in prayer.
1) Pray the Psalms
In the Psalms, God has given us a beautiful prayer-book, a rich repository of praise and petition. Quickly our own words of praise run dry, so we can use the inspired words of the Psalms for our doxologies to the Triune God, like from Psalm 75:1:
We give thanks to you, O God, we give thanks! For your wondrous works declare that your name is near.
The Psalms also teach us about the kind of things that the children of God should regularly pray for, such as the forgiveness of our sins, protection from our enemies, insight from Scripture, faithfulness to the truth (in belief and in behaviour), and for the advance of God’s kingdom.
2) Open your Eyes
Praying aloud requires us to pray with awareness. We should have open eyes for what God has done and what He is doing, every day of our lives. Be attentive to the Father’s countless good gifts, and then bring them to God in thanksgiving. Recalling God’s faithfulness like this strengthens our prayers, for we see that He has never let us down and never ignored our cries.
In relation to being attentive in prayer, let me repeat a suggestion that I made previously. It is good for those who regularly lead in prayer to maintain a prayer list—and/or a prayer calendar—it can be a simple but effective prompt for our imperfect memories. Have open eyes for the many people in your life whom you should remember before God in prayer.
3) Make Notes
Whenever we pray, God wants us to speak from the heart. But we shouldn’t think that the requirement of sincerity excludes the use of notes. For the prayers that I offer in public worship, I almost always have a set of prepared notes. Such notes will usually include a section of praise (e.g., based on a Psalm, or centered on God’s attributes, or drawn from an historic prayer), a number of specific matters to bring to God (e.g., confession of sin, request for the Spirit’s guidance, intercession for members), and some words that relate to the main topic of the sermon.
I don’t treat prayer notes as a rigid script, but they help me to keep my public prayers ‘on track’ and fresh. Preparing notes means that I have given some thought to the praise we’ll present to God, the requests we’ll make, and the thanksgiving that we’ll offer. A focused and vigorous prayer invites those who are ‘listening’ to join in with their whole heart and mind, which in turn glorifies God.
This is what Andrew Blackwood writes about the ‘prayer leader’ who is well-prepared: “The fact that he knows where he is going, and that he has already travelled over the route, helps the people, unconsciously, to follow the guide who never fails to lead them Godward through the ministry of words” (Leading in Public Prayer, 159).
4) Echo the Words of Others
We need good models for prayer, which is why Jesus gave us the Lord’s Prayer. In addition, we have many examples of prayer in Scripture. For some of these prayers, see 2 Samuel 7:18-29; 1 Kings 8:22-30; 2 Kings 19:15-19; Ezra 9:5-15; Daniel 9:4-19; Habakkuk 3:1-19; John 17:1-26; Ephesians 3:14-21. Each of these prayers will reward a time of study, reflecting on their confession, praise, or intercession.
In my own leading in prayer, I have made regular use of some of the many prayers written down by Christ’s people over the ages (see selected list at the conclusion of this article). Sometimes the language of these prayers is archaic or overly complex, but so often these words have a simple power and amazing beauty. With some modification, these historical prayers can contribute a vitality and freshness to our own prayers. Of special note is the beautiful collection of Puritan prayers that are found in The Valley of Vision.
5) Use Scripture
A final suggestion is to combine your prayers with any Scripture that you have recently read. We will often read a portion of the Bible at mealtimes, at the beginning of a class or mealtime, and certainly also in church.
It is fitting to let this Bible reading give shape to our communal prayers. Reflect on what God has revealed about himself in his Word, and then echo these truths in your prayer through your words of praise, thanksgiving, intercession, and confession. It is surely true that the ‘best’ prayers will echo the words of Scripture, saying back to God the words which He has spoken to us about himself and his works.
In this connection, Charles Spurgeon writes about the importance of regularly committing Scripture to memory. When Scripture fills our mind, it inevitably begins to shape our words toward other people and toward God: “Seeds of prayer thus sown in the memory will yield a constant golden harvest” (Lectures to My Students, 69).
This series of posts began with the heart-pounding, thick-tongued, painfully self-conscious moment of praying aloud. We have spoken about the routine-driven, clichéd, spiritually ‘switched-off’ moment of praying aloud once again, like we’ve done a thousand times before. How do you get over the anxiety of praying in public?
And how to get over the staleness of praying aloud?
Secondly, let us not expect perfection when we pray, as if we need to achieve a certain level of rhetorical skill. God welcomes our stammering words, and has revealed that God the Son and God the Spirit are both interceding for us before the Father—perfecting and augmenting our prayers according to God’s will.
Thirdly, when you’re praying aloud with others, remember the precious bond of unity that you enjoy with them. As you all come together before God through Christ, not one of you is flawless, not one of you is a ‘religious expert.’ For you all live by his grace, and before God you stand together: living, serving, worshiping, and praying.
Lastly, our prayers out loud can be—indeed, they must be!—an expression of our personal faith. If we will lead others in prayer, then we need to know God and walk closely with him. It is in the daily life of faith that we learn who God is, what pleases him, and what He has promised to do. Then for a few moments of public prayer, we get to communicate some of these things not only for ourselves, but also for others.
Together let us cherish this great privilege.
William Barclay, The Plain Man’s Book of Prayers (London: Fontana, 1959).
Arthur Bennett, ed. The Valley of Vision: A Collection of Puritan Prayers and Devotions (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1975).
Eric Milner-White and G.W. Briggs, eds. Daily Prayer (London: Pelican, 1959).
Mary Wilder Tiletson, ed. Prayers Ancient and Modern (New York: Grosset & Dunlap, 1928).