Tuesday, November 2, 2010

The Prayer of the Church

I will admit that I have grown to love the old "General Prayer" with its long monologue of petition and supplication.  Growing up, I detested it.  It was just so darn long and I hardly ever paid much attention to its words.  Maybe it is about youth and a little ADD.  Maybe not.  But I have reconciled with the General Prayer even though I do not believe it is good practice to use such a pastoral monologue of prayer on a regular basis.

The reason I have grown to appreciate the General Prayer is probably because of the poor responsive prayers so often heard in Lutheran congregations.  One problem is the wordiness.  It seems that some Lutherans really do feel the more words, the more likely God is to grant their prayers.  Clarity is important when you are asking people in the pew to voice their "Amen" to the Prayer of the Church.  Clarity can co-exist with eloquence and, in fact, it is often associated with eloquence (in secular terms think of the compact eloquence of Lincoln's Gettysburg address and the muddiness of longer orations).

Another problem is trying to put too much into each petition.  The petitions become like the omnibus resolutions of Congress and end up being so filled with "stuff" that it is hard for the people in the pew to voice their "Amen" to these prayers.  Petitions in the Prayer of the Church need to cover one issue per petition.  Without printing these out, people are left to their ears to hear, understand, and offer an "Amen" to the Church's prayer.

The Prayer of the Church is prayer and not proclamation or sermon.  This is another issue with the Prayer of the Day.  It is often that the Pastor uses the Prayer of the Day to reinforce or get one more shot at the points being made in the sermon.  The Prayer of the Day is surely connected to the pericopes and the homily but not one more avenue for lection or sermon.

The Prayer of the Church should not be used to announce things.  When we add dates and times to the things we pray for, the prayers have ceased to be directed to God and have become announcements directed to the people in the pews.  Are we asking for their "Amen" or for them to mark these events on their calendars?  The same must be said about mentioning the reason for the petitions for individual people.  Do not describe in detail why people have been place on the prayer list.  It is unnecessary.  God knows their needs.  We lift them to the Lord not with our directions for what He ought to do but because we know His good and gracious will and that He will bring only eternal good upon His people.  Mention the name.  That is enough.

The Prayer of the Church is the place where the church's concerns are addressed to the Lord -- we always pray for the Church, the proclamation of the Gospel, the Pastors whom God has placed among us, the leaders of our Synod and District, the catechumens, etc...  We always pray for these causes because these are the causes for which the Church exists.

The Prayer of the Church always includes petitions for the government, those elected to serve as our political leaders, and those who judge and enforce our laws.  I love the expression "those who make, administer, and judge our laws" because it covers them all.  We also remember not only the cause of justice but the cause of mercy for the weak unable to speak or defend themselves.

Finally, if you have trouble writing these petitions, you have options.  Use the General Prayer but break it up in petition form to allow congregational response.  Use the petitions put out by the Commission on Worship -- they are generally very fine.  Remember that these prayers are instructional for the people as well as the prayers of the assembly -- they ought to inspire and inform the prayer life of the individuals even as they reflect the prayerful concerns of the gathering of God's people around the Word and Table of the Lord this day....

No comments: