I’ve been working through “The Art of Prophesying” by William Perkins. The book is nothing earth shattering or groundbreaking, but is full of some real good foundational truths for preaching and preachers. The basic reminders are always helpful, and I’m a staunch advocate that we should never think that we’ve graduated beyond the basics!
Chapter 11 is a very brief explanation of how public prayer should be carried out. The principles presented here may jar our modernist sentimental sensibilities, but the sting of correction is better than the agony of judgement. Here is the full excerpt, and thankfully, you can find the full book here.
We have been considering the preaching of the Word. Now, finally, something should be said about leading in public prayer. This is the second aspect of prophesying. In it the minister is the voice of the people in calling upon God (1 Sam. 14:24; Luke 11:1).
In this connection we should note the following points:
1. The subject of public prayer should be, first, the deficiencies and sins of the people, and then the graces of God and the blessings they stand in need of (1 Tim. 2:1, 2). Tertullian says, ‘We do all pray for all emperors, that they may obtain a long life, a quiet reign, a safe family, courageous armies, a faithful council, loyal subjects, a peaceable world, and whatsoever things are desired of a man and of Caesar.’ Again, ‘We pray for emperors for their ministers and powers, for the state of the time, for the quietness of their affairs, and for the delaying of their death.’ The Lord’s Prayer covers these areas under six headings: God’s glory, God’s kingdom, and our obedience, the preservation of life, the forgiveness of sins, and the strengthening of the spirit.
2. The form of prayer should be as follows: One voice, that of the minister alone, should lead in prayer, the congregation joining in silently but indicating their agreement at the end by saying, ‘Amen’ (Neh. 8:6; Acts 4:24; 1 Cor. 14:16). This was the practice in the early church, as Justin says: ‘When the president has finished his prayers and thanksgivings, all the people present cry out with a favourable approbation, saying, Amen.’
3. But the one voice which expresses the corporate prayers of the congregation needs to be understood (1 Cor. 14:15). It should not lead in prayer in a jagged and abrupt fashion, but with a steady flow of petitions, so that empty repetitions are avoided (Matt. 6:7).
4. There are three elements in praying: (i) Carefully thinking about the appropriate content for prayer; (ii) Setting the themes in an appropriate order; (iii) Expressing the prayer so that it is made in public in a way that is edifying for the congregation.