How to Pray in Public (Part 2)

How to Pray in Public (Part 2) May 26, 2023

In a previous post, we saw Samuel Miller’s suggestions for what to avoid in public prayer. These are his positive suggestions for what to do when praying publicly:

  1. “One of the most essential excellencies in public prayer, and that which I feel constrained to first of all, and above all to recommend, is, that it abound in the language of the word of God.” Miller gives several further considerations: a) That “this language is always right, always safe, and always edifying.” 2) that this language is always simple, tender, and touching, and “adapted to engage and impress the heart.” Miller then proceeds to give a number of caveats about using Scripture properly, especially in terms of text and context.
  2. “Another excellence of a good public prayer is that is be orderly. That is, that it have a real and perceptible order.” This doesn’t always have to be the same order, just that there must be some order: “its several parts of adoration, confession, thanksgiving, petition, and intercession should not be jumbled together in careless, inconsiderate mixture; be made to succeed each other in some happy arrangement.”
  3. A public prayer should be “dignified and general in its plan and comprehensive in its requests, without descending to too much detail.” Be as detailed as you want in private, but in public be dignified and stick to broad topics.
  4. Keep prayers of an appropriate length and on a limited range of topics. Again stick to no longer than 12-15 minutes for a public prayer.
  5. Keep prayer “seasonable and appropriate to the occasion on which it is uttered.” This means maintaining composure and self-control when praying, and not letting ourselves get runaway with our feelings. (And this helps with keeping prayers short too.)
  6. “It is an important excellence in a public prayer, that it include the recognition of so much gospel truth, as to be richly instructive to all who join in it, as well as all who listen to it. Truth is the food of the soul. Gospel truth is that on which the Christian live and grows from day to day.” Formal teaching is of course for the pulpit, but running through our prayers should be the great truths of creation, sin, the Incarnation, Crucifixion, and Resurrection, our utter dependence on God, regeneration in the Spirit, and “our entire indebtedness to his grace for every holy desire and action.”
  7. Prayer should have a “desirable degree of variety” in terms of words and topics–though within reasonable boundaries. We don’t want to be flashy or weird (see the previous post).
  8. Using a doxology to round out a prayer from Scripture is fine, but mix it up and use different passages as appropriate to the occasion.
  9. “A good public prayer ought always to include a strongly marked reference to the spread of the gospel, and earnest petitions for the success of the means employed by the Church for that purpose.”
  10. Use a variety of names for God from Scripture as appropriate to the occasion and prayer.
  11. “A good public prayer should ever be marked with the spirit and the language of hope and confidence. Strictly speaking, it is the church alone that really prays. If so, her prayers ought ever to be couched in the language of filial love, and of humble, tender reliance on the favour and the faithfulness of her covenant God.”
  12.  Make sure that the post-sermon prayer is more than just a meaningless closer.
  13. Incorporate the Lord’s Prayer often enough for it to be instructional and devotional, but not so often that it becomes rote.
  14. The tone and manner in which a prayer is spoken should be “humble, filial, affectionate, yet reverential.”
  15. Don’t be weird in the way you say “Amen.”

There you have it–Miller’s suggestions for public prayer!

Dr. Coyle Neal is co-host of the City of Man Podcast an Amazon Associate (which is linked in this blog), and an Associate Professor of Political Science at Southwest Baptist University in Bolivar, MO

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