What Can Be Done?
(from Part 2: "Jesus warned us against using 'vain repetitions' and attempting to be heard 'for our many words.' If we pray that way, then our reward is simply what happens on earth. Instead, we should pray with the heavenly reward in mind.")
If we recognize our weakness in prayer and if we desire to change, what can be done to improve? Although prayer cannot be reduced to a formula or program, there are several things that can help us engage in more dynamic corporate prayer.
1. Consider the audience. Unlike individual, private prayer, in which the only one hearing is God, corporate prayer has a dual audience: God and the congregation (I know: just hear me out...). That we should only seek to please God is no less true for corporate prayer than it is for private prayer (probably even more so). But an additional consideration in corporate prayer is that it should also edify the congregation. The one praying is not only praying for himself, but also for the entire assembled body, which must be able to identify with the content of the prayer to truly join the petition as its own. Otherwise, the congregation is merely a rather large group of prayer voyeurs. This means that while a request for God to forgive the congregation's sin and for unity of the body is appropriate, it is not appropriate during corporate prayer, for example, to launch into a confession of the supplicant's most intimate sin details or to pray for disruptive members by name.
2. Consider the occasion. Prayer should be appropriate for the function or circumstance in which it is offered. While petitions for the collective forgiveness of sins and for the salvation of God's people are always appropriate, some topics are not. One would not want to engage in a detailed request for the ill and infirm during the invocation, which is a time to invoke God's presence in worship, his mercy, his aid and his Spirit as we celebrate his worth together.
3. Prepare. Despite conventional wisdom, "preparation" in relation to corporate prayer is not a dirty word, and does not quench the Spirit. Any reading of the Psalms reveals that most of them were the result of quite a bit of thought and preparation, and were not likely composed without deliberation. But does their preparation make them any less sincere or inspiring? To that end, it is entirely acceptable to write your prayer beforehand. You would not want to use a canned prayer that someone else wrote, but jotting down your prayer thoughts beforehand enables you to focus on the audience and the occasion, to be concise, and to be sincere.
4. Plagiarize. It is also perfectly acceptable to plagiarize in prayer, provided, of course, that you are plagiarizing the right source. In prayer, God does not enforce his copyright. In addition to studying the prayers and supplications of Scripture, the whole of Scripture is suitable material for prayer language. When praying the invocation, use the language of the Psalms in describing the majesty and glory of God, of approaching his tabernacle, of his promises to dwell among his people in worship. When praying for the ill and infirm, use the language of Scripture related to the frailty of the body, of God being glorified in our weakness, of the hope and assurance of the future state when the bodily effects of sin are no more. When praying before the offering is taken, use scriptural language of God's ownership of all things, of our stewardship over the created realm, of our complete and utter dependence upon God for every thing, cheerful giving, and sowing and reaping bountifully. In short, pray God's specific promises over specific needs for specific results.
5. Practice. Not in public, but in private. Our corporate prayer is a reflection of what we do in private, and if our corporate prayer is insincere and spiritually thin, it is likely because our private prayer is no better. Worse yet, it may be nonexistent. Practice using the language of Scripture in private prayer and reciting God's promises, his character, his glory as the basis of your heartfelt petition and supplication, and you will likely begin to see a much more dynamic prayer life develop. Follow the scriptural example of prayer and make specific requests about specific results based upon specific Scripture and you will likely realize a much more healthy individual prayer life, which will spill over and effect much more dynamic corporate prayer.
6. Pray for help. Any attempt to be more faithful in corporate prayer should be preceded, accompanied, and followed by our individual petition for God to help us -- which he promises to do -- as well as gratitude for his equipping us.
Corporate prayer should not be dull, drudgery or difficult. Prayer can be invigorated to the benefit of the individual and the congregation, as well as to the honor and glory of God.