I have been to prayer meetings both sides of the Causeway that have left me very frustrated. For some reason they tend to be combined prayer meetings with folks from different churches and different denominations. Here is what frustrates me—the prayer leader lists some items for prayer; he or she exhorts those gathered to pray, letting us know the spiritual importance of the issues to be prayed for; then he or she tells the people to pray. I am about to pray when I get interrupted. The prayer leader continues to give out exhortations. He or she then continues to exhort folks throughout the time allocated for prayer.
Why does this frustrate me? I want to pray but I can’t hear my own thoughts much less the Holy Spirit. I have no problems with the whole congregation reading out a pre-prepared prayer. Or the Lord’s model prayer. I also have no problems with a prayer leader praying on behalf of the congregation. I am more than ready to align my heart and mind with the worship leader as he or she prays. I can even do “Korean style” praying when everyone prays out loud together. What I can’t handle is when I am expected to pray either silently, or quietly with a small group, and someone keeps talking non-stop, usually loudly, in English. I find that so distracting that I can’t compose my thoughts to pray; unless I am supposed to be praying in tongues, which I don’t think is the point of the exercise.
One of the joys of being a follower of Jesus is the privilege to come to God in prayer. Led by the Spirit, through the Son, we come to the Father in prayer. Paul exhorts us to pray in all situations:
Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4: 6–7 NIV)
God knows there is much that needs prayer — in the world, in our countries, in our churches, in our families and in our lives. The absence of prayer shows that we are practical atheists whatever our faith declarations. If we know ourselves and if we truly know God, how can we not pray?
So let your people pray when it is time for them to pray. Resist the temptation to help the Holy Spirit by continuous verbal prompting. Give direction and parameters then get out of the way. Trust that the Holy Spirit will guide the people to pray as they should.