Two men walked down the center aisle of the church to take up the morning offering. They were the same two men each and every week. Brother Willy and Brother Jeremiah were the ushers. In the early 1970’s, they both wore suits and ties. Willy was a shorter man. His gray hair and mustache made him look very distinguished. Jeremiah, on the other hand, was taller and still had dark brown hair with just a little gray sprinkled around. Every week they would walk to the front of the church and pick the offering plates up from the Lord’s Supper table and our pastor, Brother Bob, would call on Jeremiah to “lead us to the throne of grace.” I didn’t understand why he never called on Willy, but I wasn’t smart enough to ask him.
One Sunday, Brother Bob was on vacation and, as the Associate Pastor, I was in charge of the service. Everything went smoothly until it was time to take up the offering. Brothers Willy and Jeremiah walked down the aisle just like always and the pianist quit playing, just like always, but I planned to right the injustice that Willy had suffered these many years. The two men arrived in front of the Lord’s Supper table and picked up the offering plates. I stepped up to the pulpit just like Brother Bob did, but instead of calling on Jeremiah, I said, “Brother Willy, will you lead us to the throne of grace and thank God for the offering we are about to receive?”
I never expected what I saw next. A look of sheer panic came over him and as he was shaking his head “no” he pointed nervously toward Brother Jeremiah. For the first time in my Christian life it occurred to me that some Christian men could not pray out loud in front of others. Brother Bob had not been snubbing Willy all those years. He was actually saving him from embarrassment.
The disciples only ever asked Jesus to teach them one thing:
Luke 11:1 (ESV) Now Jesus was praying in a certain place, and when he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.”
The one and only thing the gospels record the disciples asking Jesus to teach them was to pray. They could see that Jesus’ prayer life was different from the prayers of the other Rabbis. His prayers were more intimate and spontaneous. It seemed that his prayers were getting through some how. They wanted to pray like that.
Many of the people in our churches do not come from Christian families and even those who do have never been discipled and taught how to pray. As a pastor, it was my privilege to help of some our leaders overcome their fear of public prayer. Here are some ideas I gave them:
#1 Remember that Prayer is a Conversation between a Father and his Child
You’re the child and you are talking to your heavenly Father. He loves you and longs to hear from you. There are no words you can use to impress him, so don’t try. Just talk to him. Don’t try to use “holy, church” language. You want to use appropriate language, but it’s okay to use normal everyday language. Just talk to your Father. What are you celebrating? What kind of provisions do you need? What spiritual needs do you have? Where are you hurting?
#2 Practice at Home
One of the problems people have is that they are not public speakers and are not used to hearing the sound of their own voice. When you are alone with God, just talk to the Father…out loud.
Lead in the table blessing. When you and your family gather for meals, you can practice praying by giving the table blessing. Remember you’re talking to your Father and thanking him for the food he graciously provides.
#3 Plan your Prayer
It is okay to plan your prayer ahead if you know you will be called on to pray in a group. Are you praying for the offering? What would be appropriate? Make a short outline. Are you praying at the end of a worship service or meeting of some sort? What would be appropriate? Are you giving the blessing at a church meal? That’s easy, you’ve been practicing at home.
Jesus gave us a pattern in the “model prayer” to offer praises, pray for needs, give confession and ask for guidance (Matthew 6:9-13). Speak from your heart.
Prayer is one of the essential practices of the Christian life and it is something we can learn to do and even grow in doing. You don’t have to be paralyzed with fear if you are called on to pray. Take some of these suggestions and work on learning to pray in front of others.
Rik Danielsen, BA, M. Div, D. Min, is a speaking coach for Chosen to Speak. A retired pastor and Director of Missions, he has public speaking since his high school speech team.