Read Numbers 21:7, Ezra 10:1, Job 42:8 Jeremiah 42:2, Matthew 9:38, Acts 4:31, James 5:14-16, 1 Timothy 2:1-2, Job 1:4-5
The number of texts above this lesson is much longer than usual and could be further increased because of the nature of the subject. Public prayers have been uttered as long as men have called on the name of the Lord
When we speak of public prayers we do not mean only those prayers which are uttered in large gatherings, such as church services, but also the prayers we utter at the table in our own homes. Many people find it very difficult to pray in public. Their private prayer life may be very good — let no one ever sit in judgment on a person's prayer life if he is not able to pray in public. But, we must realize that it is important that a person shall then learn to pray when others are listening. Why should someone be embarrassed to pray aloud before men when his God has commanded him to utter his prayers before Him?
Especially at the family altar audible prayer is important. We have to teach our children to pray! It is an exercise which brings family closer together than anything else. Job speaks of family prayers in the first chapter of his book. In the verses 4 and 5 we read that Job called his children together and then brought sacrifices for each of them. He hereby emphasized to them that their spiritual welfare was very much on his mind. It is here reported in the Old Testament framework of sacrifices; today we would say that he brought the need of each of his children before his God in prayer.
Not only in family devotions but also in many other situations audible prayer is necessary. What would our Sunday services be if there were no prayers uttered? The word of God must indeed be proclaimed but the needs of the people must also be brought before the throne of grace. These prayers bind the people of God together. They are reminded not only of one another's needs, but also of the needs of the church and Kingdom of God throughout the world. Of course, we can also remember such causes in private prayers, and we do, but the whole church must also be involved in this.
Some must frequently pray in public! Especially ministers, but also elders and deacons must frequently lead in prayer. In order to be able to do this effectively one must be a man of prayer! Our private prayer life must give us the ability to lead others in prayer. Ministers and elders stand at the side of those who are sick or bereaved or lonely or straying and bring their needs before the throne of God. Deacons must bring the physical and material needs of the people on whom they call to His mercy seat. Each class or society session is opened and closed with prayer. This can become dangerous. Prayer can become common. We may well pray that the Lord will keep us from sin in the prayers utter. The Pharisees made themselves guilty in their prayers.
Prayers for Special Needs
When we pray with someone who is sick, the special need of that individual must be known so that we can then also pray with that understanding. Usually prayer strengthens the person who is sick. He is reminded that without the Lord's blessing the very best means at our disposal today do not help. Physicians have often been heard to say: "The surgery was successful, but the patient died." We call on the name of the Lord, for He only gives life and maintains it. The believer who is sick must not doubt God's love and mercy. He must also realize that the sickness he is suffering is not punishment. God has once punished our sins. He does chastize — but only those whom He loves! James tells the people of his day to call the elders of the church to pray for them when they are sick. Then sickness can prove to be a blessing. The bereaved likewise must be aided through their difficult time. Prayer brings them back where they should be! The lonely and aged have their lives brightened by the prayers uttered in their behalf. The straying must be shown their error, from the word of God. Their need must also be brought before Him. They must realize that the hands of love and compassion of the members of the body of Christ are still stretched out to them.
There are times of crisis when those who have true spiritual life within them cry out for the effectual prayers of others. When the people of Israel grievously sinned against their God, He sent fiery, poisonous serpents among them. When many among them died, they cried to Moses to pray for them. How often this man was called on to pray for the people of God so that they would not be consumed. The people of Israel did not realize how much they were indebted to this man for their very life. The Psalmist (Psalm 106:23) speaks of the important role Moses played in the welfare and deliverance of Israel. Moses stood "before Him in the breach". This is also the role of the leaders of God's people in other ages. They are to bring all the needs of the people before God and to implore His favor on them. The intercessors for God's people are the unsung heroes of the church!
The name of the number of subjects for which we are to pray is 'legion', but there are especially some subjects mentioned in Scripture which we should not forget. We are to pray that there may be laborers in the church and Kingdom of God. The church is to come together and ask the Lord of the church to call men to the tasks which have to be done in His Kingdom. This is not restricted to but does include the mission of the church. Jesus so teaches the people of His day (Matthew 9:38). How can the church and Kingdom fare well if these prayers do not arise to Him constantly? We would be remiss in our duty if we failed to offer them.
Prayers for Rulers
Paul stresses the fact that we are also to pray for rulers. This prayer is not restricted to "good rulers" but even includes the unrighteous rulers who were on the throne of Rome in the days in which the Apostle was writing (1 Timothy 2:1-2). In our prayers we come to the "Ruler of the kings of the earth." He is able to turn the hearts of rulers to Himself (Proverbs 21:1). However, we are to pray for kings and all others who have the rule over us so "that we may live a tranquil and quiet life." God is pleased to rule us by their hand. May their rule be such that our worship of our God and our godly life may not be disturbed. What a blessing it is that God's people are able to go to the house of worship unmolested! Pray for these rulers. That is a command!
Many institutions are seeking to do the work of the Lord in various areas of life. When we come together in worship, these institutions, whether of education or of mercy or of other kind, should be remembered before the throne of God's grace. In short, we are to pray for all the needs of Christendom. We are to be familiar with these institutions so we will be able to pray for them intelligently. Those who labor in various functions within the framework of God's kingdom should be supported by the prayers of his people. Perhaps the request for prayer comes rather "unthinkingly" at times. Many are asking for our support by prayer and gifts. It often seems that the latter would be appreciated far more than the former. On the other hand, to ask for the support in prayer for institutions which are based on the Word of God should be completely natural. The needs of Christendom are many in this sin-darkened world! May the God who alone is able to shed light be asked by His people to shed the light of the truth everywhere.
The church of Jesus Christ must be a praying church. This ought to be natural for her. She is called to proclaim the everlasting tidings of salvation to all men and to all nations, and she is to live close to her God so that she will be able to do the assigned work. It is much easier to discern whether or not a church is still preaching the word than to be able to tell whether she is still faithful to her task of being the intercessor for God's people and for the world! In time it will become perfectly clear because the strength is removed from the church and from the people which no longer prays.
The church has often felt its great need because its numbers were so small in this big world in which it had been placed. When the church realized that she was only a "remnant", the people came to the prophet Jeremiah and asked him to pray for them (Jeremiah 42:2). When the disciples in the early church were few in number and had received the mandate to disciple all nations — to do the seemingly impossible, they prayed. These were not perfunctory prayers. They prayed for their very life. When they had given a good account of themselves before the magistrates of the day and had informed them of their plan to preach the word of the Lord boldly, they prayed and the place where they prayed was shaken (Acts 4:31)! The Lord heard them. Then they were filled with the Holy Spirit so that they might be able to continue to speak the word of God with all boldness. They had learned what it meant to have communion with their God. Would the church of today have more life and zeal if it again learned to pray as the Apostles did?
Ye have not because you ask not.
Although it ought to be evident to everyone who studies the texts above this lesson and various others, that the public prayers in Biblical times and in the history of the church have been very important, the problem may remain regarding how we engage in such prayer. Although our prayer may at first be halting, our God understands that prayer. Our prayer may not be eloquent, but we do not pray to impress men! We should also bear in mind that the collection of prayers in the liturgy of the church can be helpful. Seldom are these beautiful prayers used. Our fathers placed them in the liturgy of the church to aid us in our prayer-life.
Questions for Discussion:
- Is public prayer "better" than private prayer? Discuss.
- How important is it for a father in a home to lead his family in audible prayer? Can each one just as well pray silently?
- Is there a tendency to pray the same prayer again and again, regardless of circumstances when we are called to pray aloud frequently? How can this be overcome?
- Can a prayer at a sick bed make things worse? If so, how?
- Why do some think it to be improper to pray for the government in the congregational prayer?
- What conclusion could one draw from ministers' refusal to pray for certain Christian institutions?