What goes on in your mind before you begin a public prayer?
Good question. I'm asked by Chuck, our worship leader downtown, or others at the North and South campuses to do the prayer of praise from time to time. So I do have to give thought.
What goes through my mind when they email me and say, "Would you do the prayer of praise or the pastoral prayer?" is to set aside a few minutes before I go to the church on Saturday afternoon to think that through.
And so I look at what will be sung in the service just before the prayer and then what's coming next (usually the offertory). And I want my prayer not to come out of nowhere. I want it to fit what God seems to be doing in the structure of this.
So that's the first thing that goes through my mind: I would like—even though I am talking directly to God (and from my heart, I hope)—I would like it to be asking him for things or praising him for things or confessing things that tie in with what has just gone before.
Now having said that, then I ask the Lord, "Is there anything you would like to be especially praised for tonight?" Because there are a thousand things you could say.
I could wing it, meaning that I could wait and just see what comes to my mind in that hour. And I do that within certain parameters, so that if something is happening in the service I want to be aware of it.
If God is doing something else here I don't want my prayer to be stuck on what I prepared this afternoon, when in fact there is another tone being struck here. There's a brokenness here or a thrill here, or there's an aspect of God in that hymn that others are clearly sensing. That needs to be prayed.
So what's going through my mind is, Be sensitive to the moment. Be discerning to the moment in a public prayer.
I am aware that people are listening to me, not just God. And I think I am biblically warranted to care about that, because Paul said in 1 Corinthians 14, "If you pray in a tongue, how will they say, 'Amen!'?" Which means Paul really does want people to say "Amen" to your prayer—that is, they understood it, they liked it, they approved, and they said "Amen!"
So I'm thinking, "They're listening to this and I am guiding them. I'm taking them to God. We together as a church are rising to God, and I should be conscious of how I'm doing that."