Together in Prayer

Vertical Prayer with Horizontal Impact

Balanced, Strategic Prayer

This article originally appeared in the May/June 2014 issue of Prayer Connect Magazine.

How do you pray for your church? Do you scan the weekly bulletin and note the events, trying to remember to pray for each one? Do you look for the list of people who are sick or in the hospital and in need of prayer? When you pray for your church, what dominates your prayers?

Our church has a team of 4-6 people who pray before our weekend services. Sometimes, we have great synergy, building effortlessly off of each others’ prayers and covering the church effectively. Other times, we can be a bit unbalanced, focusing on surface issues and neglecting to pray deeper kingdom prayers for our congregation.

Martin Luther’s consistent answer when asked how to pray was, “Use the Lord’s Prayer”. The Lord’s Prayer provides a great outline for balanced, strategic prayer. Our pre-service prayer team has begun using this prayer as an outline for our time. Following Luther’s example, we begin each segment of our prayer time by quoting a phrase from the Lord’s Prayer and then use that phrase as a theme for that segment of prayer.

Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.
God is more than just “my Father” – he is “our Father” – the Father of all in our church. Jesus’ prayer was always meant to be a prayer primarily concerned with the needs of a community rather than with my personal needs (though my needs are certainly part of the church’s needs). As a result, using this prayer to pray for our church is a fitting application.

This opening petition recognizes a balance in our relationship with God. He is “our Father”, an intimate, personal relationship made possible through Jesus’ death on the cross. At the same time, he is “in heaven”, while we are on earth. We are meant to be intimate, but not familiar, with this God who is at once our Father and also the Lord of the Universe. This is an important context for prayer, reminding us that prayer is not about us, but about God.

Our team uses this segment as our primary worship time, praising God for his attributes and expressing our desire that he be honored in our prayer time, in our weekend services, and in our lives.

Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
These two petitions can be synonymous, but we think of them as two different areas for prayer to help us pray more completely. We think of God’s kingdom coming to the lives of unbelievers and of his will being done in the lives of believers. (Certainly either petition could apply to both believers and seekers; we make this distinction to help us organize our prayers.)

Praying for God’s kingdom to come includes prayer for our church’s outreach and missions efforts. We pray that God’s word preached will draw seekers to Himself, that his love and grace would be apparent to the community through our outreach initiatives, that lives would be changed for eternity. We pray for fruit from the missions initiatives of our church. Sometimes we pray for specific unsaved neighbors and family in this segment.

God’s will is done in the lives of his people as we reflect his glory, grow in the character of Christ, and bear the fruit of the Spirit in our lives. His will is done in our church as we live in unity, grace, and love and as we meet one another’s needs and encourage each other in spiritual growth. In this segment, we pray for spiritual formation in the lives of our congregation. Sometimes, we pray in line with the current sermon series.

Although we try to keep all our prayers Biblical, this is the segment in which our praying becomes most overtly Scriptural. We pray for church members using passages such as the vine and the branches (John 15), the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:13-26), the love chapter (1 Corinthians 13), Paul’s exhortation to humility in Philippians 2, and “transformation” passages such as Colossians 3. We also pray for our church collectively here, often using some of the prayers of Paul (for example, Ephesians 1:15-19 , 3:16-21; Colossians 1:9-14; Philippians 1:9-11).

Give us this day our daily bread.
As we turn to personal requests, we try to remember that the first half of the prayer provides the context in which these requests should be understood. So we ask God to meet our congregation’s needs knowing that it is his will to provide, and we ask him to care for us in ways that honor his name (recalling the first request of the prayer, “hallowed be your name”).

Two thoughts guide our petitions here. First, we admit that we cannot provide for ourselves and that we depend on God for our sustenance. We trust him to care for us because he is a loving and gracious God (Matthew 6:25-34).

Second, we trust that God is answering because he promises that he will. His answer may not be what we envisioned – but it’s his answer. By turning our church’s needs over to God, we give him the freedom to respond to those needs in ways that honor him and provide the greatest benefit. Like Paul responding to God’s refusal to remove his “thorn in the flesh” (2 Corinthians 12:7-10), we accept and rejoice in God’s answer because it is his answer. (And by doing this consistently, we learn the secret that Paul learned of being content whatever the circumstances – Philippians 4:12-13.)

Our team uses this segment to pray for specific needs that we know of in the congregation – people who need healing, help finding a job or overcoming an addiction, etc. We pray for God to meet these needs, but we also pray for him to be honored as a result (this keeps us from becoming overly horizontal in our focus). Additionally, we pray for those in our support and recovery ministries (for example, the Grief Support ministry and the Divorce Recovery ministry). If we’ve received prayer requests from the congregation, we pray over those here. My personal favorite prayer is to pray Jesus’ words in John 9:3 over them – that the work of God may be revealed in their lives as a result of God’s intervention.

Forgive us our debts, as we have forgiven our debtors.
Since sin is a universal condition, forgiveness is a universal need – both forgiveness for our own sins and a spirit of forgiveness toward those who have sinned against us. Forgiveness does not come naturally, however; we need God’s supernatural work in our hearts to produce forgiving spirits.

Our team prays in a few different ways here. We don’t tend to use this time for personal confession (though we could), but more for confession on behalf of our congregation. Corporate confession isn’t that common in church any more, and needs to be approached with humility in order to not become judgmental. We ask God to forgive us for times when we approach his throne casually or carelessly, for our failures to obey his word (again, focusing on the sermon series when applicable), for times when we fail to see the needs around us, etc. It’s important here to avoid personal agendas or judgments regarding the church (“Lord, forgive us for embarking on a capital campaign in the midst of a difficult financial season”); agenda-based prayers tend to divide rather than unite, and to reflect our hearts rather than God’s.

We also pray for sensitivity to sin for our congregation (Psalm 51), for contrite spirits and for God’s forgiveness. Finally, we pray for a spirit of forgiveness among our people – for humility (Philippians 2:5-8), for the maturity to not take offense easily (James 1:19), for willingness to take the initiative in confession and reconciliation (Matthew 5:23-24).

Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.
This wording can seem odd at first, because we know that God does not tempt us. There are a couple of ways to think of the first petition in this segment – that God would lead us away from temptation by giving us discernment to make the right decisions and that he would lead us away from trial (the word used for “temptation” is also used for “trials” in James 1 and elsewhere). So here our prayers focus on guidance and protection.

In this segment, our team prays in a couple of different ways – first, focusing on individuals or groups in the congregation; second, focusing on the church as a whole (and especially on our leaders). We often pray for our youth here, knowing the many temptations they face and the potentially life-altering decisions they could be making. We pray for God’s wisdom, for him to protect their paths, to keep them from situations, decisions, and relationships that could lead down harmful roads. If there are others in our congregation facing different crossroads, we tend to pray for them here.

For our leaders, we pray for wisdom in decisions regarding the direction of our church. We also pray for wisdom in their personal lives and for God’s protection of them and their families. Finally, we pray for protection over our church and its ministries.

Yours is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory forever.
This doxology isn’t included in every version of the prayer, but it fits the prayer’s spirit, returning to the idea of God’s kingdom and moving the focus back from us to God.

Because God is king, he is sovereign; he answers our petitions as he chooses. We come to him not with demands, but with requests. God does not “owe” us the answers we seek – he’s our King, not our servant. What he grants, he grants out of his grace, not out of obligation.

Because God is all-powerful, we can trust him to do what is best for our church. He “is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us” (Ephesians 3:20). Because his thoughts and his ways are higher than ours, those answers often take different forms than we imagine. But God’s answers are never “less” than we ask – they are always “more”. If he doesn’t answer as we envisioned, it’s not because he is powerless – it’s because he is wise and gracious.

Because the glory is God’s, our prayers are ultimately prayers for God’s glory. Our desire should be first and foremost that God will glorify himself as he answers our prayers. Whether we’re praying directly for God’s kingdom to come or whether we’re praying for personal needs, we are praying for God’s glory.

We usually end our prayer time with just the quote from the Lord’s Prayer here, preferring to end with Jesus’ words rather than with our own.

This is how you should pray.
While Scripture offers many models for prayer, and no model is a complete representation of all that Scripture teaches about prayer, we have found the Lord’s Prayer to be a well-balanced format. Interestingly, using this format has often resulted in more silence during our prayer times. We’re listening more to each other and to the Holy Spirit as we pray, resulting in greater unity and cohesion in our prayers. We tend to find that the time goes by very quickly as we pray in this pattern.

We’ve also found that the newer members of our group participate more meaningfully in our prayer times because they are comfortable with the format and expectations. We don’t use this format every week, but even when we don’t use the outline, our prayers tend to be better focused and more well-balanced than they used to. Though a few of us have been praying together for several years, we find that we’re growing in serving the congregation in prayer as we heed Jesus’ words, “This is how you should pray.”