- Invocation – the formal recognition of God’s Presence, and the surrender of the time and contour of the meeting to His leadership. The request for blessing and favor, the refusal to take for granted His Presence. The submission to do as He commanded, namely, to humbly, but boldly ask in faith, giving glory to Him!
- The Table – the blood and the bread. Whether or not you have the elements of communion present or you conduct a communion event, the church gathered in prayer is always gathered around the table-altar. Moreover, around the invisible blood and bread. Prayer then must engage the blood – repentance, forgiveness, reconciliation, peace receiving and giving; and the broken bread – nourishment, prayer and scripture, praying scripture, etc., indeed, a call for our brokenness. There should be a confessional dimension to our praying – with a simultaneous acknowledgment of our sins and of God’s dynamic grace; grace that not only forgives, but also liberates. Such grace deals with both the guilt and grip of sin. It both forgives of sin and fuels freedom from sin. It is at the table where we experience fellowship with Christ, the sense of his Spirit, where he ministers to us the cup and the bread, both an affirmation of our relationship and an expression of his abiding presence. He is still at the table, nourishing his children. At the table, our prayer is made one. We pray as the bride partner of Christ, his body, and as the missional people of God. Here collective prayers are forged as one voice – the prayer of the church.
- Missional Praying – Praying the prayer Jesus taught us to pray and seeing its worshipful, missional content.
Jesus gave us a model for corporate prayer. We commonly call it, ‘The Lord’s Prayer.’ In fact, it is ‘our prayer.’ Never once in the prayer do you find ‘me,’ ‘my’ or ‘I.’ The prayer begins with God and His kingdom and it ends with His “kingdom, power and glory.” Our prayers are far too self-interested.
Notice the first few words, “Our Father…who art…in heaven…holy.” In this preamble to prayer, we have both intimacy (“Our Father”) and transcendence (“in heaven – holy”). Notice the divergent language of both warmth and wonder. The God to whom Jesus instructed us to pray is not impersonal, even if He is transcendent. He is revealed relationally, as the Father we all share.
“Our Father who art…” dwells outside of time, in eternity. He is “in heaven” – not only beyond the bounds of time, but also of space, in another dimension. Further, He is to be ‘hallowed…’ – that is, He is holy, utterly other, transcendent, infinitely pure, morally and spiritually, ethically and pragmatically, beyond comprehension or comparison, immutable.
Here intimacy and transcendence all move toward mission. The earthly concerns we bring to prayer are not the primary concerns of true prayer, nor the biblical focus of prayer. They are secondary, subordinate to a more critical alignment. First, we must grasp God’s fatherhood and that in the light of His glorious transcendent grandeur. Not one without the other. We pray in this tension – between intimacy and awe; the God that can be known and the God we can never fully know; our approachable Father, and the awful (awe-full), holy utterly other One. This is the backdrop of all prayer; the context in which it occurs. The mission is that we might hallow His name (“Hallowed be thy name”), advance His kingdom (“Thy kingdom come…”), and do His will (“Thy will be done…”). Everything else that follows in the so-called ‘Lord’s Prayer’ is subordinate. There are, in prayer, felt needs and for us, such pulsating needs often drive us to God in prayer. However, in the instruction of Jesus, they are not to be primary. The manner in which we carry His name, our passion for advancing His kingdom, our willingness to surrender by binding our will to His will are the filters through which our petitions must pass. Provision (daily bread), pardon (guilt-free relationships), and protection (from evil and the Evil One) are important, but subordinate requests. The provision, the inner peace and the protection are benefits offered to those who do His will, for the purpose of advancing His kingdom rule, and glorifying His name, and that out of an exalted, transcendent view of the nature of ‘Our Father.’
Always remember, prayer is at its heart worship; and at its edge mission, and in between, God meets our needs. Move your congregation to worshipful prayer, then to missional praying. Consistently pray that each member lives in a way that honors the name of God; that corporately, as the bride-partner of Christ, we carry his name with dignity and integrity; that we live as representatives of His Kingdom – seeking to advance His rule in the earth, beginning in our own heart. That means binding our will to His will. Pray regularly to be a people of mission. A missional congregation. Adopt nations for prayer, as well as unreached people groups. Adopt the neighborhood around the church as a mission field.
- Petition/Needs – the corporate prayer time should focus first on God’s agenda, not on personal needs. Yet, personal needs should not be omitted. Have folks pray for one another’s prayer requests in small groups, as a regular feature in the prayer gathering. Mention before the entire group only the more critical needs. If prayer requests begin to take over your meeting, narcissism and self-interested praying will kill it. At that point, consider making prayer for personal needs an afterglow with elders or leaders, and retain the integrity of the prayer gathering as transformational and missional. All petitions and supplications must be wrapped with thanksgiving. No legitimate request is acceptable without the reflection on God’s past grace. Gratitude is the partner to petition. It is faith’s support, and prayer without faith is futile.
- Anointing – first, there is an anointing to pray as surely as there is an anointing to preach. You want to move to a point in corporate prayer where God is anointing the prayers and the participants. Here, the church is edified – praying around the table altar, over the bread (word), in and by the enabling of the Spirit. Of course, you may want to offer anointing to those present – for upcoming missions, for sickness, for the fullness of the Spirit, needs (direction, provision, protection, etc.). The hand of the shepherd/elder on the sheep in tender care is a comfort.
- Pastoral Blessing – this is the expression horizontally of what has been requested vertically. It is the bestowal, out of the pastoral office, of God’s promised blessing. You may use the Biblical language, “The Lord bless you and keep you; The Lord make His face shine upon you, and be gracious to you; The Lord lift up His countenance upon you, and give you peace.” Numbers 6:24-26. You may use the language of a psalm.
- Benediction – by definition, is the utterance or bestowing of a blessing, especially at the end of a religious service. It is a devout or formal invocation of blessedness. The word bless in Hebrew, is barak, meaning knee. To go to one’s knee, thus, to pray, is to position oneself for a blessing from God. The purpose of the blessing is that we might be fruitful (evidencing inner life and growth), that we might multiply (evangelism), that we might live in an empowered state, not as victims, that we would see the world as our parish, and spiritual authority in our tool-kit, that we would worship and serve, evangelize and make disciples of the nations.
This blog is an excerpt from the newly released Milestones – Markers on the Journey Toward Becoming a House of Prayer. This book is a roadmap toward making your church ‘a house of prayer for the nations.’ Whether you follow this guide fastidiously or casually, you and your prayer team will be stretched in their thinking, advised, admonished, counseled, about the practical aspects of change as your congregation re-centers itself in Christocentric, transformational prayer with a missional interface.
Receive this book for FREE with your paid membership in The Praying Church Movement, a network of local prayer leaders who are on a journey to bring prayer to the heart of all they do.
P. Douglas Small is founder and president of Alive Ministries: PROJECT PRAY and he serves in conjunction with a number of other organizations. He is also the creator of the Praying Church Movement and the Prayer Trainer’s Network. However, all views expressed are his own and not the official position of any organization.