Let the Whole Church Say Amen!: A Guide for Those Who Pray in Public
  • Let the Whole Church Say Amen!: A Guide for Those Who Pray in Public
  • Let the Whole Church Say Amen!: A Guide for Those Who Pray in Public

Let the Whole Church Say Amen!: A Guide for Those Who Pray in Public

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by Laurence Hull Stookey
     
 

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Stookey seeks to relieve the anxiety of inexperienced leaders of public prayer and the discomfort of those with and for whom they pray in this practical guide to the art of praying in public.

The book has three parts. First, Stookey offers reflections on the nature of prayer, utilizing the image of a flow of energy. Second, he discusses the forms, mechanics, and

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Overview

Stookey seeks to relieve the anxiety of inexperienced leaders of public prayer and the discomfort of those with and for whom they pray in this practical guide to the art of praying in public.

The book has three parts. First, Stookey offers reflections on the nature of prayer, utilizing the image of a flow of energy. Second, he discusses the forms, mechanics, and vocabularies of prayer. His analysis brims with insight and practical application. Third, and most importantly, he provides concrete exercises in editing prayers. The reader is challenged to mark prayer texts and then to compare her or his own work with the author's as Stookey points out the particular issues that the exercises highlights.

The book is clearly organized, economically written, and easy to use. Those who read carefully and complete the exercises will gain significant experience in crafting prayers to which the whole congregation can respond with an enthusiastic "Amen".

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780687090778
Publisher:
Abingdon Press
Publication date:
06/01/2001
Edition description:
Paperback
Pages:
165
Sales rank:
636,314
Product dimensions:
8.30(w) x 10.90(h) x 0.60(d)

Read an Excerpt

Let the Whole Church Say Amen!

A Guide for Those Who Pray in Public


By Laurence Hull Stookey

Abingdon Press

Copyright © 2001 Abingdon Press
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4267-2306-3



CHAPTER 1

The Grandeur of God and Prayer as Pure Praise

Read Revelation 4:6b-11 and 7:9-12


Please begin your work today by reading the suggested passages from the Revelation and offering personal prayer such as that recommended at the close of the introduction. Then proceed to what follows below.

Often we think of prayer as primarily a way of asking God for something. Certainly requests for ourselves or for others are an important part of prayer. But before and beyond that, there is prayer that asks for nothing whatsoever, but simply praises the grandeur and goodness of God. God is worthy of thanksgiving and honor. Such prayer without petition is deeply rooted in the tradition of Jewish and Christian piety. Consider, for example, Psalm 8; it consists of nine verses addressed to God, without a single request being made. The same is true of the thirteen verses of Psalm 65. Read and meditate on both of these Psalms.

Then look again at the passages from the Revelation and note that these prayers to God include no requests. Of course, the setting of the passage is heaven. There communication with God is direct, and the trials and difficulties present on earth are absent; hence there is less reason for petition.

But prayer as pure praise is a fine starting place for our own earth-bound journey toward heaven. So here is your first assignment: On the lines provided, write a prayer of pure praise. As you proceed, check to be certain you have not inserted any requests into your act of thanksgiving and adoration. __________________________________________________________________________ __________________________________________________________________________ __________________________________________________________________________

When you have finished, again read the passages from the Revelation and Psalms 8 and 65. Does the prayer you have constructed seem as free of requests as those biblical prayers?

CHAPTER 2

Learning a Basic Form for Brief Prayers

Read Romans 15:5-6, 2 Corinthians 1:3-7, and 1 Thessalonians 5:23-24.


In exercise 1, I gave you no instruction concerning the form your prayer of pure praise might take—no suggestions about content or order or length. Perhaps that made you uneasy; in fact, I hope it did. For we human beings are generally much more comfortable with some guidance and pattern than we are without. Perhaps this is one of the indications that we have been created in the image and likeness of God. For God seems to like order. Before creation, everything was "formless," and God took on the task of organizing it all (see Genesis 1:2). And Paul advises us that all things should be done decently and in order, for God is not a God of disorder (1 Cor. 14:40, 33). So now we are going to explore a particular form many prayers take. Mastery of this form and its variations can put you at ease in specific situations. And, yes, in these prayers we will be making requests of God.

Let's suppose that you are being called upon to offer a prayer at the beginning of a rather routine meeting of church business. You realize that the agenda for this session of a board or major committee is a full one and that therefore your prayer should be brief. Here are steps you can follow.

1. Begin your preparation by thinking of a central petition to God. On such an occasion this might be a request for wisdom and goodwill in decision making. For example:

By the power of your Holy Spirit
open our minds to your wisdom
and our hearts to your love
throughout our deliberations.


2. That done, next think of a reason for making this request. What do you hope will be the outcome if your request is granted? This purpose is going to be attached to the petition, and hence it begins with the word that. The whole thing may look like this:

By the power of your Holy Spirit
open our minds to your wisdom
and our hearts to your love
throughout our deliberations,
that we may act wisely for the good
of our church and community.


If this meeting has to do primarily with the missionary or evangelistic work of the congregation, the purpose instead may be:

that the good news of your grace
may be effectively spread to others and embraced by them.


If this is a meeting concerned largely with the allocation of church funds, an alternative purpose may be

that we may be good stewards
of all that you have entrusted to us.


If the meeting portends a "church fight" over a controversial issued, this purpose may be appropriate:

that we may seek your will above our own and may with one heart carry out
your work in this place.


Any one of these four purposes can fit nicely with the request given above. But although there is no "one right way" to state the purpose of the request, on specific occasions there may be a very wrong way to go about it. What you cannot do if all present are going to say the amen is state a purpose such as this when a very controversial proposal is under consideration:

that we may approve the carefully prepared proposal before us without amendment or dissension

in fulfillment of your will for our church.


That language is too "loaded." It reveals too fully your own personal view of the pending legislation. As a leader of prayer, you are being trusted to represent the whole body, not to make a partisan speech on behalf of one side of a hotly debated proposal. No matter how wise you yourself may think the proposal in question to be, in prayer you are to represent the whole body—not simply those whom you expect to vote with you. Only in this way can everyone say "amen" with a good conscience. Always keep in mind that your goal is to enable the whole church to say "amen" at the close of your prayer.

3. Whatever your purpose for making the request, next think of something in the nature of God that allows or even encourages you to present this petition and purpose. (Although you may decide on this only after having thought of the petition and purpose, this phrase will come at the beginning of the prayer, not at the end.) Since this is a church meeting, the undergirding assumption may well be that God has established the church and has given to us the responsibility of carrying out its day-to-day functioning. Hence we may approach God remembering that You have created the church and entrusted to us the task of carrying out its work in this place.

4. With an underlying assumption, a petition, and a purpose behind the petition, now we have everything necessary for this brief prayer except a beginning and an ending. Let's keep it simple by addressing the Almighty simply as "O God." And the most direct and universal way in which Christians close their prayers is "through Jesus Christ our Lord." Now the full prayer reads as follows:

O God,
you have created the church and entrusted to us
the task of carrying out its work in this place.
By the power of your Holy Spirit
open our minds to your wisdom
and our hearts to your love throughout our deliberations,
that we may act wisely for the good of our church and community;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.


To this prayer those present should be able to add their hearty amen.

Note that this prayer consists of five parts (each beginning a new line of type above, to assist you in seeing the form). The parts have names, as follows:

1. Address (or salutation) O God,

2. Attribution (or ascription) you have created ... in this place.

3. Petition By the power ... our deliberations,

4. Purpose that we may ... church and community;

5. Closing through Jesus Christ our Lord.


It will help you in the future if you now commit the names of these five parts to memory in order. Repeat to yourself a number of times: "address, attribution, petition, purpose, closing."

Now suppose that you are rather suddenly called upon to give a prayer before a meal. It would be kinder of people to ask you well ahead of time whether you will ask the table blessing. But particularly if you are a member of the clergy, often those who make the request will not always be so thoughtful; they will assume that you are chock-full of prayers on any subject, and that these can come rolling out at a moment's notice. If you have mastered the form used above, you will be able to offer prayers on short notice with less anxiety and greater facility without beating around the bush while trying to think of what to say. That will be particularly appreciated when people are very hungry and the mashed potatoes and gravy are getting cold!

So begin mentally by getting in hand a petition such as this:

Strengthen us with this food prepared for our benefit,

Then add a purpose:

that we may more adequately do your work in the world and share your bounty with others;


Precede this with an attribution. Often an attribution is based on Scripture. Perhaps you happen to know Isaiah 55:10, which mentions God's action of "giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater." (The more Scripture you know, the more readily you will find phrases of attribution.) This text can readily be made into an attribution: You give seed to those who sow and bread to those who eat.

Now the heart of the prayer is completed. Only an opening and closing need to be supplied. Since the prayer deals with God's goodness and bounty, an appropriate yet simple address is:

Gracious God,

Because Jesus told us that he is himself the bread of life, the brief closing used in the prayer for a business meeting ("through Jesus Christ our Lord") may be elaborated a bit: through Jesus Christ, who is the Bread of Life. Now the prayer looks like this:

Gracious God:

you give seed to those who sow and bread to those who eat.
Strengthen us with this food prepared for our benefit,
that we may more adequately do your work in the world
and share your bounty with others;
through Jesus Christ, who is the Bread of Life.


The prayer is concise as the occasion demands, yet it contains a great deal of substance. It makes important affirmations about God and about the work God has given us to do.

At first it will seem a bit odd to have to build the prayer from the inside out by starting with a petition, adding a purpose to the back end of it and an attribution to the front end, and then appending an address and a closing. As you master this five-part form, you will be able to start at the beginning and work your way through in 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 order rather than the 3, 4, 2, 1, 5 order we have used in constructing these two prayers. Even so, particularly if a prayer needs to be brief (as it must be, for example, in the emergency ward of a hospital), you first need to think about the heart of the matter: What are we asking of God? That is always the central issue. Then come the supporting questions: Why are we asking for this? and What about the God we worship makes this an appropriate request?

In a sense parts 2 and 4 (the attribution and the purpose) are protective layers around the petition; these ensure that the prayer expresses Christian sentiment, not selfish desire. If we cannot think of a defensible purpose or cannot find anything in the nature of God that warrants our petition, we may need to reexamine our request. Why, for example, would we offer a petition asking God to make our congregation the largest church in town? Is the fact that we like to be on the "winning team" reason enough? Upon close examination that hardly seems a worthy purpose. And what about the nature of God? Do we serve a God who is predictably on the side of the majority? (There is plenty of evidence in Scripture that God is often on the side of the few rather than of the many. See, for example, the story of Gideon in Judges 7:2-23 and Mary's Magnificat in Luke 1:46-55.) If we cannot come up with a better purpose or attribution than these, perhaps our desire to belong to the biggest congregation in town is a self-centered human wish for prestige rather than a legitimate Christian petition. Forcing ourselves to look carefully at the purpose and the attribution can alert us to requests that we can hardly offer "through Jesus Christ."

If your religious inclinations make you a bit suspicious of the form I have just set forth, look closely with me at the three biblical passages I suggested for reading at the beginning of this exercise. In each of these, Paul gives us the raw material for a five-part prayer:

Romans 15:5-6

May the God of steadfastness and encouragement grant you to live in harmony with one another, in accordance with Christ Jesus, so that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Gracious God,
the source of steadfastness and encouragement:
Enable us to live in harmony with one another,
that we may with one voice glorify you,
in accordance with Christ Jesus, through whom we pray.

2 Corinthians 1:3-4

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and the God of all consolation, who consoles us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to console those who are in any affliction with the consolation with which we ourselves are consoled by God.

Blessed God,
from you comes all mercy and consolation.
Console us in all our affliction,
that we may be able likewise to console those who are in any affliction;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

1 Thessalonians 5:23-24

May the God of peace himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be kept sound and blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do this.

O God of peace:
You have called us and you are faithful.
Sanctify us entirely,
that our spirits, souls, and bodies may be kept sound and blameless
at the coming of the One through whom we pray,
our Lord Jesus Christ.


Far from being alien to biblical expression and piety, this simple and ancient five-part structure of prayer can aid us greatly in learning to pray the Scriptures. Now again, recite the five parts: address, attribution, petition, purpose, closing. Say these words several times to fix them in your memory.

CHAPTER 3

Reviewing and Using the Basic Form

Read Philippians 4:4-9.


After pondering the biblical passage, remember to engage in a period of prayer. Then recall the form for a brief prayer studied in exercise 2. Name the five parts in order. If you cannot, go back and review the list. Repeat these five parts until you have them firmly memorized. This five-part order constitutes one of the most ancient and prevalent ways in which Christians have formed short prayers. The form is called a collect, with the accent on the first syllable: COL-lect (not the more usual col-LECT). The English language has a number of words that emphasize the second syllable when the word is a verb, but the first syllable when the word is a noun. For example: "The committee's secretary was asked to re-CORD the motion, so that it would be available at a later time in the printed REC-ord." Or again, "The prospective home owner agreed to con-TRACT a financial arrangement with the builder; their agreement was set forth in a signed CON-tract." Collect is another of those English words. The origins of the noun are lost in history, but certainly this form of prayer collects into a very concise form a great deal of faith and meaning. That may be how the noun came into being. In any event, thousands of collects have been written across the centuries, and many are preserved for our use. Some denominations have a prescribed collect for every Sunday and for every other major worship occasion in the Christian year.

One of the best-known prayers in English is "The Collect for Purity," preserved in the communion liturgies of many Protestant denominations. It is given below in both its traditional and contemporary forms. Notice its five parts:

Traditional

1. Almighty God,

2. unto whom all hearts are open, all desires known, and from whom no secrets are hid:

3. Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts, by the inspiration of thy Holy Spirit,

4. that we may perfectly love thee and worthily magnify thy holy name;

5. through Christ our Lord.


Contemporary

1. Almighty God,

2. to you all hearts are open, all desires known, and from you no secrets are hidden.

3. Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of your Holy Spirit,

4. that we may perfectly love you and worthily magnify your holy name;

5. through Christ our Lord.


If you observe the wording carefully, you will note that in part 5 the prayer is offered through "Christ our Lord" rather than through the more usual "Jesus Christ our Lord." This is an acceptable variation, of the kind we will discuss more fully when we look further at the collect form in exercise 4.


(Continues...)

Excerpted from Let the Whole Church Say Amen! by Laurence Hull Stookey. Copyright © 2001 Abingdon Press. Excerpted by permission of Abingdon Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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