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Thinking the Faith, Praying the Faith, Living the Faith is written by the PC(USA) Office of Theology and Worship.

Thinking, praying, and living the faith is at the core of ministry in the Office of Theology and Worship. In the following videos, learn more about what thinking, praying, and living the faith means to the leadership of the Office of Theology and Worship. Discover why it matters and what difference it makes in our lives, work, and worship.  

Charles Wiley  
Barry Ensign-George
David Gambrell
Christine Hong 
Karen Russell

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March 22, 2011

The Worship Curmudgeon: Pray for the World, People!

I visit lots of PCUSA churches, and I don’t know how many worship services I’ve attended where there are few, if any, prayers for the world during the intercessory prayers of the people.  There may be earnest prayer for those we know who are hurting, or even for friends of friends who are having surgery, and this is a good thing—don’t get me wrong!  It’s just that if that’s all there is to the prayers of the people, it’s insufficient.  

When we are baptized, we became part of Christ’s body in ministry to the world God so loves.  To pray only for those closest to us is to deny the Great Commission we’ve been given to go to all peoples, not just our own kin.  To pray only for those in our own communities implicitly diminishes the largess of God’s grace in the minds of the people who are praying.  Such narrow prayers also fail to help us fulfill a very important function as part of the body of Christ—praying for all people and creation itself that is groaning for the coming of God’s Dominion.  

Indeed, we may inadvertently instill a future despair in folks as they move from the congregation praying for those who are sick to those who are prayed for during their waning years.  In effect, the prayers of the people may have taught them that they’re basically goners with no purpose in God’s Realm if they’re in the nursing home.  If, however, we teach them how to pray for all “sorts and conditions” in our prayers of the people, they will have learned that even if they can’t come to church, they can have a vital ministry of prayer for (1) the church, (2) the world, and (3) those who are suffering and in need—the basic tripartite structure of traditional prayers of the people. 

Sometimes, the prayers of the people in our congregations are like open mic night at the local karaoke bar.  These prayers occur by passing around a microphone so that everyone can hear a request, to which the congregation responds with something like, “Lord, hear our prayer.”  A few pastors are able to unite these prayers into a grand intercessory prayer for more than just our spoken requests.  Lamentably, too few pastors have this gift, and such practices feel less like prayer and more like a public service announcement for God.

Now, to be honest, I love hearing a child request prayer for his sick dog Fluffy; we could use more childlike trust in prayer.  But intercessory prayer is more than just cute; it is a wrestling with the powers and principalities in order that God’s will for the shalom of the world be done on earth as in heaven.  We need the church to pray in the power of Holy Spirit against the evil stalking Sudan.  We need to hear the boldness of a people confident in the power of God to pray for peace in the Middle East.  We need the compassion of Christ to pray for the people of Japan overwhelmed by an earthquake and tsunami.   To be sure, there’s something powerful that happens when a big burly man’s voice cracks as he asks for prayer for his marriage because his wife just left him that week, but there’s also something powerful that takes place when we pray for our Congressional leaders as they face budget cuts as well as for the people who will be affected by those cuts.   

We not only need to pray for the whole world, but to hear such prayers of the people so that we learn how to shape our individual daily prayers for the world, as well as for those for whom we are concerned.  If all we are taught in church is to pray for ourselves and our friends and family, we run the risk of perennially praying paltry prayers to a parochial God.

St. Andrew Lutheran Church in Pittsburgh has a nice way of gathering the prayer requests of the people.  Before the service begins, they ask for prayer requests, and the congregation eagerly obliges.  A deacon writes these requests down under the categories the pastor specifies in repeating the request so that all can hear: “Paul under those with cancer; the U.N. under those in positions of authority; our new homeless ministry under the church and its ministries.”  Later in the service, the deacon takes these requests and weaves them into a prayer prepared beforehand under the categories with which the church is used to praying, starting with the church and its leadership (they pray for different churches and pastors each week in accord with a Synodical list similar to that found in our Mission Yearbook).  They then move to praying for the world and its leadership before moving on to pray for all those in need.  It can be a long prayer, but one where you can pray with the communion of saints as the body of Christ for the whole people of God and the world.  It’s a prayer that feels important, as though it’s the work of the people, not just leftovers from open mic night or narcissistic prayers for our own kind.  

May we pray big prayers to a big God who loves the whole of creation. 

Categories: Faith, Leadership, Spirituality , Theology, Worship