Worship Service Prayer…Why Is Spontaneous Superficial?

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Worship service prayer has been relegated to the role of a worship service utility infielder.  It is plugged into worship service holes as a jack-of-all-trades transitional service element. Instead of a profound conversation with the Father as an act of worship, prayer is used to allow a final breath of fresh air before a long service section, to break up a song set when keys or styles are not relative, to assure senior adult deacons that they still have value in the new worship format, or to discreetly move the worship band to the platform.

Our desire for prayer spontaneity has evolved into a routine of predictable leaders leading predictable prayers at predictable times.  When trite prayer clichés cause the minds of the pray-ers as well as the pray-ees to wander…it is no wonder that spontaneous prayer seems superficial.

Hughes Oliphant Old wrote, “For many generations American Protestants have prized spontaneity in public prayer.  One has to admit, however, that the spontaneous prayer one often hears in public worship is an embarrassment to the tradition.  It all too often lacks content.  It may be sincere, but sometimes it is not very profound.  One notices sometimes that the approach to prayer that these prayers reveal is immature, if not simply misleading.  Spontaneity needs to be balanced by careful preparation and forethought.  It needs to be supported by an intense prayer life.  One must be well experienced in prayer to lead in prayer.  One can hardly lead if one does not know the way oneself.  Spontaneity has to arise from a profound experience of prayer.”[1]

Eugene Peterson wrote the forward for the new book, Dumbfounded Praying, written by Harold Best.  Peterson wrote, “Prayer is a natural and authentic substratum of language.  But there is an irony here: prayer, language at its most honest, is also the easiest language to fake:  We discover early on that we can pretend to pray, use the words of prayer, practice forms of prayer, assume postures of prayer, acquire a reputation for prayer, and never pray.”[2]

Harold Best writes, “I believe more than ever that the age-old craft of writing prayers should be re-visited by all of us, for it accomplishes three things. First, the writer is literally forced into levels of thought, scriptural usage, and architectural cogency that are not possible in the kind of spontaneous praying that one usually does in private, and sad to say, is often found in the typical pastoral prayers in corporate worship.  Second, even though writing prayers takes time, time is the very thing we need and must take to bring prayer into a greater sweep and cogency.  But third, what goes around comes around:  the more we tackle and work through the really tough issues and the more we force these into thought-out and written form, the more skilled we can become in extemporaneous prayer.”[3]

If we spent as much time understanding and teaching the profundity of prayer as we presently spend trying to teach new songs or protect the old ones could worship conflict be abated?  If experience and preparation expectations were just as stringent for leading in public prayer as our requirements for a worship service soloist or choir anthem, could our worship be radically impacted?  This new book by Harold Best can serve as a great companion tool to help leaders figure that out.


[1] Hughes Oliphant Old, Leading in Prayer: A Workbook for Worship (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 1995), 5.

[2] Eugene H. Peterson, as quoted in Harold M. Best, Dumbfounded Praying (Eugene: Wipf & Stock, 2011), xii.

[3] Harold M. Best, Dumbfounded Praying, xix.

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One Response to “Worship Service Prayer…Why Is Spontaneous Superficial?”

  • Paul Clark Jr Says:

    This is a powerful word, especially in today’s “worship feel” of maintaining a drone through “the worship set.” Communion with God is never a “feel” or part of a set. Great reminder for us! Thank you.

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