Orley M. Berg was associate Ministerial Secretary of the General Conference when he wrote this article.

The local elder is often asked to offer the pastoral prayer for the worship service. This is a solemn responsibility, and one that many an elder would much rather shy away from. Nevertheless it will continue to be expected of you as one of the spiritual leaders of the church. Here are some suggestions that may guide you in making this prayer what God would want it to be.

Prepare Yourself

In this prayer you speak to God for the congregation. You seek to express their joys, their needs, their soul hunger. To adequately enter into this experience your own heart must first be touched. So as you consider the awesome needs of the congregation, and how you can rightly represent them before the Lord, pray most earnestly that God will refill your own heart with His love and Spirit. Remember, the spirit and nature of the prayer can have much to do with the measure of blessing bestowed on the rest of the service. Pray that God will use you as an instrument during the precious moments of prayer to draw the hearts of all into His presence and prepare them for the message to follow.

Prepare the Prayer

It is not necessary to write out the prayer, although to do this occasionally can be very helpful. Even then, however, it should not be read. The point is that the prayer should be carefully thought through.

As a general guide to the prayer pattern, it would be well to keep clearly in mind the following five essentials: (1) adoration; (2) thanksgiving; (3) confession; (4) intercession; and (5) dedication.

Adoration, Thanksgiving, and Confession

First, we approach God in the spirit of praise. We adore Him. We love Him. Not just because of what He has done for us, but because He is God the Creator and Redeemer the One in whom we live and move and have our being. Second, we thank Him for the blessings we have received from Him, for the privilege of worship, song, and prayer. We are grateful for the plan of salvation, for the forgiveness of sins, for the hope of the gospel. Third, we confess our sinfulness, our proneness to forget Jesus, our ill tempers, our words, our disregard for the needs of others, our selfishness and pride. We claim both forgiveness for sins of the past, and power to be overcomers in the future. Our great burden is to be more like Christ.

Intercession and Dedication

Fourth, our prayer leads to intercession or petition, taking into account the varied needs of our congregation. We pray for the church, the pastor and his family, the church officers, each family, the young, and the elderly. We pray for the community, for leaders in governments. We should have a special burden for revival and reformation, pleading for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit and for God's direction and blessing on every soul-winning endeavor. The praying one will pray especially that rich spiritual blessings will result from the message of the morning. Finally, the prayer should conclude with a statement of commitment or dedication. Lord, we thank Thee again for the privilege of worship. We surrender our hearts to Thee anew. Make us conscious of Thy presence as we continue to wait upon Thee. We ask in Jesus' name. Amen."

As we think over these five foundation stones of prayer, you can readily see how logically a rightly balanced prayer can be developed around them. The prayer will not always reflect each in the order here suggested. By all means avoid a stereotyped outline that can become a rut. But have these principles firmly fastened in the mind. So often our prayers are almost entirely petition. How often the elements of praise and gratitude are omitted. This should not be, and, with this suggestive outline in mind, it will not be.

Avoid Wordiness

Special study should be made to make the prayer meaningful and to the point, avoiding wearisome repetition. On one occasion as we got up from our knees after one of the elders had offered an exceptionally lengthy repetitious prayer, another elder at my side whispered, "Wasn't that a dilly?" Perhaps his remarks were out of place considering the occasion, but on the other hand, the prayer was all of that and more. Unfortunately, often prayers ascend to heaven that weary even the angels. About three minutes is generally thought to be an appropriate length.

Pray in the Spirit

Some prayers are as formal and dry as the midsummer weather report. If our prayers are to be effective, we must first have a sense of real need, then the need must be expressed in earnestness and sincerity. There must be passion in our praying. I do not mean sentimentalism, but intensiveness, earnestness, and spiritual enthusiasm. There must be warmth and life a holy passion for personal righteousness and for the triumph of God's cause.

"We," Not "Them"

Identify yourself with the needs of the congregation. This is very important. Study carefully the prayer of Daniel in Daniel 9:4-19. Notice how he prays, "We have sinned," "Neither have we hearkened unto thy servants the prophets," " We have rebelled." Daniel, a righteous man against whom even his enemies could find no fault, looked upon himself as a needy sinner, along with his captive people.\

When praying for the congregation, remember you are one of them. It is "we" not "them." Otherwise it gives the impression of self-righteousness, you interceding for the less fortunate "sinning" congregation (see also Ezra 9:5-15).

Simplicity and Sincerity

implicity and Sincerity Keep in mind that in the prayer you are talking to God as to a friend. Talk simply and sincerely. Don't try to "put on." Don't be unnatural. If your heart is right, and if you have a real concern for the church, its people, and its mission, the prayer will be effectual, and pastor and people will be blessed.

My prayer: Dear Lord, it's a solemn responsibility to speak in behalf of the congregation in the worship service. Teach me how to better perform this task. Enlighten my heart to my own needs and to those of Thy people. Grant that my prayers may be much more than mere formal recitations, or needless repetitions of hackneyed phrases. May the words be meaningful and relevant, bathed in the spirit of gratitude and praise. May they be words that will lift hearts into heavenly places, words that will bring hope and encouragement, blessing and power. In Jesus' name. Amen.

Orley M. Berg was associate editor of Ministry magazine when he wrote this article.