C. M. Mellor was ministerial secretary of the Northern California Conference when he wrote this article.

O come, let us worship and bow down: O let us kneel before the Lord our maker. For he is our God" (Ps. 95:6, 7). Prayer is the high point of the church service. At this time the congregation is in direct communion with the Eternal. The reading of Scripture, the singing of hymns, and the preaching of the sermon must be secondary as these functions only speak about God; but when we pray, we are in direct conversation with the Almighty.

Prayer is a science and as such demands careful study and understanding. We are told, "There should be an intelligent knowledge of how to come to God in reverence and godly fear with devotional love. There is a growing lack of reverence for our Maker, a growing disregard of His greatness and His majesty." Selected Messages, 2:315.

It is distressing to admit that few of our ministers have had any training either on the college level or in seminary in the discipline, dynamics and techniques of effective prayer. Inspiration states, "Educate and train the mind that you may in simplicity tell the Lord what you need.... The Lord desires us to improve in prayer and to offer our spiritual sacrifices with increased faith and power." In Heavenly Places, p. 78. Are we growing in an intelligence of prayer, or are we praying in the same way that we have been doing for the past five, ten, or fifteen years?

There are several prayers offered in the course of a worship service. When the ministers enter the pulpit, it should be with dignity and solemn mien as they commit themselves to God. Then there is the invocation invoking God's blessing upon the service, and the benediction bringing the worship to a close. These are all vital; but the chief concern of this article is with the pastoral prayer or the main prayer. Let us notice some musts for the minister and the congregation to observe when this important prayer is offered.

As to the proper posture in prayer, both congregation and minister should kneel. "And when you assemble to worship God, be sure and bow your knees before Him. Let this act testify that the whole soul, body, and spirit are in subjection to the Spirit of truth." Selected Messages, 2:314. How thankful we should be that the Seventh-day Adventist Church has not followed the example of popular Protestantism where the worshipers no longer kneel but sit or stand during prayer! There is a blessing in kneeling before the eternal God.

However, we must not become legalistic and rigid in this matter, for there may be times where the ideal is not possible. At some convocations, such as camp meeting pavilions and public auditoriums, kneeling is almost impossible. Thus, we must do the best we can under the circumstances, but the preferred posture of prayer is to kneel. How impressive to see a congregation reverently kneeling as they worship their Creator!

The Bible says several times, "He lifted up his voice." Public prayer should be offered in a clear voice so all present can hear every word. No one can be edified spiritually if the one addressing God cannot be understood. We are counseled, "Let those who pray and those who speak pronounce their words properly, and speak in clear, distinct, even tones. Prayer, if properly offered, is a power for good. It is one of the means used by the Lord to communicate to the people the precious treasures of truth. But prayer is not what it should be, because of the defective voices of those who utter it. Satan rejoices when the prayers offered to God are almost inaudible." Gospel Workers, p. 88.

A prayer uttered hurriedly with excessive speed shows an inner tension on the part of the one in supplication. This attitude is contagious and will affect the entire congregation. Some important instruction is given by the servant of the Lord, "Do not fall into the habit of praying so indistinctly and in such a low tone that your prayers need an interpreter. Pray simply, but clearly and distinctly. To let the voice sink so low that it cannot be heard is no evidence of humility.... A prayer uttered so hurriedly that the words are jumbled together is no honor to God and does the hearers no good. Let ministers and all who offer public prayer learn to pray in such a way that God will be glorified and the hearers will be blessed. Let them speak slowly and distinctly and in tones loud enough to be heard by all so that the people may unite in saying, Amen." -Testimonies to the Church, 6:383.

The one offering the pastoral prayer must remember he is speaking for all gathered in worship, not just for himself! All personal references such as "I," "my," and "me" should be omitted. In their place, "our," "us," and "we" will be used. Ministers sometimes close their prayers by saying, "I ask in the name of Jesus." This is proper in private communion, but when public prayer is offered, the entire congregation should be included a » in we ...."

Long prayers in congregational worship are an abomination to the Lord and a trial to God's children. How often ministers err in this. Some pointed admonition is given, "The long prayers made by some ministers have been a great failure. Praying to great length, as some do, is all out of place. ... A few minutes' time is enough to bring your case before God and tell Him what you want; and you can take the people with you and not weary them out and lessen their interest in devotion and prayer. They may be refreshed and strengthened, instead of exhausted." Ibid., 2:617

It is said that when a person neglects his private communion with God, he tends to pray longer in public to compensate for his personal failure in piety. "Christ impressed upon His disciples the idea that their prayers should be short, expressing just what they wanted, and no more. . . . One or two minutes is long enough for any ordinary prayer." Ibid., p. 581. In private prayer, one can pray as long as desired.

Often, the one selected to offer the main prayer is called upon just before the service. This allows little time for thought and contemplation. The person in charge says, "Brother So-and-so, will you give the prayer?" Ten or fifteen minutes later this brother offers to God a sincere but slipshod jumbled prayer that can reduce the spirit of the divine service to irreverence. It has been written, "When public prayer is undisciplined, corporate public worship decays."

It is the custom in many Seventh-day Adventist churches for the minister or speaker to give the invocation at the beginning of the worship service while some well meaning lay elder is asked to take the pastoral prayer with a few minutes notice. Therefore, the highest part of the worship is often given in an ill-prepared manner.

Reason suggests the order be reversed. Who better knows the needs of the congregation and the emphasis of the Sabbath day than the minister? True, there are dedicated laymen who can give a most acceptable prayer; but should not the minister give the main prayer more often as the worship and needs of the congregation are presented to God?

The public prayer should meet the needs of the worshipers in assembly. Who would know the struggles and desires of the people better than the minister? It was Joseph Fort Newton who said, "The minister must live with the people if he is to know their problems, and he must live close to God if he is to solve them." The pastor would do well to spend some time each week planning for the main prayer of the worship service. Not that he would read it on Sabbath morning, for such is not our tradition; but he should be prepared to pray to the eternal God of heaven in the best possible manner. This is the time when the congregation is in direct communion with their God. "O thou that hearest prayer, unto thee shall all flesh come" (Ps. 65:2).

Prayer in the church worship service is the respectful and receptive opening of the heart to God with others of like attitudes and expectations. It is a togetherness in approaching God for His presence and mercies. How inspiring is the promise: "The Lord is nigh unto all them that call upon him, to all that call upon him in truth. He will fulfill the desire of them that fear him: he also will hear their cry, and will save them"(Ps. 145:18, 19).

Just how does one prepare a pastoral prayer? There is a natural sequence to be followed in this art. This is true both when we are in private communion with our Lord and when we are praying before a congregation in the setting of a worship service. Let us together consider six aspects of an effective prayer:

Adoration and Reverence

All prayer begins with adoration and reverence for God and His holy name. To adore God is to love Him. This is the foundation of all true prayer. We address our prayers to God through the name of Jesus Christ.

In the Scriptures there are many illustrations of adoration. When the disciples said to Jesus, "Lord, teach us to pray," He taught them to say, "Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name" (Luke 11:1, 2). When the angel announced the birth of Jesus to the shepherds, they sang, "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men" (chap. 2:14). In the prayer of Isaiah, preceding his vision of the glory of God, he exclaimed, "Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord of hosts" (Isa. 6:3).

Is it not significant that the remnant church, which heralds the "everlasting gospel," is admonished, "Fear God, and give glory to him" (Rev. 14:7)? This text in Phillips' translation reads: "Reverence God, and give glory to him." "Prayer is the most holy exercise of the soul. It should be sincere, humble, earnest, the desires of a renewed heart breathed in the presence of a holy God. When the suppliant feels that he is in the divine presence, self will be forgotten. He will have no desire to display human talent; he will not seek to please the ear of men, but to obtain the blessing which the soul craves." Testimonies to the Church, 5:201.

One of the great problems in most Seventh-day Adventist churches is lack of reverence. Only as worshipers sense that they are in the presence of God and that God, through the Holy Spirit, is in the house of worship can real prayer be experienced and real reverence felt.

To pray to God is to rejoice in Him, to turn our thoughts from self to God. Nothing that we possess is as important as knowing God and that we possess Him. It is at this point that real, effective prayer begins!

Praise and Thanksgiving

There is much in the Bible and the Spirit of Prophecy about joy and thanksgiving in prayer. "Giving thanks always for all things unto God and the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ" (Eph. 5: 20). "We need to praise God more 'for His goodness, and for His wonderful works to the children of men' (Ps. 107:8). Our devotional exercises should not consist wholly in asking and receiving. Let us not be always thinking of our wants, and never of the benefits we receive. We do not pray any too much, but we are too sparing of giving thanks. We are the constant recipients of God's mercies, and yet how little gratitude we express, how little we praise Him for what He has done for us." Steps to Christ, pp. 102, 103.

In the prayer of adoration and reverence, we love God for Himself and what He is; in the prayer of thanksgiving and praise, we thank God for what He has done. It is to say, "God, I thank thee for ..." As we thank God for His many blessings, our attention is directed away from ourselves and upward to Him. "No tongue can express, no finite mind can conceive, the blessing that results from appreciating the goodness and love of God." The Ministry of Healing, p. 253.

The Prayer of Confession

The two types of prayer previously mentioned, adoration and thanksgiving, are significant, for they direct us toward God. In the effective pastoral prayer, there is also a place for the expression of worshipers' needs. One of the basic problems of any congregation is the forgiveness of sin. Sin separates man from God.

The key to a reconciliation with God is to say, "Lord, we are sorry." "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness" (1 John 1:9). "True confession is always of a specific character, and acknowledges particular sins." Steps to Christ, p. 38. Not only is it important to confess the sins that come to our minds, but we must also confess the underlying motives that lie deep in the heart. It was the psalmist who cried, "Cleanse thou me from secret faults" (Ps. 19:12).

How solemn and rousing are the words "Let the priests, the ministers of the Lord, weep between the porch and the altar, and let them say, 'Spare thy people, O Lord, and give not thine heritage to reproach, that the heathen should rule over them: wherefore should they say among the people, Where is their God?" (Joel 2:17).

How painful to recognize our spiritual failures and yet how wonderful is our God's forgiveness! When we pray the prayer of confession, it is not to condemn the church, but to point to the mercies of a loving Father.

Intercession in Prayer

In the prayer of intercession we are praying, not for ourselves, but for others. True Christians who deeply love others cannot but pray for them. This is one of the great privileges in talking to God in behalf of a congregation.

There are persons whom we would remember in our private communion with God who would not be remembered in the pastoral prayer. Those for whom intercession is made should be the concern of the entire congregation. It is at this point in the pastoral prayer where our leaders, evangelists, teachers, colporteurs, sick, and discouraged should be mentioned. Little do we understand the heavy burdens and bewildering perplexities upon the hearts of the worshipers. To mention such in a general way might be the means of giving someone the lift he needs "It is when we come into difficult places that He reveals His power and wisdom in answer to humble prayer." The Ministry of Healing, p. 199.

Petition in Prayer

Generally when people pray it is because they want something. The prayer of petition is for ourselves, our needs and desires. Jesus, when teaching His disciples how to pray, said, "Give us this day our daily bread." In asking for things, caution must be expressed, for it is in praying thus that our wills are often placed before the will of God. This is where our motives must be examined to make sure they are righteous and unselfish.

In our private communion with God our prayers should be simple as we ask for our temporal and spiritual needs. Although He knows these needs, He wants us to ask for them.

Our petitions may not always be answered in the way we would wish, but we can learn lessons from God's refusals and pray for the wisdom and strength that we need to reach His standards.

Committing Ourselves to God

The proper climax of prayer is for us to commit and dedicate ourselves to the service and keeping of God. Failure to align our lives to the revealed will of God would debase prayer to empty and high sounding words. "Commit thy way unto the Lord; trust also in him; and he shall bring it to pass" (Ps. 37:5).

Effective prayer can only be the result of total dedication. Thus it seems a fitting climax to commit ourselves to God near the conclusion of the pastoral prayer. "There are conditions to the fulfillment of God's promises, and prayer can never take the place of duty. "If ye love Me," Christ says, "Keep My commandments."

C. M. Mellor was ministerial secretary of the Northern California Conference when he wrote this article.