Pray Like a Normal Person

1I once heard Jack Hayford say “how can we expect people to pray at home if we don’t expect them to pray at church?” This is a really good question that makes a really good point. If people don’t see and experience heartfelt, genuine, authentic prayer on a Sunday morning, then the odds of them feeling comfortable praying at home, or with their family, are very low.

You may not realize this, but whenever you (or anyone else) pray into a microphone on a Sunday morning, all of the “normal people” in the room are taking notes. Probably not actual notes on a piece of paper, but mental notes. And they don’t even realize they’re doing it. They’re studying how you pray, what you pray most often, how your voice sounds, if you sound like you’re faking it, if you sound like you’re comfortable, etc.

Feel nervous yet? If you don’t, you should. It’s a big responsibility to pray publicly, simply because you are shaping how the people in the pews are going to pray privately.

If I could make one suggestion to worship leaders (myself included) and pastors about praying publicly, it would be this: pray like a normal person.

Yes, make sure you keep in mind which person of the Trinity you’re addressing. Yes, make sure you don’t meander and wander and say “um” or the infamous “Father God” five thousand times. Yes, make sure your prayer makes sense. Pray carefully. But don’t pray robotically.

The normal people in your congregation can tell when, for some reason, you raise your pitch when you pray as if you’re talking to a baby. Or if you get really breathy as if you’re in a library and don’t want to get dirty looks. They can tell when you’re using words you don’t normally use. And all of this not-normalness contributes to them not feeling like they can try it at home.

Step one: use your normal voice. Step two: use your normal vocabulary. Step three: don’t think too hard. Just pray, even if it’s a bit messy, just pray from your heart. Step four: keep it short and sweet and to the point. Step five: do not, under any circumstance, assume a faux-British accent.

Model careful, heartfelt, authentic, normal prayer to your congregation. They’re taking notes.

Things to Pray for Before a Service

If you’re anything like me, and if your worship team is anything like mine, sometimes when you gather to pray (and I hope you do) before a service, you can either blank on what to pray or you can tend to pray the same sort of thing. What kinds of things are we supposed to pray for before a service? Here are some ideas:

That your worship team would be unified in the Spirit
All of us have different gifts, but we all belong to the same body (1 Corinthians 12:12-13). Your worship team needs the Spirit’s help to act as one body, not a bunch of individual members.

That Jesus would be made central
John the Baptist said in John 3:30 that “(Jesus) must increase, but I must decrease”. The Psalmist wrote in Psalm 115:1, “Not to us… but to your name give glory…”. These are our prayers, and we need the Holy Spirit to help us decrease and to help Jesus to increase (John 16:14).

That God’s word would be preached faithfully
The “sword of the Spirit” mentioned in Ephesians 6:17 isn’t a synthesizer pad or a cool transition. The sword of the Spirit is the word of God. We should be praying that God’s word is preached boldly and faithfully, and that what we do supports it.

That people would sing from their hearts
In Matthew 15:8 Jesus lamented the people who honored him with their lips but whose hearts were far from him. One of our jobs is to help prevent lip-service to Jesus. We need the Holy Spirit for this, since he is the only one who can search our hearts (Romans 8:27).

That you would lead with Spirit-inspired excellence
If I wanted to, I could play an excellent guitar solo. But it wouldn’t do any good. Excellence on its own is useless. Excellence for the purpose of God’s glory and the congregation’s edification is commanded (Psalm 33:3). We need God’s help to discern the difference between being impressive for the sake of impressing, or excellent for the sake of serving.

That unbelievers would be convicted by the Holy Spirit
Here’s an understatement: there are certain things God can do that you can’t do. You might be a great worship leader but you can’t convict unbelievers of sin. In 1 Corinthians 14:24-25, Paul says that one advantage of prophecy is that an unbeliever can be “convicted… and declare that God is really among you”. This is why you should pray that God helps you lead prophetically, in the power of the Holy Spirit, so that even unbelievers will see God’s glory.

That you would be led by the Holy Spirit
Don’t just plow through your song list and rush through it without taking time to let God lead you to repeat, underline, emphasize, or even skip certain things. If the Holy Spirit lives in you, then (this is amazing) you can know the very thoughts of God (1 Corinthians 2:11). What you’re thinking is important. But what God is thinking is more important. Pray that the Holy Spirit speaks clearly to you what’s on God’s heart as you lead.

That the time of singing would bear fruit
It’s not enough to give people a pleasant singing experience on Sunday mornings. We should be changed every time we encounter God individually or corporately. One of the main ways our time of singing can bear fruit is for the words we sing to sink deep down in our hearts and stay there during the week, reminding us of the truths we’ve sung (Colossians 3:16).

That your sound engineer will have wisdom and energy
Seriously, pray for your sound engineer(s) anyone else on the AV team at your church. Too often worship teams treat their audiovisual colleagues like second-class citizens. Pray for them, honor them, thank them, and be understanding when something goes wrong. They need God’s help to stay attentive, to be able to engage in worship, and to maintain servants hearts while in the background.

That you would lead, sing, and play beyond your natural abilities
There are many instances in scripture when the Holy Spirit enables someone to operate beyond their normal ability (Moses in Exodus 31:3, David in 2 Samuel 12:32, Ezekiel (all throughout the book), Micah in chapter 3:8, Zechariah in Luke 1:67, Stephen in Acts 6:10, and Peter in Acts 11:12). These are normal people to whom God gives supernatural strength for the demonstration of his power and the proclamation of his good news. Worship leaders would be wise to ask for that same supernatural strength, every single Sunday.

Instrumental Music During Prayer Ministry

A few years ago I came across a series of CDs called “Prayer Songs”. These are instrumental recordings of Jeff Nelson on piano, and are designed to be played during times of prayer.

From Whole Hearted Worship’s website:

These unique CD’s were recorded in an atmosphere of prayer. As intercessors prayed together in one studio, Jeff Nelson, a gifted keyboard artist, songwriter, and producer, sat at a Yamaha grand piano in an adjoining studio, listening through his headset and musically interpreting the spirit of the prayers. The result is over 4 hours of “fragrant sounds” that will stir your worship & intercession. (The recordings are music only – not the spoken prayers.)

These recordings have served us very well over the years. At a service or a meeting when there is going to be an extended time of prayer ministry, we’ll often play these CDs to provide a buffer of privacy for people, and help people feel more comfortable staying and waiting and praying – not starting conversation or just leaving.

I used to feel like I was stuck playing guitar or piano for a couple of hours while a time of prayer ministry went on. I was thrilled to find these CDs and highly recommend them to you. You can order them through the link to Whole Hearted Worship’s website above.

A Prayer Before Leading Worship

This evening, before our Saturday service got started at 5:00pm, those of us involved in leading parts of the service gathered as we always do to pray for the preacher, the worship team, the congregation, and anything else that was on our minds.

Since it can be hard to know what to pray before leading worship, I thought it might be helpful for me to share what I prayed tonight, and what I often pray before a service (roughly).

“Lord, please protect me and all of us here from rushing through this service just to get it over with.

Help us to be expectant for you to be at work, help us to be present at this service and at this hour, and give us a love for these people who are coming. Some of these people have been looking forward to this service all week long. Some don’t even know why they’re here. Lord, please help us to lead these people well.

We pray that you would accomplish your purposes tonight. We don’t want to be a hindrance or lackadaisical. Help us to be ready and sensitive to your Holy Spirit. We pray that you would use us, in all our different parts, for your glory.”

It’s never a good idea to lead worship without praying for God’s help first. If I don’t pray before a service, I’ll lead worship thinking that I’m very big, I’m the boss, and it’s all up to me.

I want to be made small. I want God to take control. And I want God to do what he alone can do.

Before your rehearsals and services, make a point of praying and asking for God’s help. God knows we need it.

Praying for Unction

Unction isn’t a word you hear very often these days, but maybe that’s not such a good thing.

Tullian Tchividjian, the pastor of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church, recently shared on his blog about how his “heart burns” for God’s “sacred anointing”, or “unction”.

While his post is written for preachers, I wanted to share it here because worship leading is another form of preaching. Every week, worship leaders have 15, 20, 30, or more minutes to point their congregations to the greatness and glory of God in Jesus Christ through music. So, read this post and where you see the words “preaching” or “preachers” – insert “worship leading” or “worship leaders”. May we all pray for God’s sacred anointing, his unction, every single time we get up to lead.

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I’m a die-hard believer in unction. Unction is an old fashioned word which describes an effusion of power from the Holy Spirit as one preaches. It is the one thing preachers need above everything else. It is the accompanying power of the Spirit. This is what Charles Spurgeon dubbed “the sacred annointing.” It is power from on high.

In his book on the preaching of Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, The Sacred Annointing, Tony Sargent describes unction well. He writes:

[Unction] is the afflatus of the Spirit resting on the speaker. It is the preacher gliding on eagles’ wings, soaring high, swooping low, carrying and being carried along by a dynamic other than his own. His consciousness of what is happening is not obliterated. He is not in a trance. He is being worked on but is aware that he is still working. He is being spoken through but he knows he is still speaking. The words are his but the facility with which they come compels him to realise that the source is beyond himself. The man is overwhelmed. He is on fire.

Oh how my heart burns for this sacred annointing, this unction! I hope and pray that preachers all over the world would spend much of their sermon preparation time begging God for this power on high. For, it is preachers who are borne along by the Holy Spirit that are used to effect a deep and sobering awareness of God and his truth that transforms.

In his book Lloyd-Jones: Messenger of Grace, Iain Murray writes:

Preaching under the annointing of the Holy Spirit is preaching which brings with it a consciousness of God. It produces an impression upon the hearer that is altogether stronger than anything belonging to the circumstances of the occasion. Visible things fall into the background; the surroundings, the fellow worshippers, even the speaker himself, all become secondary to an awareness of God himself. Instead of witnessing a public gathering, the hearer receives the conviction that he is being addressed personally, and with an authority greater than that of a human messenger.

Given the fact that the ultimate factor in the church’s engagement with society is the church’s engagement with God, my earnest prayer is that, for the sake of the world, more preachers would come to know and understand what Andrew Bonar meant when he wrote: “It is one thing to bring truth from the Bible, and another to bring it from God himself through the Bible.”

Please pray, dear friends, that God would annoint my mind and mouth on Sunday as I preach so that God’s people would hear from God. Please pray that God’s Spirit would so inhabit my words that everyone would leave worship tomorrow being able to say, “God was surely in that place.”

I can’t manufacture unction regardless of how well crafted my sermon is and how well prepared I may be. The biggest work must come from God.

So, come thou fount of every blessing and do for your people what I cannot. Amen.

Read Tullian’s post here.

What Do I Pray After a Song?

Sometimes it’s hard to know what to pray after a song, if, as the worship leader you’re expected to pray in order to conclude a time of singing or transition into a different part of the service.

There are many ways you can handle this. Sometimes you can leave a period of silence, to encourage people to wait on the Lord and cherish his presence. After some time passes you can briefly pray and encourage people to be seated afterwards. Other times you might feel led to thank God for something you’ve been made freshly aware of as you’ve sung. Sometimes I don’t think I need to add anything at all, so I’ll just say “amen” after a few seconds of lingering on the last chord of a song.

But you don’t always have to make something up on the fly. Reading from Scripture is a great way to “pray” after a song, or reading a pre-written prayer.

This past Sunday we finished our opening time of singing with the familiar Tim Hughes song “Here I Am to Worship”. I would typically be the one to pray after the last song, but on this particular Sunday I looked over at John Yates, my pastor, and he signaled that he wanted to pray instead.

He got up and read an ancient prayer, called the Te Deum laudamus, In the Anglican church this is found in our Book of Common Prayer and in many churches it’s read almost every Sunday. As he prayed, I kept playing piano just to help give a bit of support. (I don’t always play background music when I or someone else prays, but sometimes it seems like it would be helpful.)

Here’s a clip of the song ending and then John closing the time of singing with the prayer.

You are God: we praise you; You are the Lord: we acclaim you;
You are the eternal Father: All creation worships you.
To you all angels, all the powers of heaven,
Cherubim and Seraphim, sing in endless praise:
Holy, holy, holy Lord, God of power and might,
heaven and earth are full of your glory.
The glorious company of apostles praise you.
The noble fellowship of prophets praise you.
The white-robed army of martyrs praise you.
Throughout the world the holy Church acclaims you;
Father, of majesty unbounded,
your true and only Son, worthy of all worship,
and the Holy Spirit, advocate and guide.
You, Christ, are the king of glory,
the eternal Son of the Father.
When you became man to set us free
you did not shun the Virgin’s womb.
You overcame the sting of death
and opened the kingdom of heaven to all believers.
You are seated at God’s right hand in glory.
We believe that you will come and be our judge.
Come then, Lord, and help your people,
bought with the price of your own blood,
and bring us with your saints to glory everlasting.

Don’t get into a rut of praying the same thing every Sunday after a time of singing. There is a time for silence, for spontaneous prayer, for expressing gratefulness to God, for reading Scripture, and for taking advantage of the amazing prayers that have been passed down from generations of faithful Christians.