They (the scribes) … for the sake of appearance say long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.
For the greater part of thirty-two years of ministry, as a solo or associate pastor, I have had the responsibility of presenting the Prayers of the People each Lord’s Day. In preparing that prayer I customarily have had the Bible in one hand and a newspaper in the other, a teaching point credited to theologian Karl Barth. The Bible provides me with stories of the various situations of God’s people and the prayers they offered. The newspaper is one ready source for the latest local news. Of course, throughout the week I am tuned in to other media sources: computer, radio, and television to keep me informed as to what is happening in our local community, the state, our nation, and the world. Closer to home, it is through conversations and visits with the people of the congregation that I learn of your joys and sorrows, your challenges and struggles, and your failures and successes. Consequently, in offering the Prayers of the People each week the prayer does become a long one, but I genuinely trust that its length is not for the sake of appearance. I endeavor to lift up your concerns to God in the Prayers of the People.
Nevertheless, there are times when I wonder if I am being likened unto the scribes. I wonder if Jesus is stepping on my toes for being a scribe who offers long prayers. But how long is long? For our traditional worship services, I have usually written out the Prayers of the People. I try to incorporate praise, thanksgiving, petition, and intercession in the prayer and limit it to 1 ½ -2 pages. For “The Heart of Worship” service, I may have a paragraph or two that relate to some current event, a holy day or holiday, a special emphasis within our church, etc. to begin the prayer. The remainder of the Prayers of the People is woven from the celebrations and concerns the people have submitted. The greater length of this prayer thus comes from the number of petitions and intercessions collected from the people. So, if the prayer is too long then it is not entirely my fault
To keep the Prayers of the People short, I could always use Tiny Tim’s prayer, “God bless us, everyone!” It is inclusive, but it does not address specific situations. I believe we would grow weary of hearing that particular petition every Sunday.
I could extend the length of time dedicated to the silent prayers of worshipers and thereby reduce my voiced prayers. This would give you more time and the opportunity to address your own celebrations and concerns without me trying to identify them all.
I could rotate petitions and intercessions, for example remembering the military forces one Sunday, the First Responders another Sunday, missionaries serving overseas another Sunday and our government leaders on the fourth Sunday and leaving the fifth Sunday “up for grabs.” I am convinced that each week we want those who are sick and those who are grieving included in our prayers. Since we are a church committed to feeding ministries I also believe we want the hungry included in every “Prayers of the People.” So, who or what gets included this week in the Prayers of the People and who or what gets carried over to the next week? How many intercessions and petitions are too many? It is a dilemma!
Dear Lord, guard me as one of Your “shepherds of a flock” from saying long prayers for the sake of appearance. Help me to be inclusive without becoming tiresome. Help us to remember that You know what we need before we ever ask. Help us to realize that You hear our silent prayers as well as those which we voice. In Christ’s name, we pray. Amen.