Leading in Prayer

Every college has one – that lethal combination of professor and course which inspires dread and is the bane of degree-seeking students.  At Erskine College, this was Mr. Bittinger’s Finance class. He alone taught this required course for Business majors.  Many attempted to evade this threat to their GPA by taking Finance elsewhere during the summer and transferring their credit.  Mr. Bittinger was not an academic, but a professional — a hard-nosed, no-nonsense former comptroller who had little time or patience for ill-prepared future business leaders.

Class days alternated between lecture and exercises.  On exercise day, Mr. Bittinger would randomly select students to demonstrate the solutions to assigned homework in front of the class.   And his selection was remarkably random.  If you looked at him, he would choose you, if you looked at your shoes he would choose you.  If you sat in the front of the class and looked keen, he would choose you.  If you sat in the middle behind the class brain, he would choose you.  He had an uncanny knack for choosing you on just that problem that had given you fits.   Cutting class was not an option at Erskine.  There was nothing to do but gird up the loins of your mind and face the music.

We often feel this way when it comes time to lead in prayer at church and we know that the pastor is going to call on someone.  Pulses race, foreheads sweat, minds become suddenly empty, we stare at our shoes and then comes the call.   We do our best to remember the acronym, ACTS (Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving and Supplication) and avoid using the phrase “we just want to …” more than once.  But it still inspires anxiety and awkwardness.  If this sounds familiar you are in good company.  The following anecdote describes Stonewall Jackson’s struggle to lead in public prayer.

According to S.C. Gwynne’s Rebel Yell, Stonewall Jackson’s pastor once urged more congregation members to lead in prayer during the church prayer meeting. Afterward, Jackson went to see him, explaining to the pastor his fear of praying publicly. “But,” Jackson said, “if you think it my duty, then I shall waive my reluctance and make the effort to lead in prayer, however painful it might be.”

At the next meeting, the pastor called on Jackson. His prayer was “faltering, agonizing, [and] cringe-inducing.” For several weeks, the pastor didn’t ask him to pray again, not wanting to subject Jackson to what was obviously an ordeal.

So Jackson went back to see him. “My comfort or discomfort is not the question,” he protested. “If it is my duty to lead in prayer, then I must persevere in it until I learn to do it aright, and I wish you to discard all consideration for my feelings.” From then on, Jackson doggedly continued to lead in prayer, and, though Gwynne reports that he was never eloquent, he managed to become competent.

The Apostle Paul recognized that leading in public prayer is a critical part of our life in the body of Christ and in weekly worship.    In writing to his young apprentice, Timothy, he gives him needed instruction to pass on to the church about our manner and the matter of our corporate prayer life.   Far from being vain repetition that punctuates the movements of our worship service, corporate prayer breathes life into worship and provides the medium that carries us to the throne of God.   In Acts 4:31, we read that after the early church shared in corporate prayer, “the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness.”

Join us this Lord’s Day, September 2, as we examine 1 Timothy 2:1-7 and consider the power and importance of corporate prayer to move us and enable us to speak the word of God with boldness.  We meet from 5:00 – 6:30 pm in The Commons at St. Andrews Anglican Church at 8300 Kanis Rd in Little Rock.  Click here for directions. Come with a friend you and join us for fellowship and worship. We look forward to seeing you there.