I promised you Wednesday the second half of that 1942 George Buttrick essay on prayer, the section that deals specifically with the wording of public prayers in the assembly. Buttrick was an English-born Congregational preacher who served nearly 30 years as pastor of New York’s Madison Avenue Presbyterian Church. He also served as Preacher to the University at Harvard. Here it is:
“With what burden and awe we should prepare the prayers for public worship! Therein is the grievous failure, not to say disgrace, of Protestantism. ‘Brother So-and-so will lead us in prayer’; whereupon Brother So-and-so, in too many instances, offers God a slipshodness and a jumble, sometimes almost a brash irreverence, and has the temerity to call it prayer. Where public prayer is undisciplined, corporate public worship decays.
There is necessary preparation both of the pray-er and the prayer. What are its steps?
The minister and the congregation should explore the wealth of prayers, ‘free’ and liturgical, offered through the years. Wisdom was not born with us. There are collects of St. Chrysostom which are the perfect bloom of devotion. They cannot be touched without being spoiled. They can only be prayed, in gratitude for men who pray for us better than we pray for ourselves.
Furthermore, prayers should spring from prior inquiry. What are the blessings for which we should praise God? What are the sins which should find corporate confession? What are the conflicts and sorrows that should be upborne in corporate intercession? As that last question is asked the compassionate minister will see the faces of his people and the tragic need of the world until intercession then and there interrupts his ponderings.
Then the minister must plan and write prayers as rigorously as sermons. The language should be wrought. God may be pleased with a clumsy prayer, but not when the clumsiness comes with sloth or a casual mind. The planning of a prayer should be deliberate and clearly drawn. Later, in public utterance, the prayer may break its bounds to ‘take heaven by storm,’ but only if the bounds have first been set. How can petition and intercession be real unless it is specific and ordered?
The needs of the Church are many and urgent. But they might all be met by the leaven of genuine corporate prayer.”