“Corporate prayer is the heart of corporate worship.” ~George A. Buttrick, 1942
In preparing for tonight’s Oasis class—our focus this evening is on the many forms of prayer in the Bible and their use, or lack thereof, in today’s Christian assemblies—I came across a little essay from George Buttrick on public prayer. I’m going to break it up into two parts. Buttrick addresses the “how to” when it comes to leading a public prayer in the assembly. And I’ll give you that part tomorrow. Today, the big picture of why prayer is the central aspect of our congregational worship.
“Ritual is not central; for, however necessary and vital, it is still ritual. Scripture is not central; for, however indispensable and radiant, it is still Scripture—that which is written, the record not the experience, the very Word but not the Presence. Preaching is not central; for preaching, however inevitable and kindling, is still preaching—the heralding, not the very Lord. Friedrich Heiler was rightly written: ‘Not speech about God, but speech to God, not the preaching of the revelation of God, but direct intercourse with God is, strictly speaking, the worship of God.’
When the rite is made central, prayer may become an incantation. When the book is made central, prayer may become an appendage of scribal interpretations. When preaching is made central, prayer may become only an introduction and conclusion to the sermon. The heart of religion is in prayer—the uplifting of human hands, the speaking of human lips, the expecting waiting of human silence—in direct communion with the Eternal. Prayer must go through the rite, Scripture, symbolism, and sermon, as light through a window.”
In 1895, E. M. Bounds wrote, “Prayer does not prepare us for greater works, it is the greater work.”
We pray because God invites us to pray. He desires that we speak to him, that we bring him our praise and thanksgiving, our confession of sin and our hurts, and our petitions for others and ourselves—everything that concerns us. And the more we pray, the closer we become to God. In prayer, in real prayer, we begin to talk like God talks. We begin to think like God thinks. We desire the things he desires, we love the things he loves, we want the things he wants. We begin to see things from God’s point of view when we earnestly pray.