Good Preachers; Poor Prayers

June 5, 2007

I came across a gem of a quote while reading Charles Hodge’s Systematic Theology yesterday relating to the preacher’s prayers. If nothing else, read his six pointers for public prayer.

“While teaching should be, as it clearly was during the apostolic age, the prominent object in the services of the Lord’s day, the importance of public prayer can hardly be overestimated. This, it is often said, is the weak point in the worship service.

It is probably true that there are more good preachers than good prayers. The main reason for this is that the minister devotes a great part of the labor of the week to the preparation of the sermon and not a thought to his prayers. It is no wonder, therefore, that the one should be better than the other.

The situation can be remedied by keeping the requisites of edifying public prayer in view:

1) The officiating minister should have a truly devout spirit; the feelings and desires of which the prayers are the utterance should be in exercise of his own heart.

2) His mind and memory should be well stored with the thoughts and language of Scripture. Holy men of old spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost. Their utterances, whether in adoration, thanksgiving, confession, or supplication, were controlled by the Spirit of God. Hence they express the mind of the Spirit; they are the most appropriate vehicles for the expression of those feelings and desires which the Spirit awakens in the minds of God’s people. No prayers, therefore, are more edifying, other things being equal, than those which abound in appropriate use of Scriptural language.

3) The prayer should be well ordered so as to embrace all the proper parts and topics of prayer in due proportion. This will prevent its being rambling, diffuse, or repetitious.

4) It should also be suited to the occassion, whether that be the ordinary service of the Lord’s day, or the administration of the sacraments, or the special service on days of thanksgiving or of fasting and humiliation.

5) It is hardly necessary to say that the language employed should be simple, solemn, and correct.

6) The prayers should be short. Undue length in this service is generally due to useless repetitions.



  1. Colin,

    There’s also a great opportunity to teach the Church how to pray the Scriptures too when pastors pray during services. To me, it’s another way of encouraging those who ask the same questions the disciples did, “Teach us how to pray” (you’ll notice i left out the Lord bit! 🙂 )

    But thise whole issue I feel, in my humble opinion, is an indicator of a lack of prayer in the life of pastors and preachers, which has a knock on effect. I reckon the lack of prayer in services contributes to 1) many in the church not knowing how to pray, and 2) poor attendance at the prayer meetings (read spurgeon’s – “only a Prayer Meeting” – awesome!)

    John Piper encouraged me to recall the interdependence of the Word and Prayer, saying,
    “In the Bible, God speaks to us, and in prayer, we speak to him. And the two are interdependent in their effectiveness. The Scripture teaches us to pray and shows us what to pray and how to pray and tells us the basis for prayer and fills us with encouragement that God hears our prayers. And prayer applies the Scriptures to ourselves and others. It turns the word into prayer, and it pleads for help from God in understanding the meaning of the word and living the word. So prayer and the word are interdependent in the way they help us be conformed to the image of Christ.”

    Sorry for hogging the comments, but i wanted to share one more wee inspiring call from Ravenhill… “Poverty-stricken as the Church is today in many things, she is most stricken here, in the place of prayer. We have many organisers, but few agonisers; many players, few pray-ers; many singers, few clingers; lots of pastors, few wrestlers; many fears, few tears; much fashion, little passion; many interferers, few intercessors; many writers, few fighters. Failing here, we fail everywhere.”


  2. Great quote. Thanks for sharing. Encouraging/convicting.

  3. Wonderful quote from Hodge. Many lessons to learn from it, but should we speak of the “ordinary service of the Lord’s Day”? Should our expectation of our Lord’s Day service not be extra-ordinary, especially in our prayers?

    Thomas Brooks in The Secret Key to Heaven says;
    “He that will not call upon God in secret shall find by sad experience that God will neither hear him nor regard him in public. The absence of private duties is the great reason why the hearts of many are so dead and dull, so formal and carnal, so barren and unfruitful under public ordinances”

  4. A post, and comment thread, one can say “Amen!” to!

    It reminds me of the vignette in biography of John Macdonald of Ferintosh (“The Apostle of the North”), of the parishoners reflecting on a minister: “He can preach, but can he pray down heaven?”

    I wonder — it this a point at which elders, too, might make a contribution? I have been part of a church fellowship whose pastor is a fine pray-er, but when one or two of the elders stepped up to lead the congregation in prayer on a Sunday morning, something quite special happened. There was an intimacy and liveliness and, in my own heart, a greater engagement.

    A thought, anyway!

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