Brilliant and inspiring article for all church leaders and Jesus-followers alike:

Leading a Church in Prayer (deserves thoughtful preparation)

Some traditions use set prayers. Others rely on extemporaneous prayers. Both have their place. But I believe what our congregations need most are studied prayers, well prepared, well expressed. These prayers may or may not be read, but will be thought through ahead of time. Publicly leading a church in prayer deserves thoughtful preparation.

1. Use forms with freedom. Learn from The Valley of Vision or Hughes Oliphant Old or the Book of Common Prayer. But suit their prayers to your own purposes. The Didache, after laying down set prayers for Communion, also allows “the prophets to give thanks however they wish.”

2. Pray Scripture. Don’t just ask God for what we want. Let him teach us what we should want.

3. Don’t footnote. Charles Spurgeon: “It is not necessary in prayer to string a selection of texts of Scripture together, and quote David, and Daniel, and Job, and Paul, and Peter, and every other body, under the title of ‘thy servant of old.'” The Lord already knows who said everything, so don’t tell him again in your prayers.

4. Leave the preaching for the sermon. Don’t exhort. Don’t explain texts. Don’t unpack complex theology. Spurgeon again: “Long prayers either consist of repetitions, or else of unnecessary explanations which God does not require; or else they degenerate into downright preachings, so that there is no difference between the praying and the preaching, except that in the one the minister has his eyes shut, and in the other he keeps them open. It is not necessary in prayer to rehearse the Westminster Assembly’s Catechism.”

5. Share some details of congregational life, but not all. A good shepherd will often mention by name various sheep that need special care. But don’t try to cover every engagement in the last three months or surreptitiously announce the youth retreat in your prayer (“Lord, be with our young people gathering this Friday at 5:00 p.m. with their Bibles and a sleeping bag”). Spurgeon once more: “There is no need to make the public prayer a gazette of the week’s events, or a register of the births, deaths, and marriages of your people, but the general moments that have taken place in the congregation should be noted by the minister’s careful heart.”

6. Pray so that others can follow you easily. The goal is edification (1 Cor. 14:17). So don’t let your sentences get too long, too flowery, too ornate. If you write out your prayers, write for the ear not for the eye. On the other hand, don’t use distracting colloquialisms like, “Lord, you’re so sweet.”

7. Keep it relatively brief. Better to be too short than too long. Five minutes is plenty in most North American churches. Seven to ten minutes is possible if you are experienced and have trained your people well.

8. Remember you are praying with and on behalf of others. Use “we” and “our” (as in the Lord’s Prayer). This is not the time to confess your personal sins or recount your personal experiences.

9. Order your prayer. Make sure there is a flow and direction. Don’t get too wordy. Keep a good pace. It often makes sense to work from the inside out, praying first for concerns of the congregation and then moving out to the community, the global church, and the world.

10. Beware of verbal ticks. For example: popping your p’s, smacking your lips, sighing, ums, mindless repetition of the divine name, overuse of “just” and “like,” an over-reliance on the phrase “we pray” or “we would pray” instead of simply praying.

11. Show proper reverence, confidence, and emotion. Pray like you mean it. After all, God is God, and he really hears us!

12. Pray before you pray. Ask God for help as you prepare, and for humility and grace as you go up to pray.

Kevin DeYoung, University Reformed Church, East Lansing, Michigan. He blogs at thegospelcoalition.org

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DIGNITY

I have listened this morning to one of the best radio moments of the year. Victoria Derbyshire interviewed PC David Rathband (the Police officer that was shot and injured (left blind) by Raoul Moat a few weeks ago. Though I am an avid 5Live listener, VD’s phone in show can be at times very tabloid. Not the case today, thankfully.

It was a very moving interview without being sappy. The gentleman has been amazing in his reaction, attitude and true dignity – real class. He was measured in his evaluation of the tragic events that had left him blind. He spoke without bitterness and demeaning attitude about his assailant. There was no trace of either self-pity (he felt that he had been lucky to have had sight) or pride. He simply described himself as an ordinary member of the public who chose a risky career.

These are the contemporary role-models that we need to celebrate.

I encourage you to listen to the interview, play it to your children – as a great lesson and true inspiration. The first parof teh interview is already up on the Beeb. I am sure they will have it soon as a podcast. Worth tracking it.

INCEPTION REVIEW

I was quite intrigued by the plot of this new Nolan release and after hearing the good ‘doctor’ Kermode reviewing it so positively I became even more curious. Before going the blockbuster way with the last two Batman movies, Christopher Nolan created a real unique masterpiece in ‘Memento’ – an original and yet a very complex film. It took me about three viewings to sense the flow of the plot. It probably has to do with my inability to follow the non-linear and backward storyline.

The premise of Inception sounds fantastic: a ‘dream spy’ (Leo) who has the ability to infiltrate people’s dreams and stealing personal details – wants to go to the next level by creating an idea and implanting into someone’s subconscious via a dream (or in our case an ever increasing sets of dreams). So you have to get your head around the entire concept of dreams vs. reality.

Yet for me it disappoints: the script is far too clunky (going too much into the explanations), the action scenes are cheap Bond-like, the pace is drawn-out and visually the only three amazing pieces (the folding street, the crumbling shores, the train on the road) of cinematography are the ones you seen in the trailer. In the end I was bored and exhausted.

The acting is good – to be expected with the calibre of actors available. There are some witty pieces of writing in the script. As expected (in my humble opinion) it ends up with the almost classic scene reminiscent of The Shutter Island and the Sixth Sense. This is far too obvious for an ambitious project like this but maybe a way for a sequel.

Probably Nolan tried to marry a blockbuster with an art house movie. For me, it did not work. I can think of much better (and imho, successful) attempts to deal with the issues of reality/dreams/time travel/alternative existence: Fight Club, The Matrix, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind or even Donnie Darko.

I am aware that I am at odds with most of my friends (some of them true film buffs) as well as some of my favourite reviewers. Which makes me think that maybe I have missed something….

PREACHING & PASTORING

In my ministry experience, I have observed that church leaders come with usually one of the three areas of gifting as major (broad generalisation, I know). Their dominant gift is either preaching, pastoring or leadership. I was always fascinateby the relationship between them. How are you meant to relate to the other two if you are gifted in one of those areas? Do you just write them off? Do you pray and ask God to ‘complete’ the package? Do you seek to learn as much as you can?

In a recent interview in the May 8, 2010, issue of World, Tim Keller (Pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian in New York City) explains how his pastoral service in a small Virginia town helped shape his preaching: “In a small town your pastoring sets up your preaching. In a big town your preaching sets up your pastoring.

“In a big town, because they like the way you preach, they will then trust you to come and share their troubles with you. In a small town, they can tell the difference between loud and soft preaching but that is about it. If they see you being wise, kind and loving, they will trust you to come and listen to your sermons. You had to spend time with them in the nursing home, in the prison, at the funeral home.

“If you just go to towns such as New York and spend all your time ministering, you never learn how to pastor. You just learn how to do public communication. Ultimately, your preaching will be worse if you do not know how to pastor because you have not gotten involved in the hurts of people’s lives. I learned a lot from Hopewell; if I had not gone there, I would not know a lot of that. It makes me a much better preacher today, way better than if I had never been there.”

REDEMPTION

Wonderful clip about the power of redemption: changing something broken, ugly, discarded and frightening into something beautiful, inspiring and different.

Redemption (click on it)

Reminds me of Paul’s words:

‘For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light’

‘And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.’

and

‘Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.’