A couple of weeks ago, a friend told a group of us that she was about to begin treatment for lung cancer. I wasn’t entirely surprised, she had been plagued by a persistent cough, but I still didn’t know what to say. But I wasn’t the only one. Another friend looked like he was about to be sick, panicked and desperate. Fortunately, we weren’t the only two there. Yet another friend, a true God send, asked everyone to join hands while he offered up a prayer.

Even in less frightening circumstances, public prayer is tough. In part, I think this comes from what we think of when someone says public prayer.

For my part, I think of the prayers that I hear in worship services. Long, eloquent and flowing, they express a variety of deep, poetic sentiments.

How do I politely say this? I’m not particularly poetic when I have scads of time to think about something. There is no way I can do it off the cuff, but that’s okay. Because you pastor isn’t doing it off the cuff either. She’s prepared her words ahead of time. My clue? Often the prayers are printed in the bulletin. And the prayers that the liturgist offers up? Also printed out for him to read.

Those are planned prayers. When you are called on to offer up an unplanned public prayer, the most important thing is that it comes from the heart. Remember the saying “from your mouth to God’s ears”? This is one of those situations.

Here are some tips:

1.  Remember that you are speaking for the group. Pray in first person plural.
Lord, We come before you . . .

2.  Something specific has probably motivated you to pray. Mention it.
. . . to ask for comfort for Sally (name changed) as she faces radiation therapy. . .

3.  Put what is going on in a Biblical context if possible.
. . . Just as you healed the leper, be there for Sally. Offer her your comfort and your healing Grace. . .

4.  Say thank you.
. . . We thank you in Jesus name . . .

5.  Be yourself. How do you normally pray? Short and sweet? Then that’s what you need to do here as well.
. . . Amen

Really, that’s all there is to it. And if you get dizzy and queasy and sweaty? Sit down and put your head between your knees. It too shall pass.

–SueBE