Prayers of the People

I hate public speaking–nobody ever told me that, as a writer, I’d have to do so much talking–and no matter the venue or the size of the audience, my heart still races, my hands get clammy, and there’s no escape from the feeling that I will self-destruct physically at the microphone. But I’m learning to like leading prayers during worship, one of the unexpected privileges of being a lay leader at my church.

There are so many ways we can talk to God. Some folks are more fond of “thee” and “thou” while others choose a more modern, intimate tack. I’m probably somewhere in the middle. When I write my prayers, I don’t want the language to be an obstacle for anyone in the pews, but I also think congregational prayer demands something a little more formal than a chat with a buddy in a bar. It’s a wonderful challenge to write these prayers, and a great opportunity for me to think about what we’re doing when we pray. What’s the journey that we should go on as we take those few minutes to request things of God? How does it fit into the narrative arc of the service? Am I saying too much–or asking too little?

I liked this past Sunday’s prayers okay. I was trying to play a little with a traditional structure I usually use (world, nation/state/city, congregation, individual), layering the idea of neighbors. Did it work? You tell me. But one of the liberating things about writing prayers is that I believe God gets what we’re trying to do and what the prayers of our hearts are, even if they don’t successfully get translated into the spoken word.

Prayers of Intercession
Old First Reformed Church
December 7, 2014

We begin our prayers this morning with a few moments of silence. We are doing this alongside other churches in our Regional Synod, remembering with sorrow those who have lost their lives in unjust circumstances, those whom society has demeaned, those lives that have been, through malice or negligence, not to matter. Let us pray against the work that sin continues to do in our world, that we, in our ways big and small, allow to endure and perpetuate.


Dear God, how do we pray when we read and hear the news, and everything seems so screwed up? What do we pray for when everything feels fragile and topsy-turvy, from the health of our world to the life of our city to our family dynamics? Give us words and thoughts, God of big and small things, as we continue in this time of prayer.

Lord, have mercy. Hear our cry.

God of ridiculous love, we focus our prayer this morning on our neighbors near and far. How do we love our neighbors? Where do we even begin? Prepare our hearts, God, for Christmas. How weird it is that we’re so often told that it’s the happiest season of all, but amid the busy-ness and the stress, amid the rush and the enforced family time, it doesn’t feel that way. Give us patience. Give us grace. Give us frequent reminders of the hope you bring us—the hope of Emmanuel contrasted with the weakness of humanity.

Lord, have mercy. Hear our cry.

God of impossible healing, convict each person in this congregation of the ways in which we have let each other down. We know we’ll do it again. But help us be better to one another–more thoughtful, more loving, more empathetic, more gentle. Help us anticipate each other’s needs. Heal and help us heal. We pray for our pastor and for our Consistory and for our neighbors in these chairs.

Lord, have mercy. Hear our cry.

God of complexity, we pray for this fractious city and this divided nation. Pull us out of our ruts and our easy places. Maybe we have prayed in the past too quickly for peace and not enough for justice, too much for comfort and solace and not enough for courage and strength. How can we collectively love our neighbors, such that we recognize the image of God in every person? How can we teach the next generations the value of every life? Open our eyes to what we’re doing right and what we’re doing wrong. Give us law that honors life instead of diminishing it. Embolden our leaders to humility. Raise up the least among us, in anticipation of a day when there are no margins. Because you are a God of such supernatural feats.

Lord, have mercy. Hear our cry.

God of all nations, we pray for our global neighbors–for those who suffer from war and disease, from our neglect and all ill will. Connect their stories and ours. How can we do better for peacemakers, for doctors and nurses, for widows, for orphans? Remind us all again and again of the hope you bring amid our own darkness. Pierce our hearts. Don’t let us throw up our hands. Be with us. And remind us constantly that you are here.

Lord, have mercy. Hear our cry.

God of provision, finally, we pray that you would help us to know better how to pray for this world. Sometimes we don’t have the right words. Usually, we don’t have the right actions. So we thank you for the model of our Lord Jesus, who taught us, when we pray to say: Our Father, who art in Heaven…


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