Charles Spurgeon had a lot of opinions about public prayer (some I heartily agree with, and others I do not). Here are nine tips for public prayer from his Lectures to My Students:
1. “Our prayers must never grovel, they must soar and mount. We need a heavenly frame of mind. Our addresses to the throne of grace must be solemn and humble, not flippant and loud, or formal and careless. The colloquial form of speech is out of place before the Lord; we must bow reverently and with deepest awe. We may speak boldly with God, but still he is in heaven and we are on earth, and we are to avoid presumption” (55).
2. “Let the Lord alone be the object of your prayers. Beware of having an eye to the auditors; beware of becoming rhetorical to please the listeners. Prayer must not be transformed into “an oblique sermon.” It is a little short of blasphemy to make devotion an occasion for display. Fine prayers are generally wicked prayers” (55).
3. “Another Fault to be avoided in prayer is an unhallowed and sickening superabundance of endearing words. When “Dear Lord,” and “Blessed Lord,” and “Sweet Lord,” come over and over again as vain repetitions, they are among the worst of blots” (56-57).
4. “Avoid the kind of prayer which may be called…a sort of preemptory demanding of God. It is delightful to hear a man wrestle with God, and say, “I will not let thee go except thou bless me,” but that must be said softly, and not in a hectoring spirit, as though we could command and exact blessings from the Lord of all” (57).
5. “Pray when you profess to pray, and don’t talk about it…Disquisitions upon our need of help in prayer are not prayer. Why do not men go at once to prayer—why stand beating around the bush; instead of saying what they ought to do and want to do, why not set to work in God’s name and do it” (57-58)?
6. “As a rule, if called upon to preach, conduct the prayer yourself; and if you should be highly esteemed in the ministry…resist the practice of choosing men to pray with the idea of honouring them by giving them something to do. Our public devotions ought never to be degraded into opportunities for compliment” (58).
7. “I have noticed a habit among some—I hope you have not fallen into it—of praying with their eyes open. It is unnatural, unbecoming, and disgusting. Occasionally the opened eye uplifted to heaven may be suitable and impressive, but to be gazing about while professing to address the unseen God is detestable” (66).
8. “Vary the length of your public prayers in intercession. There are many topics which require your attention; the church in its weakness, its backslidings, its sorrows, and its comforts; the outside world, the neighbourhood, unconverted hearers, the young people, the nation. Do not pray for all these every time, or otherwise your prayers will be long and probably uninteresting” (67).
9. “Keep from all attempts to work up spurious fervor in public devotion. Do not labour to seem earnest. Pray as your heart dictates, under the leading of the Spirit of God, and if you are dull and heavy tell the Lord so. It will be no ill thing to confess your deadness, and bewail it, and cry for quickening; it will be real and acceptable prayer; but stimulated ardour is a shameful form of lying” (68).