One of the tasks that I've undertaken during the service is handling the announcements - basically getting things going. For a long time I just covered what was in the bulletin. But after some discussion with Pastor Mark, I've tried to only hit some high points and bring in some other stuff. This coincided with the inclusion of weekly prayer bulletins from The Voice of the Martyrs that we have started to included in the church bulletin. Since those include prayer requests, it was only natural that part of the announcements would include a prayer to help get things going. This will also help as I have another project that I am getting ready to introduce.
Now, doing prayers out loud in front of lots of people is a concept I find rather daunting (and I will hazard a guess that most others do as well). Definitely out of my comfort zone. Since I regularly have to speak in public, I figured I be able to draw on some of my experience doing that. One tool I use for presentations is a mind map. So for the past few weeks, I would sketch out a mind map of some key thoughts I wanted to be sure to get into the prayer. Usually this was based on my reading of my Guide to Prayer and the readings from the weekly lectionary. I could pull in the VOM requests as well. Generally, I felt like this resulted in a pretty good outline (after all, the lectionary readings all support each other, so pulling bits out from them into a prayer should do the same).
While the use of the mind map was an effective tool, there was something about it in the back of my mind that was bugging me. This past week I think I finally figured it out. I think it can be explained by two passages, one from the Old Testament and one from the New Testament. First, In Exodus 4:11-12 we read:
10 But Moses said to the Lord, “Oh, my Lord, I am not eloquent, either in the past or since you have spoken to your servant, but I am slow of speech and of tongue.” 11 Then the Lord said to him, “Who has made man’s mouth? Who makes him mute, or deaf, or seeing, or blind? Is it not I, the Lord? 12 Now therefore go, and I will be with your mouth and teach you what you shall speak.”
When it comes to saying a prayer, I think I can relate to Moses in not feeling eloquent. But we see in this passage that God tells Moses that he will take care of it.
The second passage is 1 Corinthians 2:1-5:
1 And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. 2 For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. 3 And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, 4 and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, 5 that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.
Paul is explaining that when he came to the church in Corinth, he did not feel like he was up to the job of preaching to them. In a similar way, I feel like I'm not really up to the job of leading a prayer in front of a whole church (and most likely with some fear and trembling at least on the inside). As Paul explained to the church, he instead relied on the power of God.
As I finally recognized, the use of the mind maps was like trying to employ "lofty speech or wisdom". Instead of relying on God, I was trying to rely on myself and the tools in my tool set.
Which brings me to today's prayer. I decided to forego the use of the mind map and just did the prayer from my heart. When I say from my heart, I don't mean I tried to tackle it without preparing. I still did my readings and studies in the weekly lectionary. As I read though, I tried to identify those key points I might want to include in the prayer and tried to imprint them in my mind so I could recall them (seems I'm doing quite a bit of that lately what with trying to memorize Galatians). Likewise, I let the Guide to Prayer impress itself upon me along with the VOM bulletin. So the preparation was much the same. But when it came time to actually do it, I tried to not rely on my own tools, speech or wisdom, but on God moving in me and through me.
Not sure whether those listening could tell any difference. I think it came out at least as well as the mind mapped prayers. For me I'd say it was a little easier doing it this way. And if you have stuck with the entry this far and are faced with something you find daunting, check out Mark 10:27.