R.L. Dabney on Public Prayer

Dabney 1

Here are six points from R.L. Dabney on public prayer. They come from the final chapter of his excellent book Evangelical Eloquence, which is a book on how to preach. They are good reminders for any pastors or elders who pray publicly.

1. The grace of prayer is to be secured only by a life of personal and private devotion. He who carries a cold heart into the pulpit betrays it not only to God, whose detection of it is inevitable, but almost surely to the hearers also.

2. The pastor should remember that he is praying on behalf of the people, therefore his language should be simple, his petitions corporate, not private and he should make sure he is praying, not preaching. 

3. The leader of the church’s prayers shall present distinct and definite petitions, and these not too numerous….The leader of prayer should therefore speak as one who has an errand at the throne, a point to press to God.

4. He who leads the devotions of others must study appropriateness of matter.  He should ask himself what would be uppermost in the hearts of Christians at that time.

5. The language of prayer should be well-ordered and considerate. He who speaks to the Searcher of hearts should beware how he indulges any exaggeration of words, lest his tongue should be found to have outrun his mind and to have “offered the sacrifice of fools.”

6. Above all should the minister enrich his prayers with the language of Scripture. Its inimitable beauty and simplicity, it is hallowed and sweet to every pious heart by a thousand associations.  It satisfies the tastes of all; its use effectually protects us against improprieties; it was doubtless given by the Holy Spirit to be a model for our devotions.

2 thoughts on “R.L. Dabney on Public Prayer

  1. All these features listed above can be realized if one would compose his prayers in collect form. The form itself generates prayers which are short, focused, and Biblically informed. For guidance, one could resort to the collects in the Prayer Book (these have long ago passed into the heritage of Western Christendom; they are ~not~ the special property of Anglicans). For a great many public occasions collects from The Soldier’s Prayer Book cover a great number of bases for anyone called upon to pray on public occasions.

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    • Fr. Bill, I am huge fan of learning to pray using collects from BCP and other sources. The way I learned to pray publicly was using collects and other written prayers and then over time slowly writing my own, though mine are still too long. Thanks for the links.


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