in Public Prayer
Andrew Blackwood (1958)
Abingdon Press (207 pages)
may be a quaint little book – published in 1958 [in a bygone era when
the publication year is printed in Roman numerals, MCMLVIII (!)].
But a good book on worship it really is.
I came across the book in our BGST library while scouting for a
suitable textbook on training leaders in public prayer, and the book fits
like a glove for most of the issues I wanted to address.
book’s most useful feature is that it comes in two parts.
Part One deals with the actual business of leading in public
prayer. It is concerned with
what we might call form and technique.
Part Two looks at the process of preparation.
And it is now focussed not so much on the “how” as on the
“who”. In other words, it
addresses the issue of character and spirituality.
I personally feel that this is the issue about leading in worship
that most instruction on worship does not dwell on enough.
the book in its entirety is brimming with invaluable suggestions about the
business of leading in worship (or public prayer).
The terms “worship” and “prayer” are often used
interchangeably as they [be it general (worship), or particular (prayer)]
are both concerned with bowing before the majesty of God.
For the author, the central issue, as spelt out in his
“Foreword”, is that of the “beauty of holiness” (p. 7).
In other words, the central issue in worship or public prayer is
one of aesthetics – spiritual aesthetics, if you like.
But aesthetics nonetheless.
by that definition, much of the cacophony of some of our modern day
services would be hard put to justify as worship.
book opens with a debate about form, not the modern one between
“traditional” and “contemporary” – but its precursor, or the
debate about the merits of “free” worship as against liturgical
worship. Blackwood nimbly
skirts the issues, and then zeroes in on the crux of whether we are
worshipping “in spirit and in truth” (p. 17).
What matters then is whether we help people connect with God.
What then are some useful suggestions for us as worship or prayer
more than one place, Blackwood underscores the importance of preparation
– not preparation in terms of “practice time”, but in the amount of
time the leader invests into shaping the sequence of events that would
draw people to God. He insists
that worship leaders must have a sense of the broad movements inherent in
the spiritual exercise of worship – from adoration and confession in the
opening moments, through thanksgiving and supplication in the prayers, to
submission and dedication at the end or climax (Chapter 2).
also has very practical suggestions about the mechanics of worship.
How long should a prayer be? Blackwood’s
prescription: 3-5 minutes (p. 51)! He
also tells ministers to vary their benediction formulae to eliminate
monotony and predictability (p. 54). He
even suggests that preachers who don’t plan their closing prayer (i.e.,
writing it out verbatim) might negate all the previous effort they have
put into ministry.
cases more than a few [translation:
very often!], the Lord’s representative has not prayed aright after
he has preached effectively.” (p. 73-74)
One ends with tips on how to prepare for special occasions, such as
weddings and funerals. In this
chapter (Chapter 9), he has a touching story of how a minister who
appropriately echoed the sentiments of mourners at a funeral service
became an instrument of God’s grace in drawing back lapsed members into
His fold (p. 100).
Part Two, the focus is very much on the worship leader or prayer leader.
Blackwood’s first requirement is that we practise “the presence
of God”. If we ourselves did
not bow before the presence of God, we could hardly minister grace to
other worshippers (Chapter 10).
he recommends what he calls the “literature of the heart”.
To lead others in prayer and worship, our knowledge base of things
spiritual have to be widened. He
recommends reading devotional material, including poetry and hymnals as
well as published prayers (p. 122-123).
This makes good sense. Unless
we are exposed to new words and ideas, we cannot help but swim in the
putrefying pools of tired and tiresome verbiage and of outworn cliches.
this theme harder yet, he has an entire chapter devoted to it (Chapter
16). “Only the best words
can be good enough for the worship of God.” (p. 160)
By this, he does not mean using “flowery” language.
To Blackwood, “artistic showmanship” is not better than the
“crudity of form” to which we are more often exposed.
What we need in prayer is a sense of “quiet beauty” (p. 163)
– using language with that sense of veneration different from the
prosaic functionality of our daily “shop-talk” (p. 169)
we might achieve this has actually been hinted at in the previous chapter
(Chapter 15). Blackwood calls
for being immersed in the prayers of the Bible.
Look at how the saints of God in Holy Scripture prayed.
Apart from the psalms, there are the extended passages of prayer on
the lips of the likes of Nehemiah and Paul.
also points out that many of the hymns are couched in the language of
prayer. They are an
unburdening of the praying hearts of the hymn writers, veritable worthies
from whom we desperately need to learn in the school of prayer.
What is so tragic is that most of us who lead in prayer do not
drink or drink deeply enough from this fount of spirituality.
We revel more in the pride of our spontaneity than think of prayer
as a learned behaviour whose effectiveness we might harness.
Blackwood’s observation (quoting John Henry Jowett), is both
sharp and incisive.
is nothing mightier than the utterance of spontaneous prayer when it is
born in the depths of the soul. But
there is nothing more dreadfully unimpressive than
the extemporary prayer which leaps about on the surface of things,
a disorderly dance of empty
words carrying no blood, bearing no secret of the soul, a whirl of
insignificant expressions, behind which there is no vital pulse, no cry
from lone and desolate depths.” (p. 159)
might ask, “How is it possible to do that in prayer?”
Perhaps this degeneration takes place because in prayer, (yes, even
in prayer) we think more of ourselves than of others.
In an attempt to address this, Blackwood has a chapter on
“Sensing the Needs of People Now” (Chapter 13).
In other words, prayer is a form of pastoral ministry.
We cannot pray very meaningfully in public for people if we don’t
get to know them! (p. 135-136). Of
all the ministries in the church, this is surely the place where we
need to be “people-centered” (p. 134).
Praying for missions, for example, is not saying a prayer for with
a passing reference to some missionary work.
It is to be so knowledgeable about both people and missions that we
can voice their concerns (even if they are not interested!) as we pray for
could go on. There are 18
helpful chapters in all, plus an appendix of “Faults in Public Prayer”
which any leader would surely want to check out!
There are yet more interesting issues we have not touched on in
this review – such as how your voice can give the game away as to where
you are spiritually or what you really think about God.
You will understand how intriguing this is to me as a speech
teacher! (Sorry, no reference.
This one you have to sweat to locate yourself!
Helpful clue: it’s in Part Two!).
think we would all willingly pay lip service to Blackwood’s description
of leading in public prayer – that it is “a privilege second to none
on earth” (p. 171). Our
challenge is now to make our commitment to it match our conviction.
(Reviewed by Rev Ng Seng Chuan)
Chapel speaker last week was Chng Joo Ching. Joo
Ching has taken several courses at BGST and is currently pursuing a
full-time programme of studies at the Assemblies Mission, where he is
also chairman of the board.
Speaker began by explaining the background to the custom of the Levirate
marriage spelt out in Ruth 3, as well as the scenario concerning the
harvest celebration. And then he went on to highlight the major lessons
offered by the character of Ruth.
Ruth was faithful, and unselfish. She did everything she could to
protect the name and property of Elimelech’s family. Then the speaker
asked if we would remain as true and faithful to another.
Ruth was not only faithful, but faithful in a caring sort of way. She
consistently remained by her mother-in-law’s side. She practically
nursed Naomi back to health with the joy of her first-born, Obed.
Ruth’s faithfulness is demonstrated by her chastity. In spite of being
a foreigner, she kept faith with Naomi’s God (Yahweh), and this is
involved in her not making a commitment until approval had been given by
Speaker ended with a reminder that Ruth’s greatness lay
not in her being ancestress to
Chapel Speaker on 5th May will be Dr Quek Swee Hwa.
These three sessions are designed to take the place of the course GS 114 (The Art of Critical Analysis) and part of what used to be covered in GS 117 (Critical Analysis, Research and Writing). These used to be required courses for the MCS and the M.Div, but it was decided to cover the topics in the form of ‘extra’ lectures and leave room for a further 1.5-credit elective in both the MCS and M.Div programmes.
first and the third session will be video-taped, and copies made
available free of charge for the use of BGST students only.
sessions are offered free to all BGST students. If you would like to
attend, please notify the Admin. You can attend one, two or all three of
the sessions as you wish.
Francis Yong 29/4
Ryan Loveday 30/4
Ng Kee Seng 30/4
Orchid chua 1/5
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This page is updated on 4 May 2004.