SOME THOUGHTS ON PUBLIC WORSHIP
“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 little short of blasphemy to make devotion an occasion for display. Fine prayers are generally very wicked prayers. In the presence of the Lord of Hosts it ill becomes a sinner to parade the feathers and finery of tawdry speech with the view of winning applause from his fellow mortals. Hypocrites who dare to do this have their reward, but it is one to be dreaded. A heavy sentence of condemnation was passed upon a minister when it was flatteringly said that his prayer was the most eloquent ever offered to a Boston congregation. We may aim at exciting the yearnings and aspirations of those who hear us in prayer; but every word and thought must be Godward, and only so far touching the people as may be needful to bring them and their wants before the Lord. Remember the people in your prayers, but do not mould your supplications to win their esteem; look up, look up with both eyes.
“You cannot pray too long in private. We do not limit you to ten minutes there, or ten hours, or ten weeks if you like. The more you are on your knees alone the betterÂ—speaking of those public prayers which come before or after the sermon, for these ten minutes is a better limit than fifteen. Only one in a thousand would complain of you for being too short, while scores will murmur at your being wearisome in length.
” ‘He prayed me into a good frame of mind,’ George Whitfield once said of a certain preacher, ‘and if he had stopped there, it would have been well; but he prayed me out of it again by keeping on.Â’
“The abundant longsuffering of God has been exemplified in His sparing some preachers, who have been great sinners in this direction; but they have done much injury to the piety of God’s people by their long-winded orations, and yet God, in His mercy, has permitted them still to officiate in the sanctuary. Alas! for those who have to listen to pastors who pray for five and twenty minutes, and then ask God to forgive their ‘shortcomings!’ Do not be too long, for several reasons. First, because you weary yourselves and the people: and secondly, because being long in prayer, puts your people out of heart for hearing the sermon. All those dry, dull, prolix talkifications in prayer, do but blunt attention, and the ear gets, as it were, choked up.”
(C. H. Spurgeon, Lectures to my Students.)