Those who preach or lead during corporate worship services will probably be familiar with the strange phenomenon of having multiple “tracks” playing in your mind at once. Even as you preach the sermon or lead the songs, your mind may be flitting about from the distraction of a crying baby to the fear that you will flub your lines to the idolatrous hope that your listeners will be wowed by your skill. It’s for this reason that it is wise to pray while you preach and to pray while you lead. In his book On Worship H.B. Charles Jr. writes, “You ask, ‘Can you preach and pray at the same time?’ My answer, ‘You better!’”
In fact, Charles goes farther and offers a few things to pray as you preach or as you lead (which, for those who are not preaching or leading, you may consider praying on behalf of those who are!).
God, guide my thoughts. “As you commune with God in private devotion, your mind can be flooded with distractions. If this can happen in what A. Louis Patterson called ‘the private chambers of your own praying ground,’ imagine how easily it can happen as you lead worship.” There are many distractions that can grab the eye and capture the mind, so it is wise to pray that God would guide your thoughts to what matters far more. And if the distractions are too great to ignore, Charles says “In those moments, I have responded by praying aloud, ‘Lord, please hold my mind.’” “I am a witness,” he says, “that God will answer this prayer. God can help you stay focused. God can bring to your memory what you need to remember. God can enable you to disregard vain thoughts.”
God, guard my heart. “Leading worship requires physical preparation and mental concentration. Moreover, it demands spiritual devotion. It does not matter if your head is in the game, if your heart is not. You should come to the task of leading worship with a prepared assignment, a rested body, and a consecrated heart.” Like David, you should pray “Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts!” You should examine your heart for unconfessed sin and even continue that examination as you lead the service. You should ask God to guard you against fear, worry, or discouragement when it seems like your leadership is not effective and you should ask God to guard your heart against all pride, folly, and carnality when it seems like it is.
God, guide my words. Charles is in favor of pastors generally preparing a full sermon manuscript, even if they do not end up taking it into the pulpit with them, largely because “the work of thinking through what you want to say in advance helps keep the preacher from filibustering in the pulpit.” Like many other preachers, he does not rigidly rely on that manuscript or read from it word-for-word. Yet knowing that words are powerful and that every word matters, he wants to ensure his words are not untrue, unwise, or unhelpful. Hence, in a desire to make sure every one counts, he encourages leaders to pray “God, guide my words” or, in the words of Psalm 19, “Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.”
So, is it possible to pray even as you preach, as you lead, or as you sing? The more you’ve served in these public roles, the more you’ve undoubtedly come to agree with Charles: “You better!”