Pulpit Prayer Part 3: The Plague of Long Preachy Prayer

Job 21:22
      Shall any teach God knowledge? Seeing he judgeth those that are high.

JOHN NEWTON (1725-1807): The prayers of some good men are more like preaching than praying. They rather express the Lord’s mind to the people, than the desires of the people to the Lord. Indeed, this can hardly be called prayer.

A. P. GIBBS (1890-1967): It is recorded of Elijah that “in praying, he prayed,” James 5:17, margin note. Of some prayers it is feared it would have to be recorded: “In praying, he preached;” or, “In praying, he scolded his brethren;” or, “In praying, he exhorted.” Let us determine that like Elijah, we, too, in praying shall pray!

ISAAC WATTS (1674-1748): Some persons, who affect long prayers, are greatly faulty in this respect; they are speaking to the people and teaching them the doctrines of religion, and the mind and will of God, rather than speaking to God the desires of their own mind. They wander away from God to speak to men.

C. H. MACKINTOSH (1820-1896): What can be more painful than to hear a man [in prayer] explaining and unfolding doctrines? The question forces itself upon us: “Is the man speaking to God, or to us?” If to God, then surely nothing can be more irreverent or profane than to attempt to explain things to Him; but if to us, then it is not prayer at all…How often are our prayers more like orations than petitions—more like statements of doctrine than utterances of need! It seems, at times, as though we meant to explain principles to God, and give Him a large amount of information.

WILLIAM S. PLUMER (1802-1880): One is a form of speech that looks as if we were attempting to give information to the Almighty, and so to spend time as if we were addressing an ignorant being. Some seem to feel the impropriety of such speech, and to save themselves they say, “Thou knowest.”

C. H. SPURGEON (1834-1892): Long prayers either consist of repetitions, or else of unnecessary explanations which God does not require; or else they degenerate into downright preachings, so that there is no difference between the praying and the preaching, except that in one the minister has his eyes shut, and in the other he keeps them open…We hope that good men are leaving this unhallowed practice, and are beginning to see that sermons and doctrinal disquisition are miserable substitutes for earnest wrestling prayers.

ROBERT C. CHAPMAN (1803-1902): The prayers recorded in Scripture say much in few words.

A. W. PINK (1886-1952): Note the brevity of the prayers of the apostles! Not some, nor even most, but all of them are exceedingly brief, most of them comprised in but one or two verses, and the longest is only seven verses. How this rebukes the lengthy, lifeless, and wearisome prayers from many a pulpit!

C. H. MACKINTOSH: It will perhaps be said that we must not prescribe any time to the Holy Spirit…[But] we are simply comparing what we find in Scripture (where their brief pointedness is characteristic—see Matthew 6; John 17; Acts 4:24-30; Ephesians 1; Ephesians 3, etc.) with what we too often [endure]…Let it then, be distinctly borne in mind that “long prayers” are not the rule in Scripture. They are referred to in Mark 12:40, etc. in terms of withering disapproval.

WILLIAM S. PLUMER: Nor should prayers be tedious.

C. H. MACKINTOSH: Some of us seem to think it necessary to make one long prayer about all sorts of things—many of them very right and very good, no doubt—but the mind gets bewildered by the multiplicity of subjects… Brief, fervent, pointed prayers impart great freshness and interest―but on the other hand, as a general rule, long and desultory prayers [going from one thing to another] exert a most depressing influence upon all.

A. W. PINK: How many prayers have we heard that were so incoherent and aimless, so lacking in point and unity, that when the amen was reached we could scarcely remember one thing for which thanks had been given or request had been made, only a blurred impression remaining on the mind.

WILLIAM S. PLUMER: This ought not to be.

WILLIAM GURNALL (1617-1679): Lengthy prayer! Pray often rather than very long. It is difficult to remain long in prayer, and not slacken in our affections. Especially observe this in social prayers; for when we pray in company, we must consider them that travel with us: as Jacob said, “I will lead on softly, as the children are able to endure.”

C. H. SPURGEON: “He prayed me into a good frame of mind,” George Whitefield once said of a certain preacher, “and if he had stopped there, it would have been very well; but he prayed me out of it again by keeping on.”

DAVID STONER (1793-1826): Long praying is, in general, both a symptom and a cause of spiritual deadness.

C. H. SPURGEON: It is necessary to draw near unto God, but it is not required of you to prolong your speech till everyone is longing to hear the word “Amen.”

E. M. BOUNDS (1835-1913): A school to teach preachers how to pray, as God counts praying, would be more beneficial to true piety, true worship and true preaching than all the theological schools.


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