This happens to every pastor: Some civic (as in ‘nonreligious‘) outfit calls and asks you to lead a prayer at their gathering. Sometimes it’s the city council or state senate, sometimes it’s a convention or some club’s gathering. Invariably, you are faced with the decision on what to say and what you should not say. Here is what I did.
In 1994, I was in my fourth year pastoring the First Baptist Church of Kenner, LA, in metro New Orleans (across the street from the New Orleans International Airport). I received a phone call one day informing me that when the American Dental Association held its annual meeting in our city a few months hence, they wanted me to offer the invocation. I was surprised and honored.
The caller said I would have three minutes for the prayer. She added, “And Pastor, please make it interdenominational.” In my journal I wrote: “Had she said to omit the name of Jesus, I would have declined the honor for the sake of principle. As it was, I felt I could do something that would satisfy everyone.”
My secretary Peggy kept referring to it as an “innovation,” instead of ‘invocation.”
The day came. It was a huge hotel in downtown New Orleans. Perhaps 700 to 1,000 people in the room.
Here is what I wrote in my journal:
“The President of the ADA is Dr. Gaines, a dentist from Greenville, SC. Said his SS teacher gave him my name. Dr. John Roberts, editor of the SC Baptist Courier. Just before the meeting started (8:30 am), backstage I met Heather Whitestone, Miss America 1994 (or is it 1995?), the near-deaf lass from Alabama. We spoke briefly. Before leading the pledge of allegiance she told how much she loves this country and is grateful to those who have kept it free. Her chaperone whispered to me, “I never know what she’s going to say.” Then I prayed the invocation. Shall I record it here? It wasn’t particularly memorable, but the best I could do…
“Our Father who art in Heaven. Thank you for Heather Whitestone! What an example! Please keep her in all her ways.
“At the start of this new day we pause to confess to ourselves that this is the day the Lord hath made–and to determine that we shall rejoice and be glad in it. We thank Thee that Thy mercies are new every morning, that Thy grace is sufficient for all our need.
“At the start of this great convention, we thank You for bringing these friends to our city. We pray for their meeting. Bless them. May their business be done well, the fellowship of old friends and new be good, and their leisure time be spent profitably. May we all be faithful to the God we worship, the people we love, and the convictions we hold dear.
“We are surrounded by those who have dedicated their lives to serving others, to being part of the answer to this world and not another of its problems. We pray you to keep our focus true–that we may always love people and use things, and avoid the trap of loving things and using people.
“Now, may we trust in Thee with all our hearts and lean not unto our own understanding. In all our ways we would acknowledge Thee and thus be directed in all our paths.
“In that matchless name which is above all other names we pray. Amen.
Okay. Now, analyzing that…
One. This is good discipline for the typical preacher who tends to improvise when praying, whether in private or in public. Forcing us to think about what to pray and how best to phrase it is a good thing.
What if we gave advance thought to our Sunday prayers? Many pastors do.
Two. The scriptures I quoted are from the Old Testament. Someone of another faith altogether might object, but no Christian or Jew will. None of the verses chosen are confrontive or meant to do anything other than to bless, inspire, and uplift.
Three. I felt it was important to pray for this convention, for these visitors to our city, and to keep it real. I think I did.
Four. The closing–“in the matchless Name which is above all other names we pray–spoke to every Christian in the audience. But if anyone objected to it, I never heard.
Five. Unless specifically asked to “leave Jesus out of it,” I have no trouble not using His name in the prayer. The Lord’s Prayer doesn’t mention His name. And no prayer that I can think of in the New Testament ends with “In Jesus’ name we pray.”
I’m always glad to do what I can to bless people. And that is all this was.
It seems to me (in memory) that I received a check for doing this. But I’m not sure.