Extemporaneous prayer is spontaneous and usually non-formulaic verbal praise, confession, thanksgiving, and/or petition that we offer to God in silence or out loud.
If there are others praying with you, remember that they are joining you in what you say. You are speaking to God on behalf of a group.
If praying aloud in the presence of other people is too intimidating in the beginning, consider writing down your silent prayers and then telling one another what you prayed.
Or think through the topics your prayer will cover ahead of time. When you are with a small group of people, this often occurs naturally as people share needs or reasons for being thankful. Alternatively, the group may choose to plunge into prayer, each lifting up the needs he or she is aware of while the others add their silent or verbal agreement. Often people signal this agreement by saying “amen” during and/or at the end of your prayer. This means “it’s true” or “let it be true.”
Sometimes groups add structure to their prayers by following the ACTS acronym (see Practice). During the adoration period, members limit their prayers to praises of God and his character. During confession, members ask God to remove sin, either their own or that of the larger group. When it comes time for thanksgiving, members express their appreciation for what God has done. Supplication is often easiest, for we are most accustomed to calling out for help when we are in need. As they move through each section, groups focus on that sort of prayer only, giving each one time to speak what is in her heart before moving on. One person takes responsibility for shifting to the next section when the group reaches a lull or when the allotted time expires.
When the group is large enough that you need to stand so that all can hear you pray, you can think through topics on your own ahead of time. Even experienced public pray-ers lose track, repeat filler words (“we just pray,” “thank you for this day,” etc.), and feel nervous. They may simply make a mental note of petitions, praises, and reasons for thanks, or they may jot themselves a written note. Some type out the full prayer to organize their thoughts even though they do not intend to read directly from the script.
If you are concerned about the undue formality of typing out your prayer, consider the entire process—from your initial thoughts to your spoken word—as your prayer. Invite the Holy Spirit to guide your words and to receive even your preparation. If you worry that practice eliminates spontaneity, make a list that you wish to cover, but allow your spoken prayer to flow extemporaneously as the Lord leads.
Even though others are listening to you, remember that you are all addressing God. He is the audience. This is not the place to lecture him or others on a theological topic or pet peeve.
Air requests of your own with prudence and ask permission before revealing in public what others have shared in private. God handles everything we place before him with perfect care, but those listening may not be able or ready to act on what they hear with mercy and grace.
Have compassion on those you are leading. Remember that some of them have short attention-spans, feel fidgety from aches and pains, or are new to sustained periods of prayer. There are seasons when your group will endure long talks with God, pouring out everything inside. At other times, the group may share briefly with God, trusting that he understands without an extended explanation. Know the difference, and limit your praying time accordingly.