Up until a few months after I had become a follower of Jesus, I had very little experience in praying in public. Growing up partly in North India and partly in the South, the average Hindu boy like me had seldom got a chance to witness public prayer as Jesus taught it or as His people faithfully practice it.
However, I had a lot of experience in performing before anyone who was watching me. I almost never missed the chance to show my peers, my sister or my relatives how well I could pray, how tight my eyes were screwed up (an indication of your awesome levels of concentration, bound to bring down answers) and on how long I could stand before finishing the various slokas or mantras.
All this was set to change the fateful day I stepped into a small hall where some college students had gathered to pray and study the Bible.
I witnessed with a mixture of incredulity and awe, for the first time, a young man talking to Jesus before a group of people. I could not see the object of His faith, but he prayed with utter confidence that his God was right there and was hearing him.
From then, till now, I have had the privilege of having said and heard the phrase “In Jesus’ name” so many times! My definition of prayer changed from “asking God for the things I want” to “approaching the God of the Bible”. The difference between life and death!
But as I found out recently, the act of saying a public prayer, even with the church, can easily distract one from actually praying to our mighty and prayer-answering Lord. Here are three possible ways in which this could happen:
1. Public prayers are easy to pray
If you are an elder, pastor or a Christian leader, this is not news to you. With time and practice, you have almost perfected the slick art of praying for problems, thanksgiving, offerings, sickness and persecution.
No sooner have you heard the need, that you have begun rattling off your preset prayer with the ease of an experienced driver weaving his car through the traffic near Pune station – absent-mindedly, yet perfectly. Each category has its own neat format and framework, which is helpful, but if you don’t recall their purpose, they are reduced to mere chants with no meaning.
“Heavenly Father, we come to your throne of grace”.
“Dear Lord, thank you for this day”.
“Yeshu Masih ke naam mein”.
2. Public prayers could have wrong motivations
You might have wanted to pray a basic prayer, but the presence of an esteemed pastor or a visiting bishop prompts you to switch to King James Version language.
Because our God is a holy God, right?
Your parents/ old mentor/ children/ spouse is/are present and you want them/him/her to know how well you can quote Scripture during prayers.
After all, that will teach them how to pray Biblically, right?
You readily accept the request to pray before the church – so that you can mention that one crucial personal conviction in your prayer that some people still have not understood.
This leads to the possibility that –
3. Public prayers need not be conversations with God at all
The above-mentioned people could be our functional gods, while we claim we are praying to Jesus. We are not!
If the above factors were removed, would not our prayers sound different?
Let Faith Help You
One way to tackle this is to remember that prayer is not the third item in the church meeting’s to-do list, but by faith, the spiritual reality of coming before a real person, our Saviour and King Jesus.
We need not repeat words, KJV-fry words in prayer or pray exactly like Tim Keller, George Mueller or John Owen to be heard by our real Heavenly Father. Jesus himself warns against the kind of prayers of pretense that dominated religion in his time (Matt 6:5,7,8,9,10).
Pray simple, guys! Turn and run to Jesus with your wrong motivations!
It also helps to understand the Biblical meaning behind the commonly-used phrases.
Why “throne of grace”?
Kyu “Yeshu ke naam mein”?
The Christian faith is vibrant with truth & purpose. Let’s not reduce it to a pop-religion.
Another way is to intentionally use similar language to talk to our Lord like you do when you are by yourself before Him! Yes, use Scripture in your prayers, yes, learn how to pray Biblical prayers but forget not how prayer is made possible – God pursued you when you were His enemy and made you His own by Jesus’ sacrifice.
Do you really have faith in the gospel when you pray in public?
Is not God your beloved Father because of Jesus bearing your eternal weight of punishment?
Does He not delight in you as His child?
In the Quiet of my Helmet
Recently I was riding my way home when it struck me that the public prayer I had made that afternoon was filled with phrases to help the listeners, but was not an authentic request to my Father in heaven. I was so busy praying, I had forgotten Jesus in the midst of it. Gulp. What a disaster! Thankfully, the Holy Spirit was not far away.
My helmet shielded my ears from traffic noise, so right then, I apologised to Jesus and prayed again the same request, this time fully meaning and yearning for God’s will to be done in that matter. I did not close my eyes while praying & riding, for that action would have necessitated further prayer!
So it’s not like all is lost – you can repent & pray that misguided public prayer again. Our Father cares, is at hand and answers prayers in the most unbelievable and unique ways to fulfill His eternal, self-glorifying purposes.
What things have helped you pray public prayers authentically? Please share your experience!