Beware of Your Public Prayers

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.

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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.
Sigh!

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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!

5 Replies to “Beware of Your Public Prayers”

  1. Someone recently told me that s/he wouldn’t pray with gestures in public though that’s the natural way for them to speak with their father in a candid manner in public because it might cause a weaker brother or sister to stumble as it might seem disrespectful when not formal. What would you say to that?

    1. Great question Sheetal!
      I appreciate the sensitivity this brother/ sister has for the weaker person who might be astounded at private prayer gone public. This is especially good to practice in cultures where people have recently encountered Jesus and need help overcoming cultural barriers. My problem comes when the “weaker brother” is replaced by the “offended brother”.
      You see, in grey areas we must refrain from things that could make a weaker brother sin. At the same time, it would be a pity if the same brother is left untaught about the reality of the matter, that either method of prayer is good as long as offered in faith (Romans 14). Sadly, there have been occasions when “offended brothers” (people who can’t take the freedom but who have not been violated in their conscience) throw an immature tantrum and believers give up their freedom assuming they are doing such people a service. Instead of gently speaking the truth in love, it’s more “respectful” to do whatever “offended brother” says.

      I think it is good that people at least keep some semblance of private and public prayer, for it can lead to hypocrisy as I have explained. How we achieve this can vary from person to person. Does this freedom in Christ give us the right to talk to God as candidly as they do in private? Sure, as long as they don’t violate Biblical church order & promote chaos (1 Corinthians 12-14 teaches this clearly).
      Let’s also remember examples of saints who are known to be in near constant communication with God so much so that they turned almost instantly from a conversation with people to a joyful talk with Jesus. I think some famous preachers and a certain caretaker at Mukti Mission had reached this blessed position. 🙂 I really want to get there (without offending too many)!

  2. I have realized that when I pray while driving I’m more aware of my thoughts and of Jesus, than when I’m praying alone in my room. However, I wonder how biblical is that! As Jesus never prayed while riding a donkey or while walking along with His disciples. He used to take time out specifically for this activity. He always gave undivided attention to prayers. And when I try to do that, I get caught up in my other thots. One thing that really helped me is, speaking it out loud rather than saying it in my mind.

    The temptation I feel during public prayers is the thought of what others r thinking of my sentence formation than what God might be thinking. Your post reminds me that I need to pray about that as well, before getting into a public prayer meet.

    As usual, awesome post. Thanks for sharing.

    1. Hey Deb! Long time no see in the blogosphere. (May the painting sessions continue mightily though) 🙂
      Well, I want to thank you for reminding about praying aloud in private. I think that has significant value to help spiritual growth, surely for me. I cannot be too sure if Jesus did not pray on the donkey or while walking along. He of all was eager to be in dependence on His Father. My guess is, He did both praying while travelling and sought out times alone.
      And ha! Yes “What others think about sentence formation”. Yes yes, that problem- remember the Father hears clearest even before we open our mouths. It’s important to pray a bit loud and clearly (so the person near the door can hear and say “amen!”) 😀

  3. This topic is what we believers must necessarily think of, critically. There are three things that I’d like to add to the excellent article you’ve written, Aravind. First, the object of prayer is our Father in heaven who is also the person whom we pray to. The subject of our prayer, however, is what concerns us and the world around us. Most often, it is the subject that causes us to pray. So taking the subject which concerns us and the world around us, we go to the object of our prayer: our Father in heaven. But when we pray, we inevitably bathe our subject and ourselves in his holiness. It is vital to remember that because often we forget that the God we pray to is the most Holy One and nothing escapes the purge of His Holiness. Whenever we cannot perceive His Holiness bathing us and our thoughts when praying, we forget the object of our prayer. Something else, then, actually is the object of our prayer (for instance, the people around us when praying publically, or ourselves when praying alone [think about how often you find yourself preaching to yourself in your prayer, or to the people around you?! Do you think you are standing before God when you do that? No. You are not. Unless you are preaching to God, which is unlikely if you are mindful that He is Holy and you would be purged and reduced to nothing by His Holiness if it wasn’t for his Grace]). Our prayer, in such cases, isn’t a prayer to the most Holy One. It is hypocrisy. How, then, do we pray to Him, being mindful of His Holiness, knowing that by just approaching him we would be reduced to nothing? By believing in the Gospel when praying. Faith in the spilling of Jesus’s blood which is our Father’s Grace for us displayed, alone makes our Heavenly Father approachable to us in prayer. That’s the second thing. Lastly, approaching the most Holy One in prayer, believing in His Grace displayed in the spilling of His Holy Son’s blood for us, is the most humbling experience for us. It empties us of the subject we come with, and fills our hearts with adoration of our Father. Our hearts were made for worship, remember? Praying to our Heavenly Father makes our heart worship Him out of adoration. What, then, of our hypocrisy? Our Father knows the subject which brings us to our knees even before we fall on our knees, and He shows us Grace even when we don’t see it and before we even ask for it. All hypocrisy is unwarranted and uncalled for. Also, what then, is the right motivation for prayer in God’s sight? To desire the very thing that would reduce us to nothing if it wasn’t for the Grace of our Father displayed for us: To desire to be bathed in His Holiness in His presence. To desire to be Holy as He is Holy.

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