Liquid Footprints

Public Prayer


One of the aspects about modern Christian worship that makes me quite uncomfortable ( in addition to singing) is prayer. Heck, prayer is everywhere in public life. It is all over our television and even part of our political system.  This ought not to be so. I am not against prayer, but our current practice is actually contrary to what Jesus taught:

But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” Matthew 6:6

While the verse specifically refers to an episode of Pharisees praying out in the streets, it was a direct command to his followers. We are to pray only in secret.  Prayer is intimate alone time with God. Prayer is supposed to be as special and secret an act as sharing love with a spouse. So why all the public displays?

Namely it is for the same reason as the Pharisees prayed: attention. Public prayer is often a way of garnering attention from others and generally making a show of one’s piety. I am even against prayer in church services since it isn’t private time with God.  Jesus would go off alone to pray in the morning (Mark 1:35). The only time He would pray “publicly” was when He would give thanks for meals, but even then He was with His closest friends and family members.  The Lord’s Prayer wasn’t a prayer. Jesus was providing a template as to how to pray.

Whenever I sit in on someone leading a prayer I feel extremely uncomfortable; I feel like I walked in on something I shouldn’t have.  Doesn’t matter if it is at the dinner table or during Sunday worship. It just feels wrong since Jesus explicitly tells us to prayer in secret. In many ways, not praying secretly is cheating on God. Prayer is a time when we need to withdraw from everything that distracts us and sit alone in God’s presence. It is a time we share our weaknesses, concerns, and problems. It isn’t a time to stand in front of others, nor to treat God like a vending machine. Prayer is something we shouldn’t say we are doing for someone. It is far too intimate to treat it as publicly as we do.

Unfortunately many people look at me oddly when I express this discomfort of mine. I only seek to be as Christlike as I can be. Prayer has no place outside of our most secret part of life.

Author: Chris

Wanders the world of Japanese culture and library nerdiness.

5 thoughts on “Public Prayer

  1. Aren’t you ignoring the many times in acts when the church is gathered together and praying together as a corporate body? It seems that there are both individual and corporate aspects of prayer and it would be a bad expression of our spirituality to ignore either.

    • Corporate prayer as outlined in Acts and the Epistles of Paul ( Acts 2, 4, Romans 15:30 et al) all involved very small groups, typically family and friends. Early Christianity was a very small movement. It wasn’t until much later did churches similar to how we think came into being. As Paul suggests often in his writings, the church of a particular area was a collection of small units that met in homes to worship. This is also supported by Acts. They didn’t congregate in a central location except when an Apostle was in town. Therefore, corporate prayer is still a small private act as Jesus commanded. It was simply shared with close friends and family in their “closet” or home.

      In any case, Jesus was explicit: we are to pray privately and in solitude. Acts and Paul just include close family and friends (as Jesus did) in the practice. But in any case, public prayer goes against what Jesus taught.

  2. Perhaps it would be helpful to find out if the word translated “closet” in Matthew 6 can also be translated “home” as you suggested in your reply to John. Chapter 2 of Acts indicates that there were many people gathered, “a crowd,” and were’nt 3,000 baptized that day? It is hard to believe that there wasn’t any corporate prayer going on. Later on in the chapter the writer tells us that they “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.”

    In 1 Kings 8:22-30, King Solomon gives his prayer of dedication, “in the presence of all the assembly of Israel.” The prophet Elijah prays on the Mount Carmel at the evening sacrifice, in front of the people. What about Stephen at his stoning? The Scriptures tell us that he “cried out”, asking, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.”

    I found it interesting that you are also uncomfortable with “singing.” You didn’t specify what kind of singing, so it seems that you are uncomfortable in general with people singing together. We are instructed to encourage one another with “psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs.” Maybe you are somewhat socially phobic. I have been in the past. God bless you.

    • I will admit that I am very introverted and have social anxiety. I just cannot commune with God well with other people. I tried the communal method for over 12 years; it only caused me much anxiety and disconnect with God.

      Many homes from the first century all had a small private room dedicated to prayer and meditation. That is the closet that Jesus refers to. At least that is what I’ve read in various archeology articles. As for Acts, it is possible that there were baptisms without prayer. From the Gospel examples of John the Baptist, it would be fairly common. That isn’t to say there wasn’t prayer, but Luke would have wrote it explicitly in the chapter if it was important. Verse 46 of Acts 2 states that they continued the tradition of breaking bread in their homes. It would make sense that the apostles would instruct them as Jesus instructed them concerning prayer practice and fellowship in public. However, the practice was done at home and not in public.

      It is true that the Jewish Scripture had different practices. In both cases you list, you have prominent leader. Stephen is also imitating Jesus with the stoning; Jesus only publicly prays in the Scripture just before He dies. In any case, I don’t think God has a problem with genuine public prayer. He does, according to Jesus as I wrote in the post, have a problem with public prayer when it is for the ego. In any case, I still stand beside what Jesus clearly states about the privacy of prayer.

      I am uncomfortable with singing. It is just a quirk of mine. I enjoy music, but I don’t find psalms, hymns, or spiritual songs encouraging. My soul sings when I am wrapped in silence and meditation. I find the sounds of songs and the like an unwelcome distraction to focusing upon the mysteries of God and developing compassion. I am cut from the ancient Christian mystic cloth perhaps. I just find in our world of constant noise and stimulation it is best to give God my full focus and attention without distractions common to everyday life. Essentially I view silence as sacred because it is so rare.

      May God grant you peace.

  3. Hello, I just stumbled across your site tonight and this is only the second time I have responded to anything on the internet. I commend you for your earnest faith and willingness to follow Jesus at a young age. I also saw your concern to help out your family. God bless you.

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