Should I feel obligated to pray in public?

Question:
I joined a prayer group about a week ago and have been reluctant to pray out loud. My friend thinks that I am afraid and that is partly true, but the real reason is that I choose to pray to God privately. I have tossed around the idea to recite what Jesus said about prayer and I think you explain it perfectly by incorporating His teaching. I think I will cite your website to let the other members know not to take my silence as not being inclusive. I am praying along with them that God answers their prayers if it is in His Will as they pray. Attending the prayer meetings and Study Group has made my personal prayer stronger and has allowed me to realize how blessed I am. I just wanted you to know that I woke up early this morning couldn't sleep, searched the web for a answer and God lead me to your website for confirmation that it is okay to be silent or pray the prayer that covers it all "The Lord's Prayer". Thank you and God Bless You.


Answer:
Lots of women share your discomfort with praying in public in a group—especially when we are with "practiced pray-ers" who seem so comfortable praying out loud and can seemingly go on and on with so much ease. So the real question is why are you uncomfortable? And even more importantly, what did Jesus really teach about praying publicly and privately?

Private prayer is important; it is essential. In fact, many people substitute public prayer for private prayer, because public prayer can be used to impress people with our spirituality, whereas we get little credit from others for private prayer. Private prayer plays an important role in our relationship with Christ, drawing us closer to him as we share what is on our hearts with him, confess our sin to him, and welcome him into our lives and concerns.

But because private prayer is essential and public prayer can sometimes be misused does not take away from the importance of public prayer. Jesus taught about private prayer (Matthew 6:6) and he prayed privately (Mark 1:35, Luke 5:16). But Jesus also taught about public prayer (Matthew 18:19-20, Mark 11:17) prayed publicly (Matthew 19:13, Luke 9:28, Luke 11:1, John 17). So using Jesus' teaching and example certainly does not justify limiting ourselves to private prayer.

But that doesn't mean you have to pray publicly, at least not now. You are right that you can participate in the prayer time by affirming in your heart and mind what the others are praying, and offering your prayers in your heart to God. And that will be meaningful for you and for God. But what will it add to your sisters in the prayer group?

So many times we operate in the body of Christ based on what makes us comfortable, and what meets our needs rather than putting the needs of others before our own. And while you never need to feel pressure to "perform" or simply "participate" in a public prayer time, you do need to consider how your participation or lack of participation affects others in the group. The writer of Hebrews told believers, "Consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching." Through praying together we encourage each other in looking to God for our needs and build up each other's faith. Praying together out loud binds us to each other in a spiritual rather than simply social way.

The other thing you need to consider carefully is what the real reasons are for your reluctance to pray out loud with a group. Are you uncomfortable with or intimidated by the tone of voice or types of phrases and expressions others use in the group? You don't have to use them. Be yourself. Is it that you fear your prayers will not sound as impressive or passionate or as knowledgeable about God as those of the others in the group? Are you more concerned about what the people in the prayer group will think about how you pray than you are about blessing them with the simplicity of your prayer and your joining them in prayer? If that's the case, is pride the real cause of your reluctance?

If your fear is that your prayer will reveal that you are young or not as studied in your walk with Christ, you should know that those who have walked with Christ a long time are especially blessed by the prayers of "less-experienced" believers. And I don't mean this in a condescending way. The genuine prayer of a young believer is a blessing to everyone who shares it.

Finally, what would it mean for your prayer group if everyone took your approach? It would make for a pretty awkward prayer meeting, wouldn't it? Maybe prayers would be prayed, but everyone would miss out on being encouraged by and directed by the prayers of others.

Prayer is simply talking to God and listening to God, developing and expressing our dependence on him. It is not a performance and it certainly isn't a recitation. Real prayer comes from the heart. And the very best prayer flows out of scripture. I would encourage you, before the next prayer meeting, to spend some time in the Bible and find a passage that is meaningful— maybe Ephesians 1:17-18 or Colossians 1:14-19, which express Paul's prayers for his brothers and sisters in Christ. Spend some time meditating on those verses and those prayers for others from the Bible. Then try writing out in your own normal-sounding words how you would pray for those things for the people in your group. Get comfortable with the heart of what you are really praying for aside from the scripture-sounding words. Pray them out loud by yourself so you get comfortable hearing yourself pray out loud. And next time your prayer group meets, enter in, offering a short and simple prayer for the others, blessing them by your participation and encouraging them by you're your participation and your scripture-focused, simple prayer.