When Christians don’t pray in public, we lose something—the unique privilege of showcasing to all who gather with us, the extraordinary and unique relationship between Christians and their heavenly Father that Jesus Christ has opened up.
And yet… when it comes to the church prayer meeting, or our Bible study group, there’s often so much that stops us praying out loud in front of others.
Maybe it’s not knowing the “etiquette”. How do you know when it’s your turn? What happens if someone else starts just as you do?
Maybe it’s the speaking. What are you going to say? How do you start? Are you supposed to follow some sort of pattern? Does it matter if you don’t know how to say things “properly”? Suppose someone else prays for the things you were going to pray for?
Then there are all the “what if”s. What if you say something stupid? What if you forget what you wanted to say? What if you don’t know how to stop?
And all the accusations that sprout up in our minds. You’ve been too sinful this week… you just want to look good, you hypocrite… who do you think you are to lead everyone else in prayer?
So here are a few tips that can help us to start praying with others…
1. Remind yourself of who you are in Christ—a greatly loved child of your heavenly Father. And like any good father, but of course more so, he loves his child to come and talk with him.
Remind yourself of who you are in Christ—a greatly loved child of your heavenly Father.
Remember you’re a sinner saved by the grace of Jesus Christ, who died for you on the cross, to open up a new and living way for you into the presence of God. That sin that’s holding you back from praying—leave it at the cross.
Remember you’re a temple of the Holy Spirit. God lives in you and works through you, and he can do anything. He can even use your feeble words to lead your brothers and sisters in prayer.
2. Learn from your brothers and sisters. Spend time listening to how they pray. How do they address God? What do they thank him for? What kind of things do they ask him for? How do they finish?
3. Join in—don’t drift off. The person speaking aloud to God isn’t praying for us but leading all of us in prayer. That means we should be praying too, along with them. We need to be listening to every word, adding our own words silently (or in some churches out loud!) —“Yes, Lord, thanks so much for that.” “I do that too, and I’m really sorry.” “That’s my prayer for ‘X’ too!” And, of course, adding a hearty “Amen” (which means “I agree”) at the end.
4. Plan a prayer. Scribble down one thing from the Bible reading (if there’s one) and plan to thank God for it. Or note one thing down from any prayer requests given and plan what to ask God for. Even write down the whole prayer—it only needs to be one sentence. Include how you will start and finish. (Don’t forget to take a pen and notebook to the prayer meeting!)
5. Go for it. Perhaps there’s a time when everyone splits up into smaller groups—that’s a good time to pray your prayer. Or when everything goes quiet after all the regulars have finished. And if you go silent or get interrupted, remember that prayer is not a performance. It’s conversation with your heavenly Father. People go silent and get interrupted in conversations all the time.
A word for the confident pray-ers
It can be helpful if the person running the prayer meeting sometimes gives a few moments for anyone who hasn’t yet prayed to do so. Those who are more experienced at praying in public can also encourage new and nervous Christians. Why not model simple one-sentence prayers? Avoid praying for everything. Pray for something already mentioned previously just to show it’s OK—“Yes, Lord that’s my prayer too…” And affirm people who prayed aloud for the first time: “It was great to hear you pray. It really encouraged me.”
If all of us—whether confident or not, an experienced Christian or a new believer—arrive at prayer meetings seeking to encourage and build up others with our words, then we are sure to have a great time of fellowship together.