We know that prayer is an important part of our lives as Christians. We also know that it doesn’t necessarily come easily, especially when we talk about praying in a group.
There is no denying the power of prayer; the Bible clearly teaches us that (1 John 5:14-15; James 5:16-18) and each of us will be able to testify to this when our prayers have been answered. But do we realise the power of community prayer? And do we realise that our voice in that prayer is important? (for example see Matthew 18:19-20; Acts 4:31)
My Experience & Fears
Growing up, my experience with group prayer (and personal prayer for that matter) was reciting the same words in a large crowd. My voice blended with the others, almost disappearing. It didn’t really matter if I mixed up the words, no one would know anyway. It was all very new to me when my friends introduced me to praying in my own words. So whenever they prayed together, it made me very uncomfortable. I felt the pressure to pray (especially when everyone else had their turn already – do you know that moment?) but I wasn’t ready. I was a new believer and an introvert (read my previous post about being an introvert at church); I was allowed some training time right?
Then when I met my husband Andrew and we prayed together, I would only pray in Polish. After all, it’s my first language and God understands me, so why would there be anything wrong with that? There was though and I came to understand that. In the group prayer I allowed myself to use the excuse of not being ready and the excuse of fear for too long. At the same time, I was not allowing God’s truth to speak to me. And when I prayed with Andrew, he couldn’t understand me! God listened, but at that moment I wasn’t being an encouragement to Andrew. Ultimately, I was acting out of fear not faith, and more concerned with serving myself and my ego rather than serving others.
So do you struggle with fear of praying out loud? When you come to the Prayer and Worship Night is there something stopping you from voicing your thoughts? Do you find you always have an ‘excuse’ as to why you don’t pray? (I am…too tired…not eloquent enough…not ready…not inspired…not qualified…I have had a tough day etc etc). If that’s the case, consider these three things: your HEART, MIND and WILL.
Our hearts tend to wander from the truth of the gospel. What happens then? We start listening to what our ‘self’ is telling us and we start believing it. We believe that people will judge us based on our prayer. We believe we will say something stupid…that it won’t sound good…that others pray better. But do you know what? Instead of allowing your ‘self’ to speak to you, try speaking to yourself. Your identity is in the gospel. Start speaking the gospel to yourself. What does that mean? Preaching the gospel to ourselves is calling ourselves to return to Jesus for forgiveness, empowerment, and purpose. It is answering doubts and fears with the promises of God. Remember who you are in Christ. So when it comes to praying out loud, if you know that you’re loved, cherished and accepted by your Father in heaven through Christ (Ephesians 2:4-10), you won’t worry if you ‘sound silly’ or say something ‘stupid’ – people’s opinions don’t matter because you already have the positive opinion of the King of the universe who is rejoicing over you with singing (Zephaniah 3:17).
As Christ’s people we are called to prayer, full-stop (Luke 11:1-13). But beyond simply seeing praying out loud in a group as our duty, we should see it as a privilege and a way to serve one another. When we pray together, we encourage one another by our faith, we teach one another by our theology, we love one another by our concern and we point one another to God (Colossians 3:16-18). I’m sure you’ve been blessed by the prayers of others. What if someone can be blessed by your prayer? That’s something that spoke to me before – if I hold it in, if I make a quick decision not to pray, I might be robbing someone of a blessing. What if that person who really touched you with their words decided not to say them out loud? In a group, your prayer becomes everybody’s prayer. Isn’t that amazing and powerful?
Sometimes you just have to go for it. Make a decision to step out of your comfort zone. It might be awkward (oh, how many times it felt like that for me!) and you might be more self conscious at the beginning. Just don’t accept the thought that if you don’t pray out loud today you will never pray out loud. Start small, ask God for help and then make a decision to pray. As one person put it “pray yourself into praying.”
(1) Accept that you don’t have to pray like others
It might feel that everybody around you is praying with poetic, beautifully flowing praise language. I am definitely not that person but for a long time I put a pressure on myself to pray like that. I appreciate people who pray like that and I love listening to them but when I accepted that this is not me and I stopped trying to pray like others it became much easier. Pray out loud like you would pray in your head.
Remember that the primary image of prayer in the scriptures is of children approaching their father (Mark 10:13-16, Matthew 6:9, Ephesians 3:14-15), so come as you are. Come confidently. Come without feeling any need to ‘clean up your act’ or without any pressure of ‘performing well’. Come with the words you do have (not the ones you don’t have!). Speak as a child would speak to their father and accept that different children speak in different ways to their Heavenly Father, and that’s okay.
(2) It’s okay to keep your prayer short
Prayer doesn’t have to be long to be effective. Jesus warns us not to pray with “empty phrases” (Matthew 6:7-8). This doesn’t mean long prayers are never ok. However, when you speak for a long time for the sake of speaking for a long time, you end up saying things that are less heartfelt, less natural and, as Jesus says, you can be tempted to pray long prayers just to impress others like the Pharisees did! Short prayers with simple words are heard by God just as much as long prayers, and they’re just as powerful and effective.
(3) What to pray?
So what if you make that step but you’re still not sure what to pray? Pray the scripture that was just read or discussed. Pray the words of the song that was just sung. If something stood out to you, direct it back to God or take the Lord’s Prayer and start going over each line, turning it into your own words and letting the Holy Spirit lead you to praying for other things. You could use the Psalms or other prayers in the Bible, as these are words given to us by God so that we can use them ourselves. Just like children learn words from their parents and those around them, so we can learn words of prayer from what God and his people over the years have given us.
In the end, just pray and trust God that He will use your prayers. We serve a God who hears the prayers of the weakest. Daniel prayed in Daniel 9:18: “We do not make requests of you because we are righteous, but because of your great mercy.” Also, James reminds us in James 5:16: “The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.” God in his love and mercy gave us access to him, has made us righteous in Christ (Philippians 3:8-9) and uses our prayers to accomplish his will. May we never take the power and privilege of prayer for granted.
Do come along (if you’re a women!) to the Women’s Seminar, Overcoming Fear on Sunday 11th March, 6.15-7.45pm at Synge Street Secondary School, to discuss more on this and learn from one another.