The last five things Christians give to God have so far included our habits, our words and our media choices. This next one is a biggie. There's a reason this one is number two on the list. It is a hangup that plagues Christians young and old. It is - praying aloud. Get in a group of Christians, new and old, and you'll find some who absolutely refuse to pray loud. They might pray on their own, privately, but even then, they rarely voice their prayerful thoughts. If you are this type of person, who is averse to praying aloud and fears having people hear their words to God spoken aloud, I want to point to three possible reasons you might feel this way. All of these possible reasons stem from a basic misunderstanding about the purpose of prayer.
THE PURPOSE OF CORPORATE PRAYER
More than once in ministry, people have asked me what they're supposed to be doing while another person is praying. This is a great question because it aims at the root of many of our fears related to praying aloud. Throughout the book of Acts we read of believers gathering for times of prayer. Sometimes praying for hours at a time. It's not unusual for modern day prayer meetings to last an hour or more. What are we doing during that time? When someone is talking to God are we just awkwardly listening in, wondering where they're coming up with that flood of words? Are we just playing on our phone or daydreaming until it's our turn to talk? What is happening in those moments?
When we pray in a group setting, one person typically talks out loud, giving voice to the requests the group has agreed on. If you are not talking, this doesn't mean you aren't praying. As that person talks, your role is to agree with them in prayer. It might look like this: Listening to what they are saying and then either verbally or mentally agree with it. A simple, "yes Lord, that is what I'm asking for" or "Please Father, do these things, act on our behalf", even a simple, "yes, Lord" will suffice because you are listening in and directing your thoughts toward God all at the same time.
THE REASONS FOR OUR FEAR
With the above description of corporate prayer let's outline these beliefs that get between us and praying aloud.
1. Belief that they are being evaluated/Fear of not doing it right - Many people fear praying aloud because they fear they will do it wrong and that people are evaluating them instead of praying along and agreeing with them. "I don't know how to pray" or "I will sound stupid" are common defenses against public, verbalized prayer. The fearful person doesn't trust the Christians they are praying with to simply focus on the request rather than the requestor. I will admit, I've heard people pray some funny things But all it reveals is that they take seriously the idea that we call God, "Father" and we can tell him anything and ask for anything in the name of Jesus. Prayer is difficult to do wrong if the heart is right.
2. Misunderstanding prayer as public speaking - Rather than someone looking at prayer as simply listening in on a conversation with God, many people look at it as speechmaking toward God. We've all heard the flowery language prayers that impress people with their vocabulary, phrasing and eloquence. Some people just naturally pray that way but I am sure most of that is the prayer's own desire to impress rather than their heart being poured out to God. Prayer is not public speaking. We don't write out our prayers or have bullet points for people to follow along. It's not a performance that we will be evaluated on.
3. Conviction that prayer is personal - some believe that any and all prayer is personal enough that it should not be done aloud and in groups. They insist that they pray but it is all done in secret. Some of this attitude is a misreading of Jesus' words when he says to pray in a secret place and not be like the Pharisees. Jesus was talking about people who were praying publicly just to draw attention to their "holiness", not groups of Christians praying together. Prayer is and can be very personal. But this should not keep us from agreeing together in prayer.
Here's the challenge - next bible study or small group you are in - pray aloud, even if it's for the snack you are eating or to end the group, sending people out with a blessing. A prayer as simple as, "Thanks for our bible study. Please bless everyone here" is sufficient to start. It's not the number or quality of the words that matters. It's the heart of the prayer.