“Can I get three people to pray?” And silence. Crickets. No one. Is there any more awkward 9.3 seconds? You know what I mean, right? Does anyone have a prayer request? Sure, about 35 of us, but then that silence. And then, the same 3 people volunteer or are “voluntold.”
One of my favorite spots on the planet is the Western Wall, sometimes called the “Wailing Wall” in Jerusalem. It is the closest spot to the Temple Mount available today to Jewish worshipers. To the right, you see the women, scarves covering righteous wigs, swaying quietly, a hand or forehead resting on the massive Herodian ashlars. To the left, clusters of men, some topped with beaver hats and sporting garb straight from the 17th century gather around standing desks with a Torah scroll laid out. They daven, reciting prayers, reading from the Torah, encouraging the Bar Mitzvah. Some cling to the wall, weeping. Others stand around looking uncomfortable in their cardboard kippahs. Some supplicants remind you of the self-righteous Pharisee: “Lord, I think you that I am not like other men. . .” Others reflect the repentant tax collector: “Lord be merciful to me, a sinner!”
The Western Wall is a place of public prayer, of groups and of individuals. It is a place like none other.
We in the Church today don’t have such a geographic connection to God’s Temple, instead, we ARE the Temple of God, the Body of Christ, the Household of Faith. How should we be thinking about opportunities to pray in public? Whether you are with your small group, at a church meeting, or even at the family dinner table, why is it so very uncomfortable at times? What makes people drop their eyes and shy away? What might be helpful as we think about this common scenario?
Maybe we think that public prayers demonstrate some sort of misplaced pride. Or, maybe we are scared of what others might think of us. Maybe the women are not confident about whether they should pray? (It’s OK, ladies, Paul even gave instructions!)
Whatever the qualms, here are a few thoughts about praying in a group setting that may be helpful.
When we pray in public, we are demonstrating:
Faith: Prayer is a demonstration of trust in the God who listens, loves, and answers. Praying out loud with others declares that whatever else is happening, you have the opportunity to speak to the Lord of the universe about your concerns.
Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:4-7
Humility: Prayer, especially in a public space, is an uncomfortable acknowledgement of need and dependence. We often have no idea what to pray, but, wow! our amazing Lord has invited us to come to Him, and then He granted such grace to our stumbling words.
Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. Matthew 11: 28, 29
Likewise, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. Romans 8:26
Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Romans 8:34
Obedience: Praying for one another closely follows both the example and the instruction of Scripture. Jesus taught His disciples to pray and often lifted up His eyes to thanked the Father for His work and His provision. Paul opened almost every one of his letters by reminding the readers that he and his coworkers were praying for them. We are instructed to pray for one another.
In that same hour he rejoiced in the Holy Spirit and said, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. Luke 10:21
And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will… Colossians 1:9
Burden-bearing: Praying for others is a loving demonstration of bearing burdens to the God of all comfort. When we are together, praying for one another is an incredibly practical way to show love for your brothers and sisters. I am always encouraged when somebody asks, “Can I pray for you right now?”
And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. Hebrews 10:34-35
What are some “mechanics” that could help these moments? Like a good Scout, be prepared!
Prepare Others: If you are one of the leaders asking for volunteers, could you privately ask a couple of people to pray? “Seed” the process, if you will? That way, pray-ers are ready and thinking about the requests as they come. Leaders might also gain an opportunity to disciple someone through their fears and/or apathy in the process. You can always spontaneously invite others to join in later, too.
Prepare Yourself. How are you going to be ready next time the prayer request comes? Listen well to the requests, take notes so that you know people’s names and situations. Don’t know what to say? Open your Bible and be ready to pray through a verse or two on behalf of people. Ephesians 1 is a great pattern for pray for spiritual needs and encouragement. Psalm 23 helps us walk through prayer for medical needs or death in a family.
And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him: bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; being strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy; giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you[to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. Colossians 1:9-14
Thanks for praying!