“Dear God, I will do anything you ask me to do. I will collect food for the food pantry and clothing for the shelter. I will fold newsletters, chaperone the youth mission trip, and will even share my faith with my neighbor who is having a tough time with life, but please….PLEASE…Do not ask me to pray out loud in front of other people. I would do anything for you, just not that.”
Sound familiar? I must admit that, as a pastor, I don't really get stage fright any more. I spend most of my waking hours speaking in front of people, so I do take praying with other people for granted. This is a big deal for a lot of people, who then feel guilty for not being a “better Christian.” Evidently people rank public speaking ahead of death in terms of the scariest things in life and that fear of making a fool of ourselves keeps too many of us from serving Christ through prayer. Let's take some of the fear out of this by taking a closer look.
First off, prayer is prayer whether it is silent and private or out loud and public. While teaching a class on prayer recently, I asked the group to explain why they are so uncomfortable praying out loud with others. One person explained that he felt “out of his element.” When we are out of our element it means that we are completely unfamiliar with the task at hand. Like me attempting brain surgery, we are out of our element or “out of our depth.” The first question I ask you is this: “How comfortable are you praying in general?” Many people do not want to pray aloud because they are covering up the fact that they don't really pray at all. I confess as a 48 year old pastor I have never been taught to pray. It was important enough to me to go figure it out. This blog is an attempt to pass on to others what I was never taught. Prayer is something we assume people know how to do and are doing but we rarely do anything to make sure. Prayer can be taught. Prayer should be taught. Prayer MUST BE TAUGHT! (Feel free to check out my other posts on prayer to begin to learn how.)
Prayer is not just something we do alone with God. It is a huge part of what we do together as followers of Jesus. We pray during worship. We pray at the beginning and endings of our church meetings, studies and events. We gather in special prayer meetings to seek God's guidance for the direction of the Church and to offer intercessory prayer for the wider world. Too many disciples would prefer to be hung by their thumbs than to be asked to pray out loud in front of others. Some people are extroverts who enjoy being in groups of people and don't mind speaking up in public. Others are introverts who are more comfortable with silence and solitude and speaking in front of a group is stressful. Whatever the legitimate reason for our hesitancy, not knowing how to pray need not be one of them. Some people do feel out of their element when asked to pray out loud. If we are praying everyday in our quiet time with God, this discomfort will decrease. Here are some things to keep in mind when praying out loud:
Pray to God, not to Other People
Don't worry about being eloquent, poetic, or well spoken. You are not performing. You are not trying to impress anyone. You are praying. Remember the only rule in prayer that matters: Be honest with God about what is going on inside and around us. Beautiful words and witty turns of phrase are not needed and can actually be a distraction. Just talk to God.
"We and Us" not "I and Me"
You are leading others into an encounter with God. You are the spokesperson who speaks to God on behalf of the group. It is our privilege to speak for the group, so remember that you are not praying just for yourself. Include everyone in the group. "Lord WE ask you to forgive US" rather than "Lord, I ask you to forgive ME."
Pray to the Occasion
If you are opening a church council meeting in prayer, feel free to pray for the council, the decisions to be made and the wisdom needed to make them. If you are opening a Bible Study, pray for the Holy Spirit to teach us. If it is Christmas Season, Lent, Easter, Summer, or back to school, feel free to pray to the occasion.
State the Obvious
Sometimes we need to name the obvious. If it is swelteringly hot, feel free to say so. If the group is nervous and afraid, say so. If we have a lot to do and not much time to get it done, say so. If it has been a crappy week, say so. As we said above, be honest with God about everything going on inside and around us.
Ask God to Help
Whatever you have gathered to do together as a group, ask for God’s help to get it done. I pray before every worship service with the people who are leading worship with me. We ask for help finding the right words, perfecting the music to be shared, and running the growing amount of electronics that support the service. Ask for help.
Patterns of Prayer
If you are still not sure what to say when called upon to pray, just do as Jesus taught us and use the pattern contained in the Lord's Prayer:
Adoration: Tell God how much you love Him and why.
Surrender: Give God full authority to choose our direction.
Confession: Admit our imperfections and need for forgiveness.
Petition: Ask God to meet the personal needs of the group.
Intercession: Ask God to meet the needs of others.
Thanksgiving: Thank God for all God has given and done
Like anything else, the more you do something the better you get at it. Pray alone every day. Pray with a prayer partner you can trust as regularly as you can. Not only will you be ready when called say grace over the next church fellowship supper, you will be more ready to pray with someone who is hurting and needs the grace of God. Don't be afraid. God is with you.