How do we pray in public? Is it to make our hearers swoon (God included)? Are we desperately trying to get them to believe the same lies we believe about ourselves? Perhaps we come into prayer to produce something striking, interesting, insightful—something impressive. No matter what, we must take Jesus’s lesson on prayer in the Sermon on the Mount seriously. In Matthew 6:5-6 Jesus lumens a truth of how prayer is supposed to operate in the human heart by explaining that prayer is not for one’s own ego stoke; it is something more. He pushes His disciples to seek the Lord in private, not in the streets as the hypocrites have been committed to doing.
Performance is not an ingredient of prayer but a distortion of what is expected of us in prayer. Prayer is a gift and invitation not to perform but to be our true selves before our holy, righteous, and loving God. The Lord is not impressed with the inflated verbosity we can articulate in His presence on command. Rather, He desires us, and only us. In private prayer, we should not fool ourselves by trying to impress God; instead, we must seek to be with God with a restless and genuine Spirit; restless because of His greatness yet genuine because of His acceptance of us in Christ.
How we approach the Lord in our closet must correspond to the way we ought to pray in public. Honesty, humility and reverence are the ingredients the Lord requires of us, not performance. “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise” (Ps. 51:17). Jesus, in the passage mentioned above, does not restrict public prayer, on the contrary, His teaching informs it. We must pray to seek God, not attain an already over fed ego.
To pray for ourselves and others is commanded in Holy Scripture. Therefore we should be trying to get right what is supposed to be a continual rhythm in our life (Jam. 5:13, 16; 1 Tim. 2:1; Eph. 6:18; Phil. 4:6, 1 Thess. 5:17; Heb. 4:16). What does it mean to pray with honesty, humility, and reverence in settings of the public congregation and intimate small groups (or even 1-on-1 settings) as we obey God’s command to be faithful in this area?
In the church, when we pray, we do not only lift up our hearts as one, breeding unity in the body but we indirectly teach others in the room how to pray. The importance of our words matter as well as the posture of our hearts. It is a shame if we do not pray with our congregational enough. For what is a house of prayer if the members of the household do not pray together, or at all? This is not a call to fill up our prayers with rich theological vocabulary most people will miss; it is call to fill up our prayers with who we are in its simplest terms, children of God in need of God.
In this context, we show members of the household to come to the Father in honest, humble, and reverent obedience; we must be ready to show the scars of the church, promoting and encouraging authenticity in them by leading by example. We must rest assured, not in our greatness, but in God’s greatness as we come to Him in prayer. People are fractured, frustrated, and fallible. The realities of these qualities should not shy us away from speaking of them because no matter our mistakes and shortcomings, God is still willing to embrace us. We come to God in Christ, not in ourselves, and therefore should be able to harmoniously declare the full counsel of God’s Word that all have fallen short of His glory and our victory over condemnation in the sight of all people (Rom. 3:23, 8:1). The more consistently the church prays with this type of vulnerability, there is hope that it will plant seeds of transparency in its members. Leaders, pastors, and those who find themselves with the privilege to lead a congregation in prayer must be aware of God’s desire not for polished words, but His people themselves.
Naturally, in a small group setting, there is going to be more openness and vulnerability. The prayers of our closet must seep out into the ways we pray for others in a more intimate setting as well. By asking what our brother or sister is in need of and telling them our own prayer requests with transparency, we begin the process of entering into a time of prayer where honesty is promoted. When we are transparent with each other in times antecedent to prayer it’s difficult to key an unforgettable noteworthy prayer. Thus, there will be less time to cultivate a spectacle because of the real authenticity on display.
The realness of what goes on in our closet prayers must recapitulate itself into our prayer life with others. Similarly, as we teach how to pray in the congregational setting, the everyday believer can take on the responsibility of leading others into the presence of God with the same simplicity God asks of us in private.
Honesty, humility, and reverence drives not our holding up of words as nice props to God but approaching God in of ourselves. May we first begin in our closet–in our hearts.
This devotional prayer in The Valley of Vision showcases it well, providing for us an honest framework which starts in our hearts, hopefully spewing out into our relationships and our congregational families.
O MY SAVIOR,
I am so slow to learn,
so prone to forget,
so weak to climb;
I am in the foothills when I should be
on the heights;
I am pained by my graceless heart,
my prayerless days,
my poverty of love,
my sloth in the heavenly race,
my sullied conscience,
my wasted hours,
my unspent opportunities.
I am blind while light shines around me:
take the scales from my eyes,
grind to dust the evil heart of unbelief.
Make it my chiefest joy to study thee,
meditate on thee,
gaze on thee,
sit like Mary at thy feet,
lean like John on thy breast,
appeal like Peter to thy love,
count like Paul all things dung.
Give me increase and progress in grace
so that there may be
more decision in my character,
more vigour in my purposes,
more elevation in my life,
more fervour in my devotion,
more constancy in my zeal.
As I have a position in the world,
keep me from making the world my position;
May I never seek in the creature
what can be found only in the Creator;
Let not faith cease from seeking thee
until it vanishes into sight.
Ride forth in me, thou King of kings
and Lord of lords,
that I may live victoriously,
and in victory attain my end.