Private Hearts in Public Prayer

There’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately. Don’t ask me why, I don’t even know myself. But I thought I’d post about it anyway and hear your thoughts.


I’ve been thinking about public prayer, mainly in church. I think more potential lies there than we usually tap into. A lot of people shy away from praying aloud in church, and though I don’t always avoid it, I can still see why they would. You’re praying on behalf of a large group, being a voice for them before God. And though everybody else usually bows their heads, most of the time they’re not praying to themselves; they’re listening to your prayer. It’s a bit of pressure. I know personally, at times when I pray publicly, I feel more like I’m giving an indirect impromptu speech to the congregation than I feel I’m speaking directly to God in a public place.


Some people have mastered the art of public prayer and can leave congregations breathless with their eloquent praying. And I should say now that it is not a given that to be eloquent is to be heartless. Some prayer warriors have a tenderness in their relationship to God that seeps out any time they address Him, no matter where it’s from.


But, for the most part, I wonder if it’s real.


When we pray to God publicly, how honest are we versus when we pray to Him privately? By that I mean there are things we pray about privately with brutal honesty–why do we avoid those things in public? Perhaps it’s out of consideration, but I think it may be a little more than that. I think deep down we’re afraid of what people would say if we let them see even a glimpse what God sees. We don’t want to appear broken and needy. We prefer the role of the savior over the role of the savee. I’ve been in the church as long as I can remember, and it’s a pattern I’ve seen in practically everything, not just public prayer. Sometimes it seems the church has become the same as any social gathering. We come, we sing, we listen, we leave. The mayor doesn’t want anybody to know about his impending divorce, lest he lose his image before the community, so he suffers in silence. The kindergarten teacher has been living in sin and is repentant over it, but her kids are watching, so she doesn’t kneel at the altar. Instead she stands, hands clenched to the pew, choking back her tears. The pastor delivers his message with a beaming face and a big smile that hide a discouraged soul and a wounded heart.


My question is, why do we feel it has to be this way? Is this all God intended for His bride? No good husband would want to see his wife suffer, so I would think God doesn’t either. Going back to public prayer specifically. . .


What would happen if we made it real?


What would happen if the words we prayed publicly were a true reflection of our private hearts? Even if generally–I don’t think we always have to be bullseye specific when we pray publicly (after all, private time with God is still necessary), but what if we even tried to get off the wall and on the target? What if the pastor told the congregation he needed encouragement, and the teacher went down front to pray, and mayor prayed for his kids–right in the dismissal prayer! What would happen if we let them see?


I think there’s an example in Scripture. The story of the Pharisee and the tax collector. The Pharisees were very public-oriented people. They thrived on being the “saviors” of their communities. The Pharisee goes in to pray, and in essense, thanks God that he’s not broken, tainted, or bruised like everyone else around him. The tax collector, too ashamed of himself to even look up, begs God’s mercy on him because he knows he is broken, tainted, and bruised. Two vastly different prayers, prayed aloud in the same Temple. And though I’m sure the Pharisee’s prayer was very eloquent and impressive, the tax collector was the one who was heard.


Guys, I honestly think if we could swallow our fear and remove the gilded speech from our prayers, if anything, the body of Christ could work together more. Maybe if we had open-ended prayer times in our churches (whether as a congregation or in smaller groups) where we said aloud what we were really thinking, God could do something about what we’re really thinking–right there, through the body of Christ. If in his prayer, Bob publicly admits to God that he needs encouragement, don’t you think his brothers and sisters would rally around him and minister to him? If Sue is having trouble forgiving someone, couldn’t her church help her more, even if only by knowing what specifically to pray for her about?


There’s gotta be a better way to do this than what we’ve been doing. We deprive ourselves of so much by being so secretive.


I don’t claim to have all the answers–or even a good portion of them. This is just me thinking through some things. But this is something I want to work on, and I hope if nothing else, it sparks a fire in your heart both to be more honest in public and to be more willing to reach out to others who you know are hurting.

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2 thoughts on “Private Hearts in Public Prayer

  1. Your posts are always so inspired! I feel as if I just got a new devotional book every time you post!  It’s very encouraging and uplifting; thank you for that!
    The church I went to this summer was very good about their prayers.  I don’t think everyone went super deep, but you could tell the prayers were from the heart; and it was very moving.  And you know what?  That church is growing like wildfire, simply because we have a pastor who is real and who passes that on to his congregation.  He is real when he prays, and his flock pick up on that, and as a result, are real also!! 
    Love ya!!

  2. I love your insight..

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