Praying in public
by Mervyn Morelock, Lt. Colonel –
“Whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins” (Mark 11:24-25 NIV).
Have you ever been asked to pray in public, and the mere fact of being asked caused you to panic?
On a recent Sunday, one of our adherents at an ARC was asked to pray for another adult rehabilitation center. It’s something we do every week in our morning chapel. The color drained from his face and, with a stricken look, he said, “Oh no, I can’t do that!” Now, I know this young man to be sincerely practicing his faith, and I am sure he will be able to pray next week. But his response was one most of us have had when we’ve been asked to pray in public—panic!
There are many books on prayer that give advice on how we should pray. One priest advised me to read over the published prayers of others to learn the phrases and the way to address God in prayer. Others have suggested that we write out prayers, so that we are prepared for public prayer. Good suggestions—but sometimes we have to think on our feet because we have had almost no warning.
All of us have listened to the prayers of others, and we form interesting impressions. Some use a lot of familiar phrases. I guess we all do that, reverting to familiar words so that we don’t stumble too much! I once was amused when, without warning, a young bandsman was asked to pray. He did pretty well until he got to the end. And it became obvious that he couldn’t remember how to close. He stumbled around with a few phrases then, after an agonizing time of silence, he said, “That’s it!” and sat down. We were all relieved for him!
Some folks seem to drone on and on. I’m often reminded of the cynic who observed that if a person prays long prayers in public, it may be because he doesn’t pray much in private!
Sometimes we have heard a prayer so beautiful with phrases and imagery that we feel it has led us to touch heaven. A friend once prayed a prayer like that, and I’ve always felt a little intimidated to pray in public since then. My friend has been promoted to Glory, so I can never tell him how much he blessed me that day.
Over the years, I’ve attended hundreds of meetings and heard thousands of prayers. The one I remember most had only seven words. It was offered at a small corps prayer meeting. An elderly man sat in the back. He had been an officer in England and was the patriarch of a large family. He had recently had a stroke and heart by-pass surgery. The topic was one-sentence prayers on what we were most thankful for. There was a moment of silence—then from the back of the room came his voice:
“Oh God, I am thankful for life.”
Knowing his background, suffering and despair, we were moved. In that one short sentence he acknowledged how precious is the gift of life.
How can we pray in public? Because we pray in private. The Bible tells us to “pray all the time.” Practicing the presence of God is a habit you can develop, and when you are asked to pray in public, it will be but an extension of what you are doing every day. The reality is that God is always present. That is the lifestyle of worship.