P OOR BUDDY. He got called on to pray out loud in worship. He wasn’t prepared. He had never done that. I felt bad for him.
Actually, it was my fault. You see, I was preaching the youth Sunday sermon at my home church. I was 15 or 16. In that tradition during worship people were randomly called on to pray. I really blame the pastor. You see, I preached and then turned the service over to him for the altar call. When that part was over, I was already zoned out, relaxed; I had survived the service. He turned the service back over to me.
I was surprised, unprepared and frozen in time. My eyes laser-locked on poor Buddy Bohannan. He was sitting on the second row. In my vision, it was like he was the only person in the room. In slow motion, like an oncoming accident, I could see him shaking his head, no. As I stayed locked on him, he shook his head more vigorously — no, no. no.
I called on him anyway. At that moment there was not another name or face in my mind or vision. Poor Buddy. He had never prayed in public.
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THAT’S WHAT I want to talk about today — praying aloud in public. My definition — any prayer offered out loud in the presence of other people.
I hope I’m not making too big of a leap to assume you know that prayer is offered to God, the God of the Bible, creator, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. So, knowing to whom we pray let’s talk about why pray. What’s the point, purpose or value in praying?
One reason, Jesus says it’s important. He even teaches a class on how to pray. Another, it is good and right to bring before the creator of the world our pains and struggles and joys and celebrations. To offer our concern on behalf of others. To thank God for blessings.
The psalms are the prayer book of the Bible. There we read of frustration and fear and anger and praise and thanksgiving. Prayer is for the purpose of communicating with God and experiencing God’s presence.
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YOU MIGHT BE THINKING, “Pastor Keith, the scripture that was read says to pray in our closet, alone, out of the earshot of others.” Yes, yes, it does. But that is not directions on where to pray. That is a warning against attitude while praying. Praying just to hear yourself pray, for others to be impressed by your word crafting and eloquence. It is not an admonition to never pray out loud. The Bible is filled with public prayers.
This is not (so it seems to me) a very common problem nowadays. A much more common problem is we are too self-conscious, afraid or unwilling to pray in public at all. The basic principle of Jesus’ instruction, however, is certainly relevant. As I said, prayer is for the purpose of communicating with God and experiencing God’s presence. To pray for any other reason is not to pray at all and thus to engage in the kind of hypocrisy Jesus here condemns.
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WHAT ARE SOME TIMES and places you might have the opportunity to pray with/for others out loud?
MANY PEOPLE FIND praying publicly or in a group to be a daunting prospect. Why?
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PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE.
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REMEMBER THE OPENING STORY of Buddy Bohannan? After he vigorously shook his head “no,” I called on him to pray. He prayed that day, at the end of the worship service. He didn’t die. He wasn’t banished from church for his simple, stumbling prayer. He was freed to pray out loud. From that day forward, he was willing and ready to pray when asked.
Praying out loud on behalf of others. Surprise your family. Surprise your Sunday school class or Bible study. Surprise your choir director or your pastor. Offer to pray out loud.
— Keith Cardwell