Do you ever get nervous praying in public? When you know someone is looking around the room to select someone to pray do you immediately break eye contact with them? Does praying out loud in front of others just scare you?
Because of my job, folks often ask me to pray at events. It usually starts like this: In a very quiet voice someone leans over my shoulder at the table and says, Would you be willing to start the meeting with a prayer? The person who asks this is often a bit sheepish as though somehow I am doing them a great favor by saying yes so they can get to the next item on the agenda.
I was at an event not long ago and when it was time to open in prayer, the man who was asked to pray bowed his head, carefully took out a piece of paper that he kept concealed behind a podium, and read his prayer. The interesting thing was he pretended he wasn’t reading. He kept his head bowed and it was hard to tell if he was praying or reading but when he turned the page over the secret was out. The prayer was beautiful…full of flowery, lofty words…but it just didn’t seem like this man meant any of it. It was a show. The prayer was a scripted prayer that seemed to be given to present a good image for the giver rather than to present a contrite and humbled heart to the creator of our universe.
Thinking about this I was reminded of Luke 18: 11-14. This is a very powerful section of scripture that tells us what Christ thinks about prayer and how to pray. Listen to this passage:
The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed this prayer: I thank you, God, that I am not a sinner like everyone else. For I don’t cheat, I don’t sin, and I don’t commit adultery. I’m certainly not like that tax collector! I fast twice a week, and I give you a tenth of my income.
Just like the man in my story, this prayer was for the benefit of others. Now listen to the rest of this passage.
But the tax collector stood at a distance and dared not even lift his eyes to heaven as he prayed. Instead, he beat his chest in sorrow, saying, ‘O God, be merciful to me, for I am a sinner.’ I tell you, this sinner, not the Pharisee, returned home justified before God. For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.
Some folks tell me they don’t pray because they don’t know what to say. May I just encourage you by saying there is nothing special to say in a prayer. There is not a script for your discussions with God. The story of the Pharisee is a perfect example of this. Just be yourself when you pray. Prayer is an intimate communication between you and your Creator. Just tell God what is on your heart. Talk with Him and then listen. If you get into the habit of constant prayer you will be a part of the most remarkable conversations you can ever imagine. What could be more exciting, enriching, and rejuvenating than connecting to the heart of God. Go ahead…start a new habit of continuous prayer and see how your life begins to change.