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“And when you pray,” Jesus once said, “you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others” (Matthew 6:5).[1] He went on, “But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret’ (Matthew 6:6). Jesus taught his disciples that motive matters when it comes to righteous works. God sees our hearts (1 Samuel 16:7). He knows when you and I do good works for man’s praise rather than for his.

In light of Jesus’ counsel to pray in secret, I was once asked if public prayer is sinful. Do you break Jesus’ command when you pray with and for your family?  In our corporate worship services, we offer many prayers. Sometimes the minister prays and other times we pray together. Should we stop doing that? Should we stop holding mid-week prayer services?

If you’ve ever wondered about this, you may find Jesus’ instruction in the Lord’s Prayer helpful (Matthew 6:9-13). He said, “Pray then like this: ‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name…” (Matthew 6:9). The Lord’s model prayer begins: “Our Father.” When I pray by myself, I never address God by saying, “Our Father.” Instead, I might say, “My father.”

Jesus’ model prayer also includes these phrases: “Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts…” (Matthew 6:11-12). By including the terms “us” and “our” in this prayer, Jesus is teaching us to pray with and for other people. It is only in the company of two or more people that we’d use the terms “us” and “our.”

You can find a beautiful corporate prayer in 1 Kings 8. There we read, “Then Solomon stood before the altar of the LORD in the presence of all the assembly of Israel and spread out his hands toward heaven, and said…” (1 Kings 8:22). For several minutes, Solomon prayed aloud in everyone’s presence. 

Speaking of corporate worship, Paul wrote, “I desire then that in every place the men should pray, lifting holy hands without anger or quarreling…” (1 Timothy 2:8). What a joy when many different godly men stand before the church and offer prayer!

Some men are afraid to pray in public, lacking confidence. Here’s some simple advice to men who are fearful: consider writing your prayer down. If it is ok to sing written hymns, and read written sermons, it is ok to read prepared prayers. Also, think about what the old Virginia preacher, Samuel Miller, advises for public prayer: use the language of Scripture, have an order (Adoration-Confession-Thanksgiving-Supplication, perhaps), don’t give too much detail, don’t be wordy or pray too long. Don’t preach in your prayer. Use a mixture of God’s names instead of the same thing all the time. Fill your prayer with hopeful, confident language. Pray for the spread of the Gospel. And, offer your prayer in a humble, tender, reverent spirit.[2]

[1] Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture references from the English Standard Version.

[2] Adapted from Miller, Samuel. Thoughts on Public Prayer. Harrisonburg: Sprinkle Publications, 1985.

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