Prayer is such an important part of the Christian’s life that Jesus gave us an example of how to do it (Matt. 6:13-15). It is therefore something we should consider seriously. Prayer can be divided into two groups for the purpose of this article: public and private. To start with, let us note a few observations regarding public prayers.
First, while every prayer is personal, and the heart of those praying must always be right with God, public prayer must account for more than just the personal needs of the individual leading the prayer. The person who leads the public prayer should be cognizant of the fact that others are participating in this act of fellowship and should make them feel that they are a part of the prayer. Others need to be able to say “amen” at the end of that prayer (I Cor. 14:16). Therefore, the prayer cannot be too specific about one’s own needs.
Second, when it is time in the public assembly for prayer, it should be announced that prayer is going to be begun. This is especially important when there are visitors in the assembly. I have seen instances where visitors have been left confused because they didn’t hear what was going on and finally realized that prayer had been begun. If it is not announced, the person praying could simply say, “Let us pray” to alert those in the congregation that prayer is about to begin.
Third, public prayer should not be used to attack any individual. I have seen instances where the person praying brought in their own personal conflicts. It was prayed something to the effect, “I know there are some here that don’t like me…” This is very inappropriate. If you do have that kind of problem, go to that person first and if the problem is not solved take it before the congregation (Matt. 5:23,24). But to attack another in prayer is not only inappropriate but unbecoming of a Christian.
Fourth, prayers should reflect a certain kind of reverence and awe before the Lord. It seems that we have lost something of reverence in our assemblies since many have left the use of solemn personal pronouns in addressing the Father in heaven. I would not be dogmatic about it, but it would evince a bit more reverence if we could go back to that practice. I know the arguments that the Greek did not have such pronouns. This is true, but English does and it makes sense to honor His majesty by setting apart and reverencing His name (Palm 111:9).
Now, concerning private prayer, we should, first of all, pray often. Paul said to “pray without ceasing” (I Thess, 5:21). God is our Father and it should be natural for us to approach Him in prayer. He wants us to make known our requests unto Him (Phil. 4:6) even though He already knows that of which we stand in need (Matt. 6:8). Don’t become estranged from your heavenly father.
Second, pray from the heart. As noted above, while God already knows our hearts and so there is nothing you could say He does not already know (Heb. 4:13), yet read the psalms and see how David poured out his heart to the Lord. He was passionate. He was even argumentative. He reminded God of what He had done before for His saints and that He was able to do the same for him (cf. Psalm 35).
Third, find time to pray to God alone. Jesus often went off to a secluded place to pray to God (e.g., Matt. 14:23; Luke 9:18). Sometimes there are things we have to say to God that others do not need to hear. Publicly led prayer has to be inclusive but private prayer is personal prayer. Jesus said when we pray we should enter into our closet and shut the door (Matt. 6:6).
Finally, don’t let your prayers be hindered by sin in your life. Pray with holy hands (I Tim. 2:8). God hears the prayers of the righteous man but His face is against those who do evil (I Pet. 3:12). Our sins separate us from God (Is. 59:1,2).
Prayer is important for us as Christians. We have access to the Father by this means, which others do not. Let our prayers therefore be acceptable to God.
Eric L. Padgett