It’s that time. The food has just been brought out to all of us and I stare down at mine like those chicken tenders have the ability to save my life. There’s an awkward moment of silence. Then those words come out of someone’s mouth. “Would you like to say the blessing?” I want to say no SO badly. I want to push it off on some other soul. I don’t want to be in the spotlight. I don’t want other people focusing on me. No. But I say the blessing begrudgingly, and it comes out about as well as one would expect.
I’m sitting in class. A friend tells me something they’re struggling with. Stress. Health. Their family. The response is almost immediate. The words slip out of my mouth. “I’ll be praying for you.” I go home. I do my work. I talk to my parents. I hang out with my friends. I don’t ever get around to praying for them.
I’m at church. I’m having fun and I’m learning about Jesus. We get into a group setting and I know I’m supposed to pray. I think about what I should say. I wonder if I should practice to myself. I worry about stumbling over my words. I pray for us, but it is not the Holy Spirit speaking through me.
This is what my prayer life used to be. I’m not proud of it at all. I didn’t take prayer seriously. However, since I’ve altered the way that I pray, my life has completely changed. Never underestimate the value of prayer. I did. But now I’m not. And everything is better.
I don’t write this out of judgement or condemnation– no, that’s definitely not it. I don’t write this because I know exactly what I’m doing when it comes to prayer, because I certainly don’t. I’m writing this because it’s something that I have struggled with a lot in the past. And it’s something I’ve been learning a lot about recently.
I think that there are two main reasons that people get uncomfortable when they’re asked to pray in front of other people. These are the reasons my palms used to sweat and my heart used to pound at the prospect of praying with a group.
1) Someone who is uncomfortable praying in a group often is not prayerful in their own personal time. Prayer is meant to be a conversation. It’s our own little connection to the God of the universe. Why wouldn’t we want to utilize this connection all the time? I was always stuck in this mindset that prayer was meant solely for church and for blessing the food. I thought you had to close your eyes. I thought you had to bow your head. I thought you had to speak out loud. I didn’t think I could talk to God on a daily basis. I really didn’t know how.
But the only way you learn how to do something, like anything else, is by doing it. So I made it my mission to talk to God all the time. We talked while I was driving. We talked while I was in the shower. We talked in the middle of class. We talked during my quiet time. I sent up praise when times were good. I spoke about my needs when times were bad and sent up more praise for His unchanging love. When someone told me their problems, I took the time to listen. If I was afraid I’d forget, I wrote it down. I prayed for them. You know, what if we prayed every time we said we were going to? And what if we had faith that what we were praying for was actually something God could make happen? The crazy thing is that He can make even more happen.
My life has seen radical change since making prayer a priority rather than an obligation. You see, I don’t want my prayer to a public display but to be my primary language. I want it to be the first thing that comes to mind on a terrible day and the first thing that comes to mind on the greatest days. I want to speak it over my friends and I want to speak it over complete strangers. I want it to touch the ends of the earth. It’s powerful. The Lord hears it. He heeds it. And He always answers it, even if sometimes it’s not in the way we expect.
You might be thinking that none of that first part applies to you. You pray in your personal life and it’s important to you. Well, maybe you can identify a little more with the second reason I believe people are uncomfortable with praying in front of other people.
2) People tend to get performance anxiety when they’re asked to pray in front of others. I understand. I’ve been there and I still have to check myself on this one. But you see, prayer is not a performance– it’s a cry to the God that has utterly changed our lives, the one that knows our stories from front to back, and the one that relentlessly showers us with grace, despite our screw ups and our mishaps. We shouldn’t pray to impress other people with our “prayer prowess.” We should pray to point people to how glorious our God is.
When people used to ask me to pray, I was always afraid because I didn’t want to the spotlight to be on me. But that was an extremely selfish thought. Why was it selfish? Because in prayer, and in our lives in general, the spotlight should always be on Him. Prayer isn’t about me. It’s not about the people around me. It’s not about what others think about me. The only time I believe that you can get prayer wrong is when you make it about yourself, which is what I did for a long time. When you make it about Jesus, you can never go wrong.
So just pray. Pray continually. Pray boldly. Hallow the Lord. Let your words glorify Him. Let Him answer your prayers. Don’t make it about a performance. Don’t make it about yourself. Center your thoughts around Jesus and you will NEVER go wrong.