In the lead up to the event of Prayer and Praise Night, some of us were asked to write a bit of reflection on the topic of prayer.
One of the main struggles that I have often observed, with others and myself included, in particular with corporate prayer is the lack of desire to lead a group in prayer, or an overwhelming sense of nervousness when praying in a group setting. For myself personally, it is the discomfort of being pushed into the limelight, where all ears are focused upon my words, and the fear of stumbling over my words or not praying in a way that is as ‘eloquent’ as another brother or sister.
But in my years of understanding of what prayer is meant to be, and the character of our heavenly Father of whom we are praying to, I began to ask: “what does this sense of anxiety, feeling of inadequacy reveal about the condition of the heart?”
In his book Prayer: Finding the Heart’s True Home, Richard J Foster puts it perfectly: “Our problem is that we assume prayer is something to master the way we master algebra or auto mechanics. That puts us in the “on-top” position, where we are competent and in control. But when praying, we come “underneath,” where we calmly and deliberately surrender control and become incompetent.”
Prayer is meant to be a dialogue between us and God, where you lift up any confessions, worries, praises and supplications, in deep surrender to our transcendent, all-powerful and personal God. Jesus Himself in Matthew 6 reminds us to examine our hearts when we pray, and warns us all to not turn the act of praying into a show.
And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites. For they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men. Truly I tell you, they already have their full reward. But when you pray, go into your inner room, shut your door, and pray to your Father, who is unseen. And your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.
And when you pray, do not babble on like pagans, for they think that by their many words they will be heard. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask Him. (Matt 6:5-8)
As you can see here, Jesus stresses that God values authentic, humble submission to Him. We are not elevating ourselves when we pray or sing praises in worship, but instead we elevate God. God does not care if you are the most gifted speaker, or if you use beautiful descriptive words in your prayers. What matters, rather, is our attitudes towards our heavenly Father: the humility that we display in recognising our place as depraved human beings under His power and His authority, whilst knowing that in the midst of such deprivation we are still deeply loved and cared for by Him.
Knowing that we can pray to God with our brothers and sisters should give us joy, peace and strength (Psalm 133:1-3, Matthew 18:19-20, Acts 4:31). Therefore, whenever we feel anxiety welling up when we pray in front of people, we ought to ask ourselves whether we have forgotten the purpose of prayer: why we are praying and to whom we are praying to?
So then, during corporate prayer, be okay with stumbling over words, be okay with the moments when you are lost for words. If you see a brother or a sister feeling anxious or nervous when praying, give them some encouragement and support. Some practical suggestions for encouragement that I have seen for girls are to hold a sister’s hand as she prays. For guys, I suggest that to maybe place a hand on the shoulder, and murmuring in agreement could help quieten down the heart and mind and reinvoke the deep sense of unity that is amongst us, working as a body of Christ to submit to the will of God. Last but not least, pray for the Spirit to give you the strength and the words that you need, and redirect the focus back to God. For as mentioned in Romans 8:26: ‘In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans.’
In a world that glorifies competence, strength, intellect and other abilities, it is essential to recognise and remember that our weaknesses are what God will use to help us remember our complete dependence on Him for His providence and to refine our trust in Him. Let’s continue to remind and encourage each other of these truths during Prayer and Praise night :).
See you all soon.