And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people.
Unfortunately, some of us have gotten the idea that prayer is supposed to be an intense and acrobatic activity meant to impress God and other people. There are some people who, having spent time observing public prayer performances, feel that their own prayer performances are not as good as the performances of other people. Feeling inadequate, these people give up praying themselves and leave the praying to others. For them, prayer becomes a spectator sport. If they feel a personal need for prayer, they make a prayer request and wait for someone else to pray.
Spectator sports can be great. I love to watch gymnastics, especially in the Olympics. It’s thrilling to see young athletes who are disciplined and practiced doing remarkable feats. I would be alarmed, however, if those same gymnasts approached me at a party doing hand springs in my direction. Agility is great, but somersaults and cartwheels do not belong at a dinner party.
God chose the image of an intimate meal together to describe the type of fellowship He desires with us. He is not impressed by performance. God does not want to be entertained, and he doesn’t want us to use our time with Him to entertain others either.
One Sunday morning, the pastor of a church where my family was visiting graciously invited me to conclude a worship service with prayer. Paul, my oldest son, commented later that my prayer was probably the longest prayer those people had ever heard.
I wasn’t trying to preach, but apparently, since I hadn’t gotten to preach that morning, my prayer reflected Jesus’ words, “out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks.” My son made me aware that perhaps my prayer wasn’t within the bounds of what was being asked of me.
When we are given the special privilege and responsibility of leading others in prayer, our prayer should be for the benefit of the other worshippers as well as for the deepening of our own personal relationship with God. While public prayer may be planned or spontaneous (as mine was on this particular Sunday morning), the goal is God’s glory. Our motive in praying is the key issue regardless of whether we pray in public or in private.
However, for every Pharisee who uses public prayer to appear spiritual, there is a secret-agent Christian who is determined to blend into the secular scene. Their prayers over meals in public restaurants are reduced to a brief scratching of the forehead. Of course, we should not take it upon ourselves to interrupt the mealtime of those around us by standing on the table or speaking in an unnaturally loud tone of voice as we pray. But it is just as absurd, while conversing with others at our table, to suddenly lapse silent for prayer or to revert to whispers, as if we were ashamed of the One we profess to love more than anyone else in the world.
As to the length of prayers—it should be a warning if our public prayers are consistently longer than our private prayers. God hates hypocrisy and will not listen to the speeches we make in order to sound spiritual. Jesus warns against praying at length in order to impress. In fact, brief prayers can sometimes be far better. Martin Luther is quoted as saying, “The fewer the words, the better the prayer.” Sincerity is far more important than eloquence.
The apostle Paul tells us to “pray without ceasing.” God is with us wherever we are. God expects ongoing intimate conversation to be a normal part of our relationship with Him.
God desires intimacy with you. He wants to make your life meaningful. He wants to fill you with peace. He wants to give you joy inexpressible and full of glory. God made you and He wants what is best for you. Are you prepared to set aside unhurried time and learn to focus your thoughts and intentions on honestly speaking with your Father and then listening to what He has to say to you?