OK. Yes, I’m a pastor, and pastors pray in public. A lot.
And of course, prayer matters. Naturally, I pray on a regular basis and in public gatherings all the time (like at every church service). So, let me be clear, there is absolutely nothing wrong with praying in a group. In fact, it can be a bonding experience. I know it can be healthy and good.
But I live with a prayer tension because I’d rather pray alone.
In case you’re wondering, my preference isn’t based on any fear of praying in public and has nothing to do with being worried about looking or sounding good. I just prefer my prayer closet (which sometimes is alone in nature) to praying on a stage or even in a small group.
First, I think it’s too easy to talk (or preach) to others under the guise of talking to God. We preachers do this all the time. Supposedly we’re praying to God, but it sounds more like a recap of our message. Frankly, it’s too easy to blather on and on in what becomes a sermon rehash rather than have a true and meaningful conversation with God.
Then, of course, there’s the tendency to use prayer as a motivational tool to get people to do something we want them to do.
“Our gracious God and Heavenly Father, thank you that these extremely blessed saints of God, who have soooo much, will be used by You in glorious ways to help those who have soooo little.” (Guilt. Shame. You can pass the plates now.)
Both of the above reasons are issues for me. But here’s the biggest reason why I struggle with open and communal prayer: Public intimacy is embarrassing.
Passionate praying in public feels a little like watching your mom and dad romantically kiss on the church steps. Eww. For heaven’s sake, get a room.
You see, when I pray to the Father, it’s real. It’s raw. It’s personal. I say things to God I don’t want you to hear. Ever. I express myself to Him in ways that are intimate and private. Trust me; you would be embarrassed if you saw me (sometimes I dance) or heard me (sometimes I wail).
My most powerful and most personal moments are times when I am alone—very alone—with God in prayer.
In those intimate moments, I’m not thinking about what you think. I’m not concerned with what kind of impression I’m making on you. I might be praying for you, but it’s done in a way that is from my heart to the Father’s heart.
Unfiltered. Unhindered. Uninhibited
Without question, the early church prayed together in public (Acts 12:5). However, in their culture, that typically didn’t mean one person prayed while everybody else listened. They generally all prayed together and at the same time.
But apparently, it was His regular practice to withdraw alone to pray (Mark 6:46; Luke 5:16). And on His worst night ever, in the Garden of Gethsemane, He withdrew three times to pray all by Himself (Matthew 26).
In fact, Jesus strongly challenged His disciples to be careful about praying in public. He warned them to not seek the accolades of men, but to go into a private room (e.g., prayer closet) and to pray in secret to the Father (Matthew 6:6).
So, here’s the deal…
I’ll continue to pray in public. There’s absolutely nothing wrong about praying with others. Jesus did; I still will.
And when I do, I’ll try my best to keep it real.
But above all, I still desire to be alone with God so that I can experience the level of intimacy I long for in my relationship with Him.
For me, private and passionate prayer is intimate and deeply personal. And public prayer is…well…just a bit too public for me.
That’s why I think it’s always best to pray more in private (besides, you don’t want to see me dance; trust me on that one).
“Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.”
LUKE 5:16 (NIV)
This article originally appeared here.