Vol. 8, No. 11
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There are two settings for prayer; private and public. Prayer is speaking to God through Jesus Christ, for he is our Mediator with God (Hebrews 12:24) and our High Priest (Hebrews 9:11; 8:1).
Private, individual, prayer is encouraged by Jesus. "But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut the door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly" (Matthew 6:6). Jesus often prayed in private. "And when he had sent the multitudes away, he went up into a mountain apart to pray: and when evening was come, he was there alone" (Matthew 14:25). Jesus found that being alone with God had rewards, and took of them often.
Shouldn't we? Surely. For this is a time when we can relate our every care to God, including those cares that we would not speak of in public. God is there and he listens when we pray through Christ. Private prayer is private, and remains so unless God has answered prayer in an obvious manner, or the one praying relates it to others. The apostle Peter said, "Casting all your care upon him; for he careth for you" (1 Peter 5:7). God does care about his people. The apostle Paul stated, "Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus" (Philippians 4:6-7). Paul is telling the Christian that with God and Christ in his corner there is nothing to fear for with them it will work out for one's good.
Further, some do not like to pray in public fearing the words they use will not be acceptable to those hearing them. In private prayer one can use his ordinary everyday language, which should also be the case in public prayer, for God will like that. Flowery and eloquent words are not needed for God. And as Paul said, one can make every request and every need that one sees in his or her life known to God and he will hear. In these foregoing passages we see the need and value of private prayer.
Public prayer is different in some ways. A public prayer is not likely to name every person in that congregation that needs prayer. The one leading prayer just will not know of all that need prayer. It may cover every member through general requests, however. Public prayer is likely to mention rulers, soldiers in war, people suffering from a natural disaster and the like, where nearly all of the requests are general. That impresses people whether the requests are sincere or not. The prayer leader will likely be more careful in word choice, and thus may not represent faithfully true supplications and thanks. Public prayers may not be heard by everyone present, thus those not hearing are not participating in that prayer except by silent assent, or praying separately.
James 5:13-25 describes prayers that can be public or private depending on your view of what James is describing. Calling the elders to pray over a sick person is private in the sense that it is not at church but in a home or hospital room. In verse 13, he instructs any that are afflicted to pray, meaning a private prayer by the one afflicted.
Jesus warns away from a danger in public prayer, stating, "And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, they have their reward" (Matthew 6:5). That can be true for church public prayers also. The frequency of public prayers at church may also make a commonness of them that can become ritual in nature without the sincerity, urgency and fervency that is needed. The reward for them is that of being seen of men. Praying in private or public should not be taken lightly. God wants to hear our cares and our needs. He loves his own and wants to care for them. But prayer should be simple giving thanks to God and making requests. Long drawn out prayers are not needed, and neither are flowery words.
For each Christian, prayer should be once a day at least. That is not ordinarily done by churches for their services are usually fewer than daily services. Individual Christians can give thanks, and ask for needs for self and for any others he or she may know about at any time. And in private prayer one can pray for the soul of another, of one's coming to Christ, for specific individuals that they may not want mentioned for public prayer. Prayer is important, and since it is talking with God through Christ, it should be treated very seriously.