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public prayerMy friend Lynn and I just finished teaching a class on prayer at Florissant Presbyterian Church.  Talking about prayer to other people is a breeze.  Praying out loud in front of them?  Not so breezy.

Lynn is really good at praying in public.  Really good.  Fortunately, she was on board with helping me learn.  We opened each class with a time to share Joys and Concerns.  Then Lynn would read a devotional that ended with a prayer.  After that prayer, she’d dump the next part on me.

That’s how it felt in the beginning.  This second prayer is always about the joys and concerns.  I stumbled over the notes I had taken as I prayed over whatever everyone had shared.  This ranged from children looking for work or a new home to friends and relatives who were sick. Sometimes we pray for the family members of someone who had died.  Joys include travel, new jobs, a new baby or a new home.

I’d love to say that by the end of two months, I was smooth as silk.  I’d love to say that, but it wouldn’t be entirely true.  I’m still not nearly as good as Lynn but here are three things I learned.

  1. Bring a prayer. If you know you are going to have to pray in public, you can always write something ahead of time. No, it isn’t cheating. Congregational prayers that are printed in church bulletins so that we can read them together are written ahead of time. You can do it too.
  2. Take notes.  If this is an impromptu prayer, such as praying over joys and concerns, you can’t prepare ahead of time, but you can take notes.  Trying to remember all the names as you pray before the group will just make you nervous.  Write down names and a few details.  Group like requests (illness, births, travel, etc.) together to help keep your thoughts organized.
  3. Be yourself.  Do not compare yourself to anyone else.  Lynn intimidates me without even trying.  But I’ve learned that I can give a prayer that is short and sweet and to the point.  Sure, other people might work in literary references and talk for five minutes or more.  That’s not my style and that’s okay.

I’m not going to lie to you and say that praying in public is easy.  That said, I no longer feel like I’m walking the plank. For me, I think that a big part of it was getting over the fact that I don’t do it the same way other people do it.

But that’s okay.  It’s what you are going to get whenever you ask me to talk to someone on your behalf.  Family, friend or God, the conversation is going to be direct, simple and to the point.



I’m still trying to bloom into public prayer (photo by SueBE)

I’m sure you’ve known someone like this – when they pray in public, they PRAY. They wax eloquent and they often have quite a bit to say.

Not that that’s a bad thing.

For some time, I’ve felt that I need to learn to pray in public, but prayer for me is very quiet and very personal. Praying out loud in front of other people is just about as comfortable as public nudity. Note: I am descended from Puritans; that should tell you all you need to know about the nudity issue.

What does this have to do with another person’s prayerful eloquence?

I am, in one word, intimidated. Even when I pray in private, my prayers are brief. I praise, I thank and I plead. And, in just about that many words, I am done. After I hear someone wax on, I find myself more reluctant than ever to pray in public. I simply cannot do it as well as she does.

I’m not envious – I feel sure of this because I don’t want to do it her way. The problem is that I’m judging myself. I see her way as good and right and anything that I might pull together is, in comparison, woefully inadequate.

Not that I believe that this is God’s judgement. He made me. He knows I’m short spoken. That isn’t what I feel called to change. What I need to change is my unwillingness to pray in public.

Step one? Convincing myself that my brief prayers are ok. But I think I’m on my way. This week, I’ve noted several brief prayers that other people have cast up:

They are all short and sweet and to the point. And they speak to me. Certainly if those who are so eloquent can offer up brief prayers, I can do the same.

Step two? Convincing myself that I can do it in front of others.



Please don’t let me be intimidated
by the prayerful eloquence,
imagined judgement,
or simple presence of those around me.

Let me offer up my words,
brief as they may be.
In so doing I can help
another move closer
to You
even as I move closer myself.



A couple of weeks ago, a friend told a group of us that she was about to begin treatment for lung cancer. I wasn’t entirely surprised, she had been plagued by a persistent cough, but I still didn’t know what to say. But I wasn’t the only one. Another friend looked like he was about to be sick, panicked and desperate. Fortunately, we weren’t the only two there. Yet another friend, a true God send, asked everyone to join hands while he offered up a prayer.

Even in less frightening circumstances, public prayer is tough. In part, I think this comes from what we think of when someone says public prayer.

For my part, I think of the prayers that I hear in worship services. Long, eloquent and flowing, they express a variety of deep, poetic sentiments.

How do I politely say this? I’m not particularly poetic when I have scads of time to think about something. There is no way I can do it off the cuff, but that’s okay. Because you pastor isn’t doing it off the cuff either. She’s prepared her words ahead of time. My clue? Often the prayers are printed in the bulletin. And the prayers that the liturgist offers up? Also printed out for him to read.

Those are planned prayers. When you are called on to offer up an unplanned public prayer, the most important thing is that it comes from the heart. Remember the saying “from your mouth to God’s ears”? This is one of those situations.

Here are some tips:

1.  Remember that you are speaking for the group. Pray in first person plural.
Lord, We come before you . . .

2.  Something specific has probably motivated you to pray. Mention it.
. . . to ask for comfort for Sally (name changed) as she faces radiation therapy. . .

3.  Put what is going on in a Biblical context if possible.
. . . Just as you healed the leper, be there for Sally. Offer her your comfort and your healing Grace. . .

4.  Say thank you.
. . . We thank you in Jesus name . . .

5.  Be yourself. How do you normally pray? Short and sweet? Then that’s what you need to do here as well.
. . . Amen

Really, that’s all there is to it. And if you get dizzy and queasy and sweaty? Sit down and put your head between your knees. It too shall pass.


Have a Mary Little Christmas

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