I have come to the conclusion that some of us who lead in worship services or are asked to offer a public prayer at gatherings of some kind are at times caught up in the desire to be well spoken. We want to be assured that the people around us are able to hear us and are impressed with the way we pray, the words we use, and how good we sound.
We attended a church some time ago where it is the custom that one of the elders offers the pastoral prayer. Some of them bring a sheet of paper either with the prayer written out in full or else a card with some points to refer to and the names of people to be remembered in the prayer. That is my style as well. One time when we were there, the elder who prayed had no notes, and several people commented to me about what a great prayer he always offers, and someone mentioned how he prayed without having written anything down. I started to feel that my style was inferior, but then I remembered that to me, it almost appeared that he was talking to the people rather than to God.
This reminded me of a funeral that I once attended, where one the daughters of the deceased talked about her father. She mentioned a number of good things about him, including the fact that he always prayed at mealtime. One time, one of her aunts was visiting, and after the prayer, she told her brother, "I'm sure that it was a good prayer, but I did not understand a word of it." Her brother replied, "That's all right. I wasn't talking to you."
Jesus tells the parable of the two men who went to pray.
Luke 18:10-14 – Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, "God, I thank You that I am not like other men — extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess." And the tax collector, standing afar off, would not so much as raise his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, "God, be merciful to me a sinner!" I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted. (NKJV)
Jesus reminds us that we don't need long prayers; we don't need to impress those around us. It is good just to express our inner thoughts to God in simple prayer, whether privately or publicly.
Prayer: Our Father in heaven, when we are struggling to find words to thank You for the good things in our lives and to bring You our concerns, we pray that Your Spirit will guide us, and that all we say will be for Your glory and not ours. We ask it in Jesus' name. Amen.
Listen to this devotional
Listen while you read: "Jesus Thou Joy Of Loving Hearts" (Lyrics)