What I Believe About Corporate Prayer

Let me begin, by saying I am not at all against praying aloud in public. There are several examples of this in the Bible. Solomon almost certainly prayed this way, when he dedicated the temple in 1 Kings 8:22-61. Jesus evidently made brief public prayers of thanks before meals (e.g. Luke 9:16). In Acts 4:24ff., someone apparently led the congregation in loud, public prayer, representing the unified concerns and needs of the entire persecuted church (see more below). 

Though He publicly acknowledged it wasn’t necessary for God to hear Him, Jesus prayed out loud and in front of people, when it was necessary for them to hear it (e.g. John 11:41-42; John 17). This may be comparable to  public dedicatory prayers we make today. It may apply to prayer before meals, prayers on behalf of the whole congregation, such as before or after a sermon, Sunday school lesson, or in times of persecution or need. 

While I acknowledge it’s Biblical to pray out loud in public on various occasions, it is also my understanding that the normal standard for prayer is to pray in secret. Multiple considerations from the Bible and personal experience seem to support this view:

1.     1. Jesus commanded us to pray in secret:

A. Jesus instructed us not to pray like the hypocrites:

“And when you pray, you shall not be like the hypocrites. For they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the corners of the streets, that they may be seen by men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. (Matthew 6:5, NKJV) 

B. Jesus instructed us to pray in secret:

But you, when you pray, go into your room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in the secret place; (Matthew 6:6a) 

C. God hears and rewards us when we pray in secret:

“…and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly.” (Matthew 6:6, NKJV)

Some look at these passages, and conclude it’s only talking about your motive. As long as you don’t pray for the purpose of being seen by men, that’s all that matters. Certainly, we should pray with the right motives, especially if it’s to be heard by God, rather than to be recognized by men. On the other hand, if the Bible is only concerned about motives, and not at all about how we actually go about praying, why did Jesus also instruct people to pray in secret? Why wouldn’t He just have told them to make sure they pray with the right motives? I believe motives are important, and that Jesus also generally wants us to pray in secret.

       2. Jesus’ custom was private prayer:

“Coming out, He went to the Mount of Olives, as He was accustomed, and His disciples also followed Him. When He came to the place, He said to them, “Pray that you may not enter into temptation.” And He was withdrawn from them about a stone’s throw, and He knelt down and prayed…” (Luke 22:39–41, NKJV)

Then Jesus came with them to a place called Gethsemane, and said to the disciples, “Sit here while I go and pray over there.”” (Matthew 26:36, NKJV)

Then He came to the disciples and found them sleeping, and said to Peter, “What! Could you not watch with Me one hour?”” (Matthew 26:40–41, NKJV)

A.  Jesus instructed the disciples what to pray for (that they enter not into temptation). This allowed them to pray "with" each other, even when praying from separate locations.

B.  Jesus moved to a different location to pray (a “stone’s throw” away).

C.  Jesus confronted the sleeping disciples for not praying “with” Him, even though they were praying from separate locations. 

Conclusion: You pray “with” someone, by praying for the same thing they’re praying for, and perhaps at the same time they're praying, not necessarily by praying in the same location, or praying out-loud in their immediate presence. 

      3. The disciples had to ask Jesus how to pray:

“Now Jesus was praying in a certain place, and when he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.”” (Luke 11:1, ESV)

A.  The disciples were evidently aware that Jesus was praying, but not how He was praying. Had He been in the custom of regularly praying out loud in front of them, why would they not already have understood how to pray, from hearing His regular examples?

B.  When Jesus taught them to pray, He did not reference His previous prayers before them, or then teach them by praying out loud in front of them. Rather, He explained to them how they should pray, saying, “when you pray”:

So He said to them, “When you pray, say: Our Father in heaven, Hallowed be Your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done On earth as it is in heaven. Give us day by day our daily bread. And forgive us our sins, For we also forgive everyone who is indebted to us. And do not lead us into temptation, But deliver us from the evil one.”” (Luke 11:2–4, NKJV) 

Conclusion: Jesus was not in the habit of praying out loud in front of His disciples, or else they wouldn’t have had to ask Him to teach them how to pray. They would already have known by His example.

      4. Jesus’ few public prayers were necessary for others to hear:

“Then they took away the stone from the place where the dead man was lying. And Jesus lifted up His eyes and said, “Father, I thank You that You have heard Me. And I know that You always hear Me, but because of the people who are standing by I said this, that they may believe that You sent Me.”” (John 11:41–42, NKJV)

But now I come to You, and these things I speak in the world, that they may have My joy fulfilled in themselves.” (John 17:13, NKJV)

Conclusion: Public, out-loud prayers are not necessarily wrong, but they’re evidently not the norm for Jesus. They seem to be reserved for when it’s necessary for others to hear them.

 5. The Bible teaches us to breathe prayers:

“Then the king said to me, “What do you request?” So I prayed to the God of heaven. And I said to the king…” (Nehemiah 2:4–5, NKJV)

“…pray without ceasing,” (1 Thessalonians 5:16–17, NKJV)

What does breathing prayers and praying without ceasing have to do with praying out loud in public? If you’re walking in fellowship with God throughout the day, you will already have prayed for every need you were aware of, at the moment you became aware of it. Why would people wait till they’re in public to thank God for rain that fell two days ago, or to pray for needs they already knew about? 

      6. Acts 4:24 most likely refers to one person leading the whole congregation in prayer:

So when they heard that, they raised their voice to God with one accord and said: “Lord, You are God, who made heaven and earth and the sea, and all that is in them…” (Acts 4:24, NKJV)

On this passage, PNTC observes,

“It is most likely that one person prayed in the name of the whole company, expressing the convictions and concerns of all”.[1]

The NAC states

That they offered an occasional prayer of this nature in unison is unlikely. Luke was simply expressing that the whole community joined together in this prayer.[2]

And Lenski convincingly notes:

The view that the plural conveys the idea that all those present actually spoke the prayer aloud in unison is as untenable as to think that in v. 19 Peter and John spoke in unison. Some even state that this prayer had been composed and committed to memory some days before, and that it was a general prayer without special reference to what had just occurred. But this view is plainly contradicted by v. 29: “look upon their threats,” which clearly refers to v. 17 and 21; and by v. 30: “while thou stretchest forth thy hand for healings,” which certainly refers to the healing of the lame man on the previous afternoon. No; we discard such literalism. Luke evidently means that one of the apostles uttered the prayer, and that all the apostles lifted up their voice and spoke through his voice and his words. We pray in the same manner. The pastor’s voice is the voice of the entire congregation speaking to God.[3]

      7. Private prayer maximizes time praying:

If everyone prays individually, and silently to God, you can have 25 minutes of prayer, multiplied by the number of people who are there. For example, 30 people praying silently for 25 minutes equals 750 minutes of prayer (30 x 25 = 750). The same 30 people divided into groups of three, would reduce prayer time to 8.3 minutes per person, or 250 minutes of total prayer time. 

      8. Private prayer promotes order and concentration:

      When you have multiple people speaking out loud in the same room, it becomes difficult to concentrate on your prayer, or to give God your undivided attention. It’s like the problem in Corinth, when multiple people were speaking in tongues at the same time (1 Corinthians 14). Paul concluded that God is a God of order, and that if we are to have an edifying time of worship, we need to have one person speaking at a time. 

      9.  Private prayer reduces temptation to pray hypocritically:

      Jesus contrasted private prayer with the hypocritical prayer of the religious leaders. They loved to pray in public, so they could be seen by men. When I pray out loud with others, I'm more tempted to think about what kind of prayers they would approve of, rather than what God would approve of, or to engage in competitive prayers.

10. Private prayer can increase your reward: 

Jesus said those who pray to be seen praying by men, have received their reward in full. Those who pray in secret, however, will be rewarded by God (Matthew 6). This is not to say that if anyone prays in public, they will not be rewarded, just that there is a greater temptation and possibility of losing your reward for prayer, when you pray out-loud before men. 

Conclusion

If you're praying out-loud, I'm not judging you. I support the prayer ministry of the church, whether public or private. For me, individual, private prayer seems to follow Jesus' norm. It also maximizes the amount of time that prayer can be offered to God. It promotes focused, undistracted, orderly, and edifying prayers. It also helps reduce the temptation to make hypocritical prayers for recognition from men, and to ensure God will reward us for time we spend in prayer. For these reasons, during corporate prayer, it is my desire to pray “with” the church, yet privately, and in a separate area, just as Jesus did. I'm not against those who want to pray out loud in other's hearing, but don't personally feel comfortable with it as a staple for prayer meetings. The Bible and my conscience are telling me to pray in secret.



[1] David G. Peterson, The Acts of the Apostles, The Pillar New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI; Nottingham, England: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2009), 198.

[2] John B. Polhill, Acts, vol. 26, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1992), 148.

[3] R. C. H. Lenski, The Interpretation of the Acts of the Apostles (Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Publishing House, 1961), 177.

Photo by Tima Miroshnichenko from Pexels

No comments