Is it acceptable to pray audibly in a group setting or must all prayer be private? We have someone in our men’s Bible study that claims that prayer must be “prayer closet” prayer. We have approached this question with love as brothers in Christ. Thank you, yours in Christ.
Matthew 6:1-13 says, “Take heed that ye do not your alms before men, to be seen of them: otherwise ye have no reward of your Father which is in heaven. Therefore when thou doest thine alms, do not sound a trumpet before thee, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. But when thou doest alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth: That thine alms may be in secret: and thy Father which seeth in secret himself shall reward thee openly. 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. But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly. But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking. Be not ye therefore like unto them: for your Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask him. After this manner therefore pray ye: Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen.”
The whole thrust of that passage is to not do spiritual things just for a show to others. Whether it is giving money, or whether it is praying. If this passage forbids all praying in public, then the Supreme Court of the United States just made the right decision in barring all prayer from public school events! But we know that their decision was not wise.
If the above passage forbids all praying in public, then it also forbids all giving in public. That would mean that churches could no longer take up offerings, because that would be “giving in public” (other people could see if you were giving or not). A church could not even leave a box or basket anywhere to receive offerings, because it would still be “in public.”
A helpful passage here would be Mark 12:38-44, which says, “And he said unto them in his doctrine, Beware of the scribes, which love to go in long clothing, and love salutations in the marketplaces, And the chief seats in the synagogues, and the uppermost rooms at feasts: Which devour widows’ houses, and for a pretence make long prayers: these shall receive greater damnation. And Jesus sat over against the treasury, and beheld how the people cast money into the treasury: and many that were rich cast in much. And there came a certain poor widow, and she threw in two mites, which make a farthing. And he called unto him his disciples, and saith unto them, Verily I say unto you, That this poor widow hath cast more in, than all they which have cast into the treasury: For all they did cast in of their abundance; but she of her want did cast in all that she had, even all her living.”
Notice, once again, that the emphasis is on the “outward show.” “And he said unto them in his doctrine, Beware of the scribes, which love to go in long clothing, and love salutations in the marketplaces, And the chief seats in the synagogues, and the uppermost rooms at feasts.” These are all things done in public for a show in front of other people.
The giving of offerings is public, because Jesus is watching them. “And Jesus sat over against the treasury, and beheld how the people cast money into the treasury.” Notice that Jesus did not condemn the fact that the offerings were public, but the “show” of some of them that were giving. “And Jesus sat over against the treasury, and beheld how the people cast money into the treasury: and many that were rich cast in much. And there came a certain poor widow, and she threw in two mites, which make a farthing.”
Notice that the people were not depositing bags of money into the “drive-thru” drawer at the bank. Nor were they just depositing envelopes into the top of a chest with a slot in it. They were not giving “bags” or “envelopes” of money. If they were, then no one would have known how much they were giving. They were dropping the coins, one-by-one into the treasury. Jesus could clearly see how many coins the widow dropped in (two), and He could tell what the coins were (mites). That also means that the Lord could see the size, type, and number of the coins that the rich men were casting into the treasury. He thus knew that they were giving a lot: “…many that were rich cast in much.”
The rich men were obviously wanting all to know how much they were giving. They probably slowly deposited those larger coins, so everyone could see what they were dropping into the treasury. Or, they may have used smaller coins, and dropped in a great number of them. After all, if the line was being held up for some time, people would begin to see what was taking so long. Then, they would see the man up there dropping in coin, after coin, after coin. But it was all for a show, so that others would be impressed.
Prayer in public can be the same way. People that pray very little privately, may make very long prayers in public. If so, then it is just for show.
Praying is public is not wrong, because Jesus Himself prayed in public. John 11:41-44 says, “Then they took away the stone from the place where the dead was laid. And Jesus lifted up his eyes, and said, Father, I thank thee that thou hast heard me. And I knew that thou hearest me always: but because of the people which stand by I said it, that they may believe that thou hast sent me. And when he thus had spoken, he cried with a loud voice, Lazarus, come forth. And he that was dead came forth, bound hand and foot with graveclothes: and his face was bound about with a napkin. Jesus saith unto them, Loose him, and let him go.” Matthew 26:26-29 says, “And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and blessed it, and brake it, and gave it to the disciples, and said, Take, eat; this is my body. And he took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, Drink ye all of it; For this is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins. But I say unto you, I will not drink henceforth of this fruit of the vine, until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.” Jesus prayed there in public before partaking of the Lord’s Supper.
A good rule of thumb is to keep your longer prayers for secret, and to keep your public prayers on the shorter side.