Last month I read a good book on prayer, A Praying Life by Paul Miller. One of the things he said is we should come to God like a little child, and say exactly what is on our minds. Often we don't do that because we think we need to pray "correctly." He also says prayer is often the last bastion of legalism. But if we don't pray what is really on our hearts, then the real us does not meet the real God.
If Paul Miller is right that prayer is relating to God like a child, telling him exactly what we feel and think, where then is the place for public prayer? How can we present to God the secrets of our hearts in the same room with several others, some of whom may be good friends, but some are merely acquaintances? Are fellow Christians mere acquaintances? Are we not brothers and sisters? Yet in our present condition, where it is hard enough to tell God honestly what is on our hearts, when it is hard to tell our spouses and dearest friends absolutely everything, is it not realistic to feel that adding the presence of brothers and sisters that we do not know well is going to increase the difficulty of being honest before God? I’d say that group prayer with people we have not yet learned to be close with is the last bastion of the last bastion of legalism, the last place to keep saying what people expect us to say instead of what’s really on our hearts.
But public prayers and praises obviously have their place. The Psalms were written to be performed in the
Temple. Psalm 22 is a personal heart cry to
God, but it was written as a choral piece. “To the Choirmaster” the beginning
says, “according to the Dove of the Dawn”. How many times do you think the
choir had to rehearse David’s heart cry to God before they got it right? Maybe
Dove of the Dawn was one of those hard tunes with lots of sharps and flats and
key changes in the middle.
What could happen if we in groups bared our hearts before God, as David did? One wouldn’t have to reveal confidential details. We know little of why David felt abandoned when he wrote Psalm 22, he just says he felt abandoned.
Maybe we think we ought to model “proper” prayer, prayer that is positive and uplifting, not negative. But what is more proper and more uplifting than the confidence of knowing we can lay our hearts bare before God, telling him exactly what we feel, for he already knows it anyway even when we don’t tell him. If “Proper” prayer becomes laying the hearts we think we should have before God, rather than the hearts we have, it is a deception.