So waaaay back on January 14th, I wrote the first installment of this “short” study – Tim Tebow and Praying in Public. As a recap, at the time the media and some of my friends on Facebook were giving a lot of attention to the “Tebow” sensation since it was before the Super Bowl and the Denver Broncos were competing to land a spot in the big game. One result of this attention was a friend of a friend on Facebook, someone who I don’t even know, posed the question whether or not it was Biblical for Tim Tebow to be praying publicly. Up until that point I really hadn’t thought anything except for how awesome it was that God was getting attention this way and it was exciting to me that people were being inspired to pray, even if it was in the “Tebow” position….It dawned on me, however, that if one person was asking this question there had to be more. It also was evident that although I had my own opinion, that to be able to identify what God has to say about public prayer we’d have to find out by reading the Bible – caption obvious (: – yet it is a wonder how many times this most important step gets skipped!
It may be that the “study the Bible” portion of decision and conclusion making is skipped due to the time it requires! However, if we make a habit of hiding God’s word in our hearts and through study, meditation and memorization a bit at a time on a daily basis then we won’t always have to spend days and hours searching the scripture for a Biblical conclusion. The reason I noticed that the discussion on Facebook was based on verses being taken out of context was because of scripture memory! Between January and February I looked up the word “pray”, “prayer” and “prayed” using the Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance online. Of course prayer literally fills God’s Word from beginning to end so I’m sure I missed some verses but for what I did find I classified by type such as public prayer, intercession, supplication, praise etc. I’m most definitely sure that this list of verses on prayer will come in handy for future studies and save a LOT of time! After gathering the list I started looking each public prayer passage up, reading and noting my observations – nothing tricky here, simply the who, what, when, where, why and how* that is plainly revealed in the text as well as significant contextual notes. I read and gathered these important observations not only from the single verse that listed the word “prayer” alone but also from the text around it, often the entire chapter as well as the surrounding chapters! The reason being is it is sooooo important to take verses in context. A verse stripped down to itself with no context of the place, the audience, etc. can be easily manipulated to mean something totally different than if you read the circumstance and words the verse is set in. Furthermore, the reason why I took the time to look up a LOT of verses on public prayer is to also take the passages in one book of the Bible in context with all of the other verses and chapters in the rest of the ENTIRE Bible. There is never a time when the Bible contradicts itself, instead the verses must be taken in context with each other before a conclusion is made.
To follow along I highly encourage you to print out the public prayer observations. I copied and pasted them into a word document and set the right margin at a couple of inches so I had room to jot down notes next to each passage. I was looking for commonalities between them as well as what the motivation for the prayer was and they why/what for each prayer.
The public prayer’s were (one or more of the public prayers fall under each of the descriptors below):
- On behalf of the group present
- Were supplications made with a humble motive and as an act of trust by a leader
- Praise and worship at the manifestation of God’s presence, power and/or a miracle
- Confession on behalf of or as a group
- Seeking God, making a commitment to the Lord as a group, prayers made by leaders
- Prayers of thanksgiving
- Prayers for guidance and deliverance made by a leader on behalf of the people present and non-present
- Prayers for others (present), laying hands on them while praying for them
- Prayers made in public as an act of obedience, even when life put in potential danger because of the public prayer and devotion to God
- Prophetic prayers prompted by the Holy Spirit
- Prayers of submission to God’s will in the midst of public suffering
- Prayers of forgiveness in the midst of public suffering
The public prayers were commonly marked by:
- God’s glory – for HIS glory, God was glorified each and every time
- Humbleness before God
- Submission to God
- Genuine/pure motives
- Relevant and proper (within God’s will, not out of place, relevant to the people and situation)
- Faith (trust in God)
- Not about person praying but about God’s will – even in supplication, again with heart of submission
- Recognizing God’s sovereignty
We learn a lot about God too – God is glorified, honored revered and worshiped for who He is throughout the prayers made in public. Here is what we learn about God just from “listening” to these prayers.
Praying in public in and of itself is not right or wrong – what makes it right or wrong is whether or not it is God’s will and whether or not it is acted out according to God’s will (God leads our steps not only in the where but also in the when and how). As we see from the observation summation, all of the prayers throughout scripture brought glory to God and were relevant to the situation or people present – these are indicators of God’s will since God alone deserves the glory and He is not confusion. Even when the person’s physical well being was put in danger because of obedience in prayer (i.e. Daniel being thrown into the lions den) God was the one in control and God was glorified.
Matthew 6:1-18 really highlights the underlying issue – our motives. We humans are very deceptive by nature – and no matter how long we’ve been a Christian we are still susceptible to sin’s deceptive lies. Some sins common to man are the sins of self worship, self glorification and pride. Within religious circles a common way this sin is manifested is for us to seek gratification or satisfaction from the adoration of others as opposed to finding satisfaction in God alone. This sin can be thinly veiled or well concealed through religious acts such as giving, prayer, and fasting. It twists true forms of God worship into self worship. Since we are susceptible to this sin it is super important that we search our heart, ask God to search our hearts and open our eyes, and ask others to call us out. To combat the sin of our heart Jesus tells us not to do any act of righteousness to be seen be men – even to pray “behind closed doors” – our default unless otherwise led by the Holy Spirit.
Another note is that none of the public prayers I found in scripture were of private matters – they were all relevant. Even when Jesus cried out on the cross in agony as sin separated Him from the Father this separation was relevant to the sacrifice for our sin and to the audience of all time. Personal prayer time should take place everyday – it is a spiritual discipline and most definitely is between God and us in a private – “secret” place. Right after Jesus tells us to pray to God in our rooms with the door closed He gives us instruction on how to pray with some index sentences known as the Lord’s Prayer – our guideline for personal prayer time. Jesus would often withdraw from the public and from his disciples to pray to the Father for hours on end, even for entire nights. How vibrant is your personal prayer time – the drinking in of God’s spirit and eating of His body – the Word of God?
Throughout the book of John, Jesus – God incarnate, says he did not do or say anything on earth unless God expressly told Him to because He and the Father were one – He was God’s Word in living form. We of course our not – we are clay vessels that once redeemed from sin carry the Holy Spirit – representatives of the redemptive work of Jesus Christ who testify about God’s power. We, who do not know truth apart from the illumination of the Holy Spirit, should be careful then to strive not to act out of own hearts and understanding and instead to cling to God (Joshua 23:8) and let Him direct us through each action and each day. As Matthew 16:24 puts it, to pick up our cross and follow Him, or as As Galatians 5:16-17 and 24-26 say:
“But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do…And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.
Taking all of this together, God may at times lay upon your heart, through the motivation of the Holy Spirit to pray in a public manner or setting. Whether it is out loud in front of or on behalf of a few or a few thousand, for others through the laying of hand or even in a manner which publicizes your worship of God like Daniel. It is important to test your heart and your motives against the scriptures and to only act when commanded by God, with a humble heart that is submissive to God and recognizes His sovereignty. Whether or not it is Tim Tebow, me, or you, God alone is able to look into the hearts of man and He judges each man’s motives:
7 But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” 1 Samuel 16:7
*For more on Bible Study technique read Precept Ministries “Lord, teach me how to study the Bible in 28 Days” by Kay Arthur