Prayer in Public
I have nothing against prayer in public. As a matter of fact, I have nothing against prayer anywhere. I pray often myself. But its is usually in my head, not spoken words. Unless of course I am praying for someone or with someone.
What prompted this post was a book I am reading titled Amish Grace-How Foregiveness Transcended Tragedy. It is the story of the shooting and murder that occurred at a one room Amish School in Nickel Mines, PA on October 2, 2006. Five Amish schoolgirls died that day and five others were seriously wounded by a lone deranged gunman, who killed himself when the State Troopers stormed the building. The book is really not about the massacre that took place, but the forgiveness that the Amish people gave to the family of the gunman. These people gave loving support to the gunmans widow and family and even attended the gunman's funeral. Could I forgive like that? I can only hope so.
Anyhow...to the subject of prayer. Chapter one of the book is titled The Nickel Mines Amish and it basically describes their way of life and their religious beliefs. Here is a brief excerpt...
Taking their cues from the Bible, the Amish have long declined the media spotlight, preferring to live quietly and privately. They take seriously Jesus' words, "Take heed that ye do not your alms before men, to be seen of them...do not sound a trumpet before thee, as the hypocrites do...let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth....And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they may be seen of men" (emphasis added). These verses from Chapter Six of Matthew's Gospel appear right before the Lord's Prayer, the model prayer that Jesus taught his disciples. The instruction is clear: do not practice your religion in public to show off your piety. Practice your faith privately, and your Father in heaven will reward you.
Here is Matthew 6:5-15 in the NIV version
5"And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. 6But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. 7And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. 8Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.
9"This, then, is how you should pray:
" 'Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, 10your kingdom come, your will be done
on earth as it is in heaven. 11Give us today our daily bread. 12Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. 13And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.' 14For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 15But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.
And my favorite version of the Bible-The Message
Pray with Simplicity
5"And when you come before God, don't turn that into a theatrical production either. All these people making a regular show out of their prayers, hoping for stardom! Do you think God sits in a box seat?
6"Here's what I want you to do: Find a quiet, secluded place so you won't be tempted to role-play before God. Just be there as simply and honestly as you can manage. The focus will shift from you to God, and you will begin to sense his grace.
7-13"The world is full of so-called prayer warriors who are prayer-ignorant. They're full of formulas and programs and advice, peddling techniques for getting what you want from God. Don't fall for that nonsense. This is your Father you are dealing with, and he knows better than you what you need. With a God like this loving you, you can pray very simply. Like this: Our Father in heaven, Reveal who you are. Set the world right; Do what's best— as above, so below. Keep us alive with three square meals. Keep us forgiven with you and forgiving others. Keep us safe from ourselves and the Devil. You're in charge! You can do anything you want! You're ablaze in beauty! Yes. Yes. Yes.
14-15"In prayer there is a connection between what God does and what you do. You can't get forgiveness from God, for instance, without also forgiving others. If you refuse to do your part, you cut yourself off from God's part.
I remember several years ago when my wife and I were Youth Pastors and we were out with the youth group. We had stopped to eat at a fast food joint and one of the youth announced to the entire place to "bow their heads as we pray for our meal". I was very angry after that and brought up this passage in the Bible to this person. I have no problem if this person would have just said this to our group, but I know this person well, and it was done for shock value.
Again, please don't misunderstand me. I have no problem with people praying in public at their own table and with their own group. I've done it myself. But what I do have a problem with is imposing beliefs on others that may not believe the way you do.