Praying Out Loud

Tangled Words and Quiet Beauty 

The Struggle

Have you experienced the challenge of praying out loud? Specifically, praying in the presence of other people? For some of us—perhaps for many of us—this can be one of the more uncomfortable moments in the life of faith, hearing the dreaded words: “Can you please close in prayer after the meeting…?”

As eyes close and hands fold, the heart pounds loudly in the chest. Words get tangled on a thick tongue, or the right words don’t come at all. You feel sure that you’ve said something deeply inappropriate or even heretical. From start to finish, the prayer feels artificial and forced. The person praying out loud is certain that those who are present have struggled to follow the prayer or to be encouraged by it, while it is doubtful that God has been at all pleased with these mangled petitions.

And somehow this struggle feels altogether wrong: as children of God, shouldn’t prayer come naturally to us? Shouldn’t prayer be something that we always delight in, also when we have the privilege of praying in the company of fellow believers? Why does praying out loud have to be such a struggle?

Dangerous Prayers

The situations in which we need to pray out loud are numerous and varied. Perhaps children get early practice with this activity in the home or in the classroom at school. Then when you start attending Bible study club, you might get a turn to pray at the beginning or end of the meeting. As we get older, there might be opportunities to pray out loud at consistory, or at a homevisit, or at a committee or board meeting, or at some other place where two or three or more of God’s people have gathered. And if God blesses you with a spouse, and with children, there will be daily opportunities to pray aloud, like together at the meal table or before bedtime.

I write about this topic not as a ‘praying professional,’ but as someone who has received many opportunities over the years to pray in the hearing of other people. For me, as perhaps for you, practice began early: at home with my parents and siblings, then at Bible study, at youth events, and then with my wife and kids. But when I became a minister, the opportunities to pray out loud multiplied dramatically: at least two times every worship service, in regular pastoral visits, at consistory meetings, in Catechism classes, at public meetings and other events.

Indeed, whenever I attend a public event hosted by our churches or school community, I know that there is a chance that I will be invited to pray, and sometimes I wonder about this. Is it because a minister has a special connection to God? Or is it because he is ‘good’ at praying, while other folks are more amateurish? Definitely not.

Particularly on the days when I teach three or four Catechism classes, I think of how one of my seminary professors described the minister’s prayers in Catechism class as “spiritually dangerous.” They are dangerous for the minister because this kind of prayer can be driven almost entirely by the dictates of routine. Such prayers might be simply a way to mark ‘the beginning’ and ‘the end’ of an activity, rather than an opportunity to reverently commune with our God. We are expected to pray because ‘that’s just what we normally do’ in these situations. The meeting isn’t properly closed until we’ve properly closed our eyes! And so the minister (or the teacher, or the parent), just has to say something—and this ‘something’ might end up being empty and predictable phrases, with God’s holy name being dropped in here and there. Is that prayer?  

Repetition and Distraction

Herein lies one of the challenges of praying to God in the company of others. Because we might be nervous (such as at Bible study), or because we might be in a situation in which we’ve prayed many, many times before (such as after a mealtime or the beginning of a class), it’s all too easy to adopt exactly the same language that we always have, or mimic the language that we have heard others use. As I read once in a book about prayer, when we’re praying we all tend “to say the same things about the same things.”  

Public prayer is a challenge also from the perspective of those who are listening. The intent of a prayer ‘out loud,’ of course, is that everyone participates in the prayer. In a worship service, for example, the prayers are not the minister’s private words of petition to God, with everyone else eavesdropping. It is meant to be a communal prayer, just as prayers in the classroom are, or prayers at the conclusion of a meeting.

But when someone else is doing the praying, and your eyes are closed, and there is a lot on your mind, it can be intensely difficult to listen with focus. Our minds work at lightning-quick speed, making wild leaps from one subject to the next and to the next, until very soon we’re a world away from the words of the person praying. While the minister is praying for old sister VanderSickma, our minds are busy with replays from yesterday’s footy match or the plans for our home renovation. Our natural struggle with distraction is perhaps why some Christian churches have the practice of standing when praying in the worship service!

The Privilege

But having noted a few of the difficulties of praying out loud, let’s also see this activity for the privilege that it is. In the first place, prayer is the beautiful gift of being allowed to speak humbly and truly to the God of heaven and earth, the God who has become our Father in Christ Jesus. When we pray, God welcomes us into his presence and He delights in what we say to him. He loves to receive our thanksgiving and to hear our petitions! For a child of God, true prayer should not be torture, a chore, or an empty routine, because of the wondrous reality of what prayer is.

Secondly, when you pray out loud, you have the privilege to pray to God together with others. A father, a mother, a teacher, an elder or deacon who is praying aloud does not pray alone. What he or she expresses with the mouth can be echoed in the heart by those who are listening. A public prayer—or a family prayer, or a prayer among friends—lifts the hearts of two or three or more people up to God’s throne, expressing our common convictions, cares and comforts. When we pray out loud, we have a wonderful opportunity to express a unity of faith with those whom we love.

Thirdly, it is a blessing that other people can learn from the prayers that you offer out loud. Rightly we refer to this as ‘leading in prayer,’ for you are also setting an example in how to pray. Once when Jesus was finished praying, his disciples asked him, “Lord, teach us to pray” (Luke 11:1). As they listened to their Master’s words, they must have been struck by how sincere and complete his prayer was, and they wanted to pray in a similar way. It can indeed be instructive for a husband to listen to the prayers of his wife when they’re praying together, or for parents to hear how their children pray, or for a congregation as they pray together with their pastor—learning about things like humility, simplicity, gratitude, and much more. As Andrew Blackwood writes about praying in public, “Every prayer ought to have a quiet beauty. Otherwise, how could it make people think rightly toward God, the Creator of all beauty?” (163).

Now, this is not to say that our public prayers must be eloquent and rhetorically pleasing. The real struggle to pray out loud should not be made worse by a pressure to say it perfectly or in a way that will impress our hearers. But let us cherish the opportunities that we have to pray to God together with others.

Next time we will give attention to preparing for prayer, and the kind of language that we use in prayer.

Rev Reuben Bredenhof

FRC Mount Nasura

[References]

Jeffrey D. Arthurs, Preaching as Reminding (Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2017).

Andrew W. Blackwood, Leading in Public Prayer (Nashville, TN: Abingdon, 1958).

John Smith, Prayers of the Saints (Armadale, WA: Reformed Guardian, 2010).

Charles Spurgeon, Lectures to My Students (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1954).

Cremation or Burial?

Every so often questions arise in our midst, “Why do we insist on burial after death whereas many people around us have their loved ones cremated?”

Rev Rob Visser in Weerklank [Resonance] of March 2020 provides clear and scriptural arguments for maintaining our current practice. Weerklank is the monthly magazine of the Gereformeerde Kerken in Nederland, one of the two relatively small bonds of churches with which our Deputies maintain contact.

Below is a translated and somewhat condensed version of his article.

Cremation is becoming more popular in general society. In the Netherlands more people are cremated than buried. [Similarly, 70% of funerals in Australia in 2015 were cremations.] Within our circles some uncertainty may exist about this, making it a good topic for further examination.

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Parenting


Reaching the Heart


When teenagers rebel against our rules and boundaries we are angry, hurt and we may even rave and rant at times, and feel a great deal of self pity. Our world is turned upside down, our happy existence thrown into disarray. We like to blame hormones, outside influences and contacts…but at the root of it is really a sinful heart. And it is not just the teen who has a sinful heart, but we do as well! I have been doing some reading and praying and again been made to see that we as parents are also very much a part of this, and when we feel humbled, we find we need to be humbled even some more!

Teenage years are often spoken of in a negative way, especially by the world around us, and parents see it as a time that they must just ‘survive’ and ‘get through’. This means that parents just want to control and regulate their teen’s behaviour, and if they seem to do the ‘right things’ they breathe a sigh of relief, as it all seems to be well. However, are we then just teaching our teenagers to comply to a set of rules and behaviours that are external, or are we also touching the heart? I’m not saying that we don’t need the rules and regulations as we all know that we need routines and order in our lives (after all, God himself is a God of order!). But we should be careful that these rules are not just external things to be kept. Our heart is at the core of our being; it’s not hormones that rule a teen, but his/her heart!

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The Synod of Dort on the fourth commandment

From Sabbath to Sunday?

Is the Sunday the Sabbath day of the New Testament? This is a question that is being discussed widely among Christians. Even among those who claim to stand in the reformed tradition[i], there are those who believe that keeping the Sunday as a day of rest is not a biblical command. In 2005, the synod of the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands, which were until two years ago our sister churches, adopted a position as formulated in a report, in which they claimed that the Sunday as a day of rest is a good tradition. It is a tradition which came into the churches under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, and that we as much as possible should keep the Sunday as a day of rest. However, the Sunday as a day of rest is, according to this report, not based on a biblical command[ii].

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Moses’ mum

Exodus 1 tells us that a new king had arisen in Egypt. Unlike the kings before him he was hostile towards Israel. To contain their growth as nation he made the Israelites perform hard labour. As this had no effect, he instructed the Hebrew midwives to kill all new born baby boys. The midwives, however, outwitted him and so his final desperate instruction was that every son born to the Hebrews had to be cast into the Nile, to drown. It was not a good time for this Levitical couple to get married, for the wife to become pregnant and give birth to a boy, as we read in the next chapter of Exodus. Such, however, was the world that Moses was born into. 

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Every Congregation’s Battle: Sexual Temptation

Pornographic websites. Indecent apps. Movies with racy content. Chat groups with lewd language. Sexting. Books that entice rather than entertain. Pre-marital sex. Extra-marital sex. The list goes on, but it can be summed up in one phrase: sexual temptation.

The title of this article alludes to, and slightly alters, the title of a Christian best-seller: Every Man’s Battle: Winning the War on Sexual Temptation One Victory at a Time (WaterBrook Press, 2000). Published twenty years ago by Stephen Arterburn and Fred Stoeker, this book has sold more than a million copies. It has also spawned study guides, DVDs, conferences, and other books specifically oriented toward women and teenagers.

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Practically speaking

There’s a gap between what I know to be true and what I do. I know that I should not be anxious, the Bible reminds me of this command so many times. Yet, when someone I love is finding life difficult or when something is going wrong, I worry. Even though I can call so many different bible verses to mind about why I should not be anxious, when something is hard for someone else, I am anxious. I also know that procrastination is a sin. I believe that every moment is a gift from God and that I live and walk in his presence and am called to do everything to His glory. Yet whenever I am faced with a challenging task or something that is out of my comfort zone I will procrastinate.

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Care of the Aged in a Culture Devoted to Self

Introduction

Parents are a great gift from our heavenly Father. God has given parents an amazing amount of love for their children. Who else would be willing to wake up two or three times a night for the sake of another person over the course of several months? As parents we need an incredible amount of patience and willingness to make numerous sacrifices to provide for our children as they grow up. But the time comes, when the tables are turned. As our parents reach old age, they face many limitations. They can’t see and hear as well. They get various diseases. They experience pain and are limited in what they can handle mentally, physically and emotionally. It is the task of the children then to assist their parents in their old age and ensure that their needs are met. So what does that mean real life?  Let’s first consider the Biblical mandate, and then work that out in our context.

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What a Picture! What a Message!

He wore an ordinary T-shirt, but the printed matter on it was very eye-catching indeed! I was looking at his back first and thought, “What a gruesome picture to wear on your shirt, especially when you are (and he was) a Christian young man!” But then I saw the front of the shirt; it had a similar picture on it, but with a small difference – which made a huge difference!

It happened in the early 1900s that an altar boy accidentally dropped a glass of wine during mass. This happened in a small church in Croatia. The priest became upset, slapped the boy and told him to leave the altar and never come back. The boy never came back, but grew up to become Tito, the communist leader of Yugoslavia.

About the same time another altar boy, Peter John, was assisting a priest at St. Mary’s Cathedral in Peoria, Illinois. He likewise dropped the glass of wine during Mass, and years later wrote of the experience. Peter John recounted, “There is no atomic explosion that can equal the intensity of decibels in the noise and explosive force of a wine cruet falling on a marble floor of a cathedral in the presence of a bishop; I was frightened to death.” Presiding over Mass that day was Bishop John Spalding. Bishop Spalding looked at the broken glass and kindly said, “Someday you will be just as I am.” Peter John became Archbishop Felton Sheen later in life.

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Thanksgiving

1 Chronicles 29:14 : But who am I, and who are my people, That we should be able to offer so willingly as this? For all things come from You, And of Your own we have given You.

2 Corinthians 9:7-8 : So let each one give as he purposes in his heart, not grudgingly or of necessity; for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound toward you, that you, always having all sufficiency in all things, may have an abundance for every good work.

Thankfulness

Synod Armadale 1956 decided to advise the churches to arrange an annual service for prayer and thanksgiving for harvest and labour on the third Sunday of the month of February. That is 16 February for this year.

Thanksgiving, that is something that comes from the heart. We cannot be thankful on command: we are thankful because we know that we have something to be thankful for. Because we have received blessings. Then we see our blessings and rejoice.

Out of thankfulness we then offer to the LORD our sacrifices of thankfulness.

In Romans 12:1 the apostle Paul beseeches us to offer ourselves to God as a living sacrifice. Our entire life is a life in thankfulness, because we know that we are saved by Jesus Christ and now want to live for Him.

There are moments that we show our thankfulness in a specific way, for instance by giving our financial donations. Many of us do so especially on the Thanksgiving Sunday. The Bible teaches and encourages us to do so.

I quoted two texts at the beginning of this meditation, in which the Bible emphasizes that those sacrifices of thankfulness must come from a willing heart and should not be imposed on the congregation.

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