As a pastor I always did my best to encourage my congregation to pray. Prayer is, I believe, one of the lesser-attended subjective means of grace. I suspect that when times get tough people pray, but I often wonder that when times are good do they pray as much? Therefore, I took every opportunity to have people pray. I was really excited when the women of the church wanted to gather on a regular basis for prayer on Saturday mornings, so I certainly encouraged this activity. But I quickly found out that sometimes prayer is really a thin disguise for gossip.
It’s one thing to pour our souls out privately in prayer before our heavenly Father. I can be freest when it’s just me in my “prayer closet.” I can complain, celebrate, wrestle, and lay my soul bare. But the moment that I pray in public, there are certain responsibilities I have. I may think and suspect a lot of things about many people and circumstances, but that is not license for me to voice them publicly, and especially in prayer. Case in point, several of the elders’ wives reported to me that some of the prayers got out of hand at the ladies prayer meeting. One woman prayed something along these lines: “Dear Lord, please help me and especially my husband. He is so lazy. He never does any work. He just sits around and watches TV. He never wants to read the Bible and he is frequently insensitive and mean to me. He never considers my needs or desires. Please convict him of his sinful behavior. Amen.” This may be an appropriate prayer in private, but is inappropriate and even sinful in public.
All too often public prayers are not a genuine venue for offering up our desires and needs before our covenant Lord but a platform for gossip. A good rule of thumb is, if you’re praying for someone, how might your prayer change if they were sitting next to you? If you were guilty of some private sin, would you want a loved-one, apart from your consent or knowledge, sharing your sinful conduct with a large percentage of the church? Granted, this woman was obviously upset about her husband’s conduct. But a more appropriate prayer would have been, “Dear Lord, please help my husband and me to model Christ and the church (e.g., Eph 5:25ff).” In other words, there are appropriate ways to pray about our greatest concerns and needs, even those that are difficult to share publicly.
In the end, just because we are engaged in a holy activity such as prayer, doesn’t mean that we are in a sin-free zone and are incapable of transgression. Be mindful that your prayers are genuine and not a platform for gossip and malicious talk.