It’s happened. I’ve caught myself praying in public, and realized that most of my recent prayers have been in public. It’s the very thing that Jesus warned about:
And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. (Matthew 6:5)
When most of my prayers are public, it’s a sign that I’m putting on a performance before people rather than talking to my heavenly Father. This is deadly in ministry, and it’s deadly for the soul.
I’ve seen the opposite happen too. I’ve prayed with others, and had the sense that I’m listening to a conversation between intimate friends. You can’t fake that. There’s an honesty, a tenderness, and a fluency that can only come from a rich, private experience of personal prayer.
That’s why I love what Jesus said:
But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. (Matthew 6:6)
The applause of other people is a poor substitute for the intimacy of a relationship with the Father who cares, and who promises to reward. I’m praying that I will increasingly learn to pray in such a way that my public prayers are nothing but the smallest of glimpses into the ongoing intimacy that is my life’s greatest joy. God make me a man of that kind of prayer.