Is there a “best” time, place and way to pray? Should we follow a particular pattern of, e.g., 30 minutes alone every morning in our bedroom? Should churches stop worrying about attendance at prayer meetings?
Scripture presents us with a varied picture of God’s people at prayer. Sometimes, we are encouraged to pray alone, perhaps seeking out a moment of quiet just between us and God, as Christ also did:
- “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.” (Matthew 6:6, NIV)
- “Very early the next morning, Jesus got up and went to a place where he could be alone and pray.” (Mark 1:35, CEV)
Paul encouraged Christians to pray (e.g. Philippians 4:6, Colossians 4:2, 1 Thessalonians 5:17, 2 Thessalonians 3:1, 1 Timothy 2:1-8). As with his other “commands”, they are addressed to the gathered group of God’s people in those places. The letters were probably read out to them when they assembled together and the assumption seems to be that they would pray together.
In Acts, one of the first things the disciples did together after Jesus’ ascension was pray (1:14, 24f). After Pentecost, the disciples met and prayed regularly (2:42f, 4:31, etc.). This seems to have happened in the temple courts in Jerusalem and in people’s homes.
So, the New Testament shows prayer happening in quiet, secluded places, in bustling, busy public gatherings in the city and in the intimate setting of one another’s homes. It was something natural to do when Jesus’ followers met together as well as something for which to set aside personal, private time.
All of this stands in clear continuity with what we see in the Old Testament. The Psalms can at times read like very personal prayers, yet they are corporate in the sense that God’s people use them as Scripture and also sometimes have said and continue to say them publicly together. Likewise, we have records of characters such as David and Solomon praying publicly on behalf of the people (e.g. 1 Chronicles 29:10-13,2 Chronicles 6:12-42), whilst also conversing privately with God (e.g. 2 Chronicles 1:7-12 – did he tell someone afterwards, or was this not as private as Solomon thought?!).
Moreover, we know that the Spirit empowers individuals, yet also forms the fellowship of God’s people, equipping for individual and corporate worship and ministry. The Spirit enables us to pray on our own and when we are together. Both private and public prayer, personal and corporate are works of the Spirit in God’s people.
Finally, as Psalm 139 reminds us, there is nowhere we can go to escape God’s presence. The Spirit of God is everywhere; whether in a church building, in the countryside, a bustling crowd, a hospital ward, prison cell, street or bedroom we are always in a position to connect with God.
So, what about this variety of locations – is any “best” or “better”? It would appear not. The evidence suggests it would be a mistake to deprive ourselves of either personal or corporate prayer – both are part of a healthy prayer life. Other aspects seem to have more to do with where we find ourselves and our personalities.
How easy do you find it to pray in different situations? What makes it harder for you to pray – quiet isolation or big crowds, being in the countryside or the city, in church or at home? Can you see how your favoured ways of praying reflect your personality (and location)? What about others – can you see how their personalities affect how they pray?
Given that prayer is a relationship and all of us are different, it shouldn’t surprise us to discover that people pray in many different ways, in many different places and at different times. Perhaps we can challenge ourselves to try something outside our comfort zone and have a go at something new? Perhaps if we do so, we’ll bring more balance to ourselves and greater understanding of others.
© Joe Lenton, August 2012