How (Not) to Pray Out Loud

August 19, 2009 | 37 comments

If there’s a “Greatest Prayer Bloopers” show in Heaven, I’ve gotten more than 15 minutes of fame on celestial theater screens. The most embarrassing blooper happened when I was assigned to a prayer team a few years back. Our team was given the responsibility of praying over speakers at a spiritual retreat.

At the time, I hadn’t had much practice praying out loud — except in my home — but seeing how I’d been assigned to pray, I thought I ought to give it a try. Surely, God would equip the called, and I had been called to this.

We were standing in rows, three deep, heads down and eyes closed. We laid hands on the backs of one another, a prayer chain of souls reaching the man at the kneeling bench.

As others prayed poetic for this man, beads of sweat beads formed on my brow. My mouth went dry. I opened my eyes to search for the Chicken Exit. But it was my turn to speak, and I felt a pesky nudge in my Spirit. I couldn’t ignore it.

Before I prayed for the man kneeling, I prayed mentally for myself: “Oh God, don’t let me sound stupid.”

Then before uttering a word, I strung a prayer together in my mind: “Heavenly Father, as Ken delivers this message of grace, be with him from start to finish.”

Yes, that would do.

And I opened my mouth.

This is what came out: “Be with Ken from fart to finish.”

I was mortified. But the prayer veterans extended grace to me. No one laughed at me, this crimson-faced prayer rookie. Later, I quietly thanked God for unanswered prayers: Ken delivered the entire message without any noticeable gastro-intestinal issues.

Despite my foul-up, I’d done it. I’d prayed out loud. You’d think I’d never try again after that verbal fiasco. But even the most committed prayer warriors are intimidated by praying out loud.

I have one friend who, when asked at Bible study whether she can lead us in prayer, always chuckles then responds with this: “I’ll have to pray about that first.”

But when we avoid praying out loud because of our fears, we make prayer less about God, and more about us. In our fear, we might try to script prayer, to make our words prettier, and we turn the altar into a stage. I know, because I’ve done that.

Public prayer is supposed to be a two-way conversation with the Father — not an oration for an audience of flesh and bone.

When we remember that God wants our hearts, more than our poetic words, we take a lot of pressure off ourselves.

Plenty of my well-intentioned prayers are Blooper-worthy, even after years of praying out loud.

Still, I’m going to take the risk. I’m going to pray out loud, and when I foul up, I’m going to remind myself that God is the originator of laughter, and the Author of fun. I picture Him laughing with me, and instructing celestial cameramen to roll tape. We’ll get a kick out of it later.

And even when my words don’t make sense, this I know: God makes sense of my words.

“God can pick sense out of a confused prayer.” — Richard Sibbes


Friends, do you have any Prayer Bloopers? How do you handle public prayer?

holy experience

This is my contribution — albeit unrefined — to Ann Voskamp’s weekly “Walk With Him Wednesday” gathering. This week we continue our “Pilgrimage Into Prayer.”

by | August 19, 2009 | 37 comments

37 Comments

  1. Laure

    how do i handle public prayer?

    the same way i do private…

    i lean in real close to God's Spirit … wait for the unction … then pray.

    prayer is about presence … His

    and it's so much stronger in a room when i decrease.

    Reply
  2. Billy Coffey

    I would leave a comment, but I'm laughing too hard. Not AT you, Jennifer, oh no. WITH. Promise.

    Reply
  3. Jennifer @ Getting Down With Jesus

    Wonderful, Laure. Thank you. Love what you say about prayer and presence.

    Reply
  4. Warren Baldwin

    Prayer bloopers, yes. I did the funeral service for a lady I never met while she was a live. Her last name was Warren (same my first). I kept telling myself, when you say her name, say Sister Warren, not Warren Baldwin. Well … during the closing prayer I said "Lord, be with the family of Warren Baldwin, ah, I mean Sister Warren …"

    Some of my preaching bloopers have been much worse ๐Ÿ™‚
    wb

    Reply
  5. Warren Baldwin

    I like Laure's comment – "Prayer is about presence." I need to remember that. Thanks Laure.

    Reply
  6. lynnrush

    Great post. Wow, I think I scared my dog I laughed so hard. And like Billy said, no AT you, Jennifer….

    ๐Ÿ™‚

    You're right about the prayer not being about US though…it's two way with God, you're right!

    Thanks for this.

    Reply
  7. Warren Baldwin

    Jennifer, I just linked from here back to my blog and you had a left a comment there while I was here. What timing! I left an additional comment over there on communion.

    Reply
  8. Angie Vik

    My prayer blooper was to pray at the wrong time. I was at work at the library and talking to a patron on the phone. When it came time to end our conversation, I said, "in Jesus name, Amen." Talk about a full-service library.

    Reply
  9. RCUBEs

    Prayer is an intimate time with Him that none would matter. No matter what goes around, it is as if He is the only one, whether in private or public.

    Though I am laughing. I agree with you. I think Father must have a great laugh that day. He did grant your wish ๐Ÿ™‚

    Just overheard from a little newphew long time ago as he wanted to do the sign of the cross…"In the Name of the Father…ahhh…and the Son…and…hmmmm…and the moon.."

    Reply
  10. Pttyann

    Hi Jennifer
    That was to funny!!! I'm not going to pretend about the "lahgther" woooooweeeeee!! Okay let me try to concentrate,oh yea public prayer,I try to focus on God and then just let it rip.But after reading your blooper watch me make one.Yes God does have a sense of humor,after all we are made in his image.
    Love you Jennifer have a wonderful day,and thanks for your words of encouragement.

    Reply
  11. Lyla Lindquist

    This is so good. Your friends must be way more uber spiritual than mine though, because I've lost track of the times that prayer with folks has been punctuated by snort laughing over something somebody said. (And yes, you already said fart in your post, so I can surely say snort in the comments.)

    My most frequent blooper comes when I'm interpreting for our bilingual services. I'm supposed to interpret, just be the pass-through, right? Well, now and again I forget that, and in addition to interpreting what my pastor said, I continue to pray a little. Inevitably, his next portion of the prayer will be whatever I just ad libbed, and I'm stuck telling him that he already said that.

    Reply
  12. Cindy Bultema

    Oh Jennifer..you made my day! Thank you for sharing your prayer blooper ~ I laughed out loud! And I needed it today ~ Thank you!!

    Thank you too for your great reminder about how we can easily make prayer more about us, and less about God. So true!!

    As always, your blog has blessed and encouraged! Job well done ๐Ÿ™‚

    Reply
  13. cindy

    First time visitor and have to say how much I enjoyed it.

    I very much like what Laure said – I lean in real clost to God's spirit- I picture myself leaning in toward's Him as child leans foward to hug his/her parents.

    Reply
  14. Steve

    Just keep praying, cause the Father knows what we need before we ask of him, He just wants to here it from us.

    Reply
  15. janelle

    Oh stop, you are shattering my perfect image with all these convicting posts…

    Reply
  16. Get Real Girl

    I can remember when I was scared to death to pray in public. Now, I cherish public prayer. There is nothing better than a room filled with people worshiping through prayer.

    Reply
  17. Wendy @ All in a Day's Thought

    Excellent!

    There's a reason I am more comfortable writing than speaking. Bloopers, I've had a few and I know God laughs with me. I'm pretty sure I do something every day He finds amusing.

    Loved this. ๐Ÿ˜€ ๐Ÿ˜€ ๐Ÿ˜€
    ~ Wendy

    Reply
  18. Deidra

    Oh, this is too funny! Nothing like a blooper to give us some perspective, huh?

    Reply
  19. Jennifer

    I've never been able to pray beautifully by man's standards. My prayers are always halting, pausing to think, to consider how I feel God's Spirit really wants me to say. And unlike with some people, God's Spirit always speaks in short, slow bursts with me. It's a good thing, though–I can't be prideful if I'm sure people won't be putting my prayer on a plaque any time soon.

    Reply
  20. Laura

    You make me smile ๐Ÿ™‚

    God does equip, doesn't He? Still growing in this area…I find it's more difficult for me when I worry about how it will sound. When I just pray from my heart, it all comes out fright, er, I mean right ๐Ÿ™‚

    Reply
  21. Beth E.

    Oh, Jennifer…I needed this laugh! Thanks for sharing this blooper.

    I can't think of a specific blooper at the moment, but I've had more than my share. Some people pray so eloquently…so powerfully. I'm not one of those people. But, I've come to realize that prayer is a matter of the heart…our heart for the Lord. It really doesn't matter how we sound to others.

    Blessings,
    Beth

    Reply
  22. Joye @ The Joyeful Journey

    I laughed so hard I'm crying!!! Oh how I've been there–but thank God He knew what I MEANT to say!

    Reply
  23. RCUBEs

    Hi sister Jennifer…Greetings…This is in regards to your question you posted at my site…Haven't heard really of that group you mentioned but I know that there are so many of them.

    Working nights for a long time now, haven't really seen what goes on during days but I know that inmates have certain time to do things like worship on Sundays. That's where prison ministries come in. It is a great thing to do if God is calling you for it. Because you just never know who He will put into your path.

    I'll be praying for you and your group…May the Lord protect you…It's not so much with the physical violence but I know you are aware of a harder fought battle which is spiritual…That's what I will be lifting up, for God to be there with you and His angels. Pls. keep me posted about your planned ministry. To God be the glory!

    Love and blessings to you. -Rosel

    Reply
  24. christy rose

    Ok! I laughed hard too! Really Hard! It took me quite awhile to finish reading this. And yes, I am sure that God is laughing right along with you and all of us too. Of course, not at you!
    You are so wonderful!
    Christy

    Reply
  25. Anne L.B.

    Oh Jennifer! How funny. I hope since God didn't answer your first prayer He answered the second one as you intended it to come out.

    In public prayer, I want to talk to God and not preach to the people praying, and try to think about Him first. Good strategy I suppose, until I forget about others and go too long.

    Reply
  26. Faith Imagined

    This was great! Lol!!! I especially love the statement that God makes sense of our words. Very encouraging!!!

    Reply
  27. Sarah Dawn

    Needed the laugh today sweet one. The first time I was asked to teach, I thought the butterflies in my stomach would literally fly away with me. Yet, even in my goofs God was glorified.

    My whole family smiled today.
    Yes, even in our goofs may God be glorified.

    Reply
  28. A Simple Country Girl

    Just laughing so hard I fear I might short out my computer keyboard. I am usually the one to say aloud the things I think I am thinking…boy that tends to raise some eyebrows and a few hackles.

    Still laughing. A good kind of right-there-with-ya-sister sort of laugh… ๐Ÿ˜‰

    Reply
  29. Doug Spurling

    Oh my Lord, I was laughing so hard I tried to read it to my wife four or five times before I could get the words out…
    Prayer communicating with God. If I live in constant fellowship with Him it seems I can pray comfortably and easily in public or private. Like any relationship. But, when I drift away, then my prayer becomes more of a show. The key I think is stay close. Thank you for a great post.

    Reply
  30. Daune

    You made my highlight for the day. I cracked up! Flatulation is an important thing to pray for when a man is standing on stage and everyone knows 'who dun it!'
    I still remember my first time praying out loud…I thanked God for the sun and flowers and moon…so simple and yet, I was embarassed that I hadn't been more eloquent. I was fifteen at the time. Seems like just yesterday.
    Have a great weekend.

    Reply
  31. Noni Bilbrey

    thanks so much for your sweet post on my blog.
    Yours had me chuckling. As a preacher's kid I can tell you that your prayer would have been appreciated at different times by my Dad–as well as burps, growling tummy and knocking knees.
    Angie's comment reminded me the time I answered the phone God is good. Good is great. The person on the other end said yes he is. Maybe they thought that is just how a preacher's phone should be answered. But I was embarrassed. ๐Ÿ™‚

    Reply
  32. Noni Bilbrey

    thanks so much for your sweet post on my blog.
    Yours had me chuckling. As a preacher's kid I can tell you that your prayer would have been appreciated at different times by my Dad–as well as burps, growling tummy and knocking knees.
    Angie's comment reminded me the time I answered the phone God is good. Good is great. The person on the other end said yes he is. Maybe they thought that is just how a preacher's phone should be answered. But I was embarrassed. ๐Ÿ™‚

    Reply
  33. Carol

    Sounds exactly like something I would do. I think about it and think about it and it still comes out wrong….I do a children's sermon once in a while and I usually mess up. I kinda don't mind that. I get some laughs, takes off the pressure and I keep on. Thanks for the laughs, friend! Isn't it great, God knew what you meant even before it came out!!!

    Reply
  34. Ann

    Hi! I am a first time visitor. You have such a awesome blog! I love your story!
    Blessings!

    Reply
  35. Lizzy

    Well… here's a "prayer blooper" of mine….

    My friend who's not a Christian was telling me online that she wanted to talk on the phone.

    So I started praying out loud, about her, and I was saying to Jesus,

    "Should I talk to her? I don't know if this is the right time"

    and the phone was in my lap…and I accidentally answered it, while I was praying!

    when I realized what happened I was like, "oh my goodness!" and felt embarrassed.

    I talked to a Christian friend of mine who reminded me that God works all things together for good, and prayer bloopers are included!

    :))

    Reply
  36. Shirl

    Oh, I have problems praying out loud as well. In fact, Don and I have an agreement that if I'm called on in Sunday School class for the closing prayer, he will automatically chime in for me. Truth is, I've never really known how to pray. I pray in snippets. But it's an area I'm trying to grow in…I'm just not there yet…not by a long shot.

    Reply
  37. Evangelist

    Amen, just talk to Him as you would a friend because He is that and much much more. I liked how you handled it just a few simple words that contained so much power and God answered.

    Reply

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