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Should We Pray Aloud or Silently?

Tue, 02/18/2014 - 9:57am -- Rob
God, in His infinite wisdom, has given us many diverse ways to pray.  Some pray privately, some pray publicly, some pray while walking around, some pray in solemn stillness, while others pray in a variety of ways (some listed above, and in other ways not listed).
 

But does God have a preference whether we pray aloud or silently?

We look to Jesus- who not only taught about prayer, but modeled it for each of His followers.
 
In Matthew 4, we read that Jesus was led into the desert by the Holy Spirit to be tempted by the devil for 40 days.  While prayer isn't explicitly mentioned in this chapter, it's fair to reason that with the Holy Spirit leading Jesus into the desert, that prayer (communication with the Father) was ongoing.  The Holy Spirit helps us to pray- and certainly did/does the same for Jesus!  We have no record of anything Jesus prayed in the desert because Jesus either didn't share what He prayed at that time with his disciples, or the Holy Spirit didn't have it recorded in the gospels.
 
In Matthew 6, Jesus gives us a model to pray by: (verses 9-13)
 

This, then, is how you should pray:

“‘Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
 your kingdom come,
your will be done,
    on earth as it is in heaven.
 Give us today our daily bread.
 And forgive us our debts,
    as we also have forgiven our debtors.
 And lead us not into temptation,
    but deliver us from the evil one.

He doesn't specify if God prefers us to worship, confess, petition, and thank God aloud or silently.  He simply gives us this model to shape how we pray when we pray.

 
In Matthew 11:25-30, we read:
 
 
At that time Jesus said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children.Yes, Father, for this is what you were pleased to do.

“All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

In verses 25-26 we see the first word-for-word recorded prayer of Jesus in Matthew's account- and it reveals praise and worship-based prayer to the Father.  This aligns perfectly with the beginning of Jesus' model prayer in Matthew 6:9.  We also see Jesus instruct His followers (including you and me) to align ourselves (our hearts, minds, and souls) with Him by taking His yoke upon ourselves and learning from Him.  Prayer is one vital part of the yoke we should take upon ourselves- if we haven't already done so!  He promises that we'll find rest for our souls therein.

On the night between the feeding of the 5,000 and Jesus walking on water, we read in Matthew 14:22-23, "Immediately Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowd. 23 After he had dismissed them, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray. Later that night, he was there alone..,
 
Here, Jesus separates Himself from all others to be alone in prayer before the Father.  While there's no record of what He specifically prayed at that time, or whether he prayed aloud or silently (or maybe a combination of both), He gives us the model that it is good to separate ourselves from all others (people and things) to be still and alone before God.  There He found rest- and we can too.
 

He (the LORD) says, “Be still, and know that I am God;
    I will be exalted among the nations,
    I will be exalted in the earth.”
- Psalm 46:10

Then, prior to Jesus' betrayal in Gethsemane (Matthew 26), we read that Jesus prayed three times.  He strongly encouraged His disciples to watch, then watch and pray, but found them asleep each time He broke from concentrated prayer with the Father to check on them:
 
 
Then Jesus went with his disciples to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to them, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.” 37 He took Peter and the two sons of Zebedee along with him, and he began to be sorrowful and troubled. 38 Then he said to them, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.”

39 Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.”40 Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. “Couldn’t you men keep watch with me for one hour?” he asked Peter. 41 “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.”42 He went away a second time and prayed, “My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done.”43 When he came back, he again found them sleeping, because their eyes were heavy. 44 So he left them and went away once more and prayed the third time, saying the same thing.45 Then he returned to the disciples and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and resting? Look, the hour has come, and the Son of Man is delivered into the hands of sinners. 46 Rise! Let us go! Here comes my betrayer!”

From this passage, it appears Jesus prayed aloud (at least the portion he prayed three times).  Someone present must have recorded His words before they fell asleep, or the Holy Spirit later shared the words Jesus prayed with Matthew following Jesus' resurrection.

From these examples in Matthew, we see that God prefers prayer.  The method (spoken or silent), and physical location doesn't matter.  What matters is the heart of the one praying.  God desires to hear our prayers in whatever way we offer them to Him.
The other gospels also show modeling of prayer by Jesus.  John 17 also reveals Jesus' prayers for Himself, His disciples, and all believers.
 
Some additional thoughts on praying in different means.
 
Benefits of Praying Silently
 
Praying silently, for many, offers the ability to pray more quickly than by verbalizing prayer.  Our thoughts move faster than our voices, therefore, it's possible to share one's thoughts more quickly with God when praying silently than when speaking our prayer(s).
 
Praying silently often establishes an undisturbed atmosphere to hear the Holy Spirit when He speaks.  While the Spirit certainly can be heard during spoken prayer- through impressions He places on the praying person's heart- directly, from Scripture, or from others around, the atmosphere of silence may reduce noise or distraction for the one praying and may make it easier to hear the Lord's voice.
 
Benefits of Praying Aloud
 
When one prays aloud, especially in the presence of others, the person praying not only makes their thoughts known by verbalizing them, they also model prayer for others around them.
 
Modeling prayer is one of the key ways Christians learn how to pray from others.  Certain words used, inflections of voice, ways of praying, Scriptures prayed, and more may be picked up when one hears or sees another Christian praying.  Reminder:  The one modeling prayer should check his/her heart to make sure their motive in praying is to glorify God and not bring attention or glory to one's self.  The best kind of modeling happens without the person praying realizing that they're modeling prayer!  They let the Holy Spirit model prayer through themselves without interference of personal pride.
 
Of course, poor ways of modeling prayer may also happen when one prays aloud.  But if the person praying has his/her heart focused on the Lord, and is praying as the Holy Spirit is leading them (and not from their own desires alone) they're likely honoring and blessing the Lord.
 

Praying aloud can bring instant encouragement to others near the one praying aloud.  If someone requests prayer, often the best time to pray is at the very moment while the praying person is in the presence of the one requesting prayer.  Spoken prayer, in this situation, not only models prayer to the one requesting, but often brings instant hope, encouragement, or even joy, to the one burdened or requesting prayer.

How Should We Pray?

There's no choice to be made other than, we should pray!  How we do so depends on our heart position before God and how He leads or instructs us to pray in that moment.
 
We need not divide ourselves within our Christian fellowships or apart from them based on how we pray or prefer to pray.  There are benefits to each way we pray.  Prayer often works to shape the one praying more than the people or circumstances we pray for.  The most important thing we can do is pray.  So let's get back to doing so!

Lord, we love and praise you.  You've provided the way to directly come before the Father and speak with Him.  Thank you for prayer!  Continue to teach us to pray each day- and by your Spirit, lead us in how you'd have us pray moment-by-moment.  We desire to reflect your glory back to you and to others you place around us.  Help us to keep our eyes firmly fixed on you, the Author and Perfecter of our faith.  Have your way in and through us today- for your glory alone.
In Jesus' name, Amen.

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