Sunday After Church: Public Prayer

After church on Sunday is one of my favorite times to dine out. Usually, Sunday lunch is with church friends, and many others in the restaurant will be enjoying a similar time of food and fellowship.

Of course, as I wrote in an earlier piece, Sunday after church is not always a good time. It can be a less than positive experience for the churchgoers or those around them. On the Sunday discussed here, our fellowship time and dining time took a bit of a serious turn when an old friend asked a theological question. Our friendship goes back decades, and sometimes we enjoy jerking each other’s chain a bit.

Thankfully, this conversation was relatively low-key, and others could not easily hear. That kept this from turning into a situation such as those I wrote about previously concerning Christians’ behavior in public. On the other hand, there was a bit of judgment that it wouldn’t hurt to discuss.

Church services that day included a segment our pastors refer to as “open church.” That is a time when congregants may share a story or a bit of their testimony to address a matter of interest in a spiritual or biblical sense. On this Sunday, the pastor asked people to share something inspiring they had experienced or knew about during the February freeze debacle in Texas and other parts of the south.

As will sometimes happen, some of the shares were more about the person sharing than what they saw God or the Holy Spirit do during the freeze. Still, some were moving, others were a bit muddled, but, being a tad judgmental, only one or two were overly self-serving. It was the somewhat self-serving shares that caught my friend’s attention.

He felt the sharing fell into the same area of Christian behavior as public prayer. As I have a seminary degree and have spoken on various matters, including public prayer, he wanted my opinion on the sharing.

To this moment, I do not know, nor do I care, if he was attempting to get under my skin a bit or check my consistency. Either way, the question was legitimate. In the opinion of many, the Bible clearly teaches that public prayer can be undertaken for the wrong reasons. Pharisees and others stood on street corners to pray publicly for less than honorable reasons.

The rich young ruler might be another example of being full of oneself. He seemed to believe his actions made him worthy of salvation, as he kept all the commandments. The way he handled his meeting with Jesus was likely because his claims were a bit hollow.

I believe my friend was right in thinking some of the shares were a bit Phariseetical in nature. On the other hand, he implied that my position on not making a habit of praying in public might be cut from the same cloth. While that is a possibility, I certainly hope that is not the case.

I do not routinely pray, openly at least, in public. On the other hand, I will happily pray in public if it seems appropriate or if someone asks me to do so. Also, I am touched when I see a family bow their heads in prayer over a meal in a restaurant. While I do not know the motivation of the person leading such prayer, I will assume he or she is doing so out of conviction. On the other hand, I realize a percentage of those bowing their heads may be doing so for less than noble reasons.

The bottom line is this. If you bow your head in prayer in public, do it for the right reasons. Do not do it to make yourself look faithful or religious. If you are a follower of Christ, you do not need to pray publicly to prove it. Your life, demeanor, how you handle yourself, and how the rest of your family acts say more about you than a prayer over a burger and fries or patting yourself on the back publicly for something you did during a crisis.

© – 2020

About S. Eric Jackson

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