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In recent weeks, some in our community have expressed valid concerns that our religious liberties are being impeded upon by others who wish to purge any semblance of God from the public square. In response to threats made by the ACLU concerning formal prayers before sporting events, hundreds turned out on Sept. 6 to show their support by holding an impromptu prayer gathering following the home football game. The Sept. 11 edition of this paper featured several pictures and stories featuring many who believe in the importance of having the right to unrestricted prayer in public gatherings if we so choose.
I support public prayer. One thing, however, concerns me. With all of the talk of us having the God-given “right” to pray in public, there isn’t much talk of a God-honoring impetus for prayer. It’s one thing to assert the “right” to pray; it’s another thing to pray rightly. If we are not careful, prayer can cease to be a divine prerogative and quickly become a token act, done to spite the powers that be rather than seek the face and power of God himself.
There is an adage that says “the light that shines the farthest shines the brightest at home.” In no other area of life does this ring as true as it does in our spiritual lives, particularly with regards to prayer. It was A.W. Tozer who wrote that “no man should stand before an audience who has not first stood before God…the prayer chamber should be more familiar than the public platform.”
Jesus instructed us on the motivation and method of prayer in Matthew 6: “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. 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” (vv.5-6).
It is good and right to seek God’s favor on behalf of our athletes before kickoff. It is proper to ask God’s blessings prior to engaging in public business. But who are we seeking when we bow our heads and close our eyes? And are our public prayers fueled by a sincere private prayer life?
Likewise, Psalm 66:18 tells us that “If I had cherished iniquity in my heart, the Lord would not have listened.” Hearts that harbor unconfessed sin do not honor God, thus God will not honor their prayers. If you do not trust in the Lord Jesus Christ by faith alone as the Savior of your sins, then the prayer you ought to pray is not one of safety and blessing, but one of repentance of your sins and belief in the Gospel that what Jesus Christ did on the cross He did for you.
Are we at liberty to pray in public? Yes we are. Are we expected to pray publicly? Absolutely. Paul instructs in 1 Thessalonians 5 that Christians are to “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” No organization, such as the ACLU, nor any individual can dictate when and where we pray. Christians are a people of prayer. It is part and parcel of who we are.
But we, as Christians, need to remember that the ACLU is not our enemy. Satan is our enemy, and if he can’t hinder our prayers, he can surely use the ACLU and others like them, to redirect our attention and the purpose for prayer, and turn it into a political issue. Our battle is not against flesh and blood (Ephesians 6:12); it is a spiritual one. Don’t let the real enemy use the righteous cause of religious liberty to hinder our prayers. When you pray, remember who you’re talking to. Then pray in faith. That will make all the difference.
Brian Owens is an associate pastor with youth and children emphasis at Farmdale Baptist Church. He can be reached via e-mail at email@example.com.