One of the oddest things to hinder our prayers is fear. Many of us are reluctant to pray in front of others. We fear, I suppose, that those who are listening might be critiquing our prayers. That fear is both sensible and foolish. It is sensible in the sense that people actually do, as they listen to others pray, make mental critiques. I know people do this because I have been known to do it myself. I have run the prayers of hundreds through my own systematic theology grid, looking to filter out the folly. It is foolish, however, because there is someone far more discerning than me who listens to our prayers, and He manages not to critique them. That is, we ought to fear saying foolish things to the object of our prayers rather than to the bystanders. On the other hand, we probably really have nothing to fear.
When we pray, if we pray rightly, we pray in Jesus’ name. That little formula is important. It is good that we almost always remember to pray this way; it is bad that we hardly ever remember what we mean. When we pray in Jesus’ name, we acknowledge that we are, in ourselves, not worthy to come into God’s presence. Our entrance into the royal throne room is made possible only by the imputed righteousness of Christ. We can pray because we are covered by the blood of Christ. This means, of course, that our sins, including our sinfully foolish thoughts, do not make it past the ceiling.
Dr. John Gerstner once explained this phenomenon. He invited us to imagine a young boy gleefully entering his home, a mixture of flowers and weeds clutched in his muddy hand. He explained to his father that he wished to honor his mother with this bouquet. The father suggested, “Perhaps I could give them to her for you.” The son handed over the bouquet, and the father surreptitiously removed the weeds, leaving only flowers. In like manner, when we pray to our Father in heaven, when we come coram Deo, before His face, the Holy Spirit sanctifies our very prayers. Because He does this, we can pray with boldness, not as those who seek the approval of men, “Our Father, who art in heaven.…” See how much our heavenly Father loves us, that He allows His children to pray. And so, trusting as children, may we pray with care, but also with a reckless fervor.