Prayer is the natural impulse of faith and the vigilant devotion of hope. In prayer, we pour out our hearts’ desires to God in adoration, confession, petition, intercession, and thanksgiving as we submit ourselves to His will. Prayer is a passionate affair. It involves all of who we are and aspire to be before God.
It is no surprise, then, that the full scope and force of life’s passion is taken up in prayer. Those in step with the Spirit display patience and self-control in all things, but faithful disciples also take their anger, frustration, anguish, bewilderment, and even their unbelief and despair to God in prayer. As we do, we might find ourselves crying aloud to the Lord, or we might find our words failing us.
Encouragingly, there is no biblical reason to believe that praying out loud is more or less effectual than praying silently. We may do either. Scripture is full of examples of public prayers offered on all sorts of occasions, from Solomon’s long prayer at the dedication of the temple (1 Kings 8) to Christ’s four-word cry of agony (and unshaken hope) from the cross (Matt. 27:46). Yet, Jesus also taught His disciples that our Father hears prayers offered silently or in secret, and Paul tells us the Spirit who strengthens our faith and hope through prayer also intercedes for us with groans too deep for words (6:5–6; Rom. 8:26).
There are, however, good reasons why we would do well to pray silently on some occasions and aloud on others. Jesus, for example, warns His disciples about the hypocrites who love to pray in public places in order to be seen by others. Being thought holy, Jesus notes, is all the reward they will receive (Matt. 6:5). Hypocrites are devoid of secret prayer; the one who loves God, however, is constant in secret prayer—and ready to pray aloud when a proper occasion arises.
And the occasion will arise. Prayer, as a core devotion of the church (Acts 2:42), is not just a private act of individual believers but a shared activity. One way we share in prayer is to pray out loud with others for mutual encouragement and edification. Prayer also should be taught. Jesus taught the disciples how to pray by instruction and by example. So also, ministers teach those whom they serve, parents teach their children, and we all teach one another as we pray together. Love for others, in other words, will compel us not just to pray for them in secret but at times to pray aloud with them in their hearing.
However we pray, we are confident that our God cares for us and always hears the prayers of His people.
Dr. Bruce P. Baugus is associate professor of philosophy and theology at Reformed Theological Seminary in Jackson, Miss., and a teaching elder in the Presbyterian Church in America. He is author of Reformed Moral Theology.