Growing up in a bible-based church focused on the spiritual development of its young people, it is not a surprise that great emphasis was placed on prayer. Each week at the closing of our Sunday-school lesson, someone was chosen to close out in prayer. I kid you not, nothing struck more fear in my young, self-conscious, awkward self than praying aloud in front of a group of people. As I watched the clock each Sunday for the upcoming time of prayer, my heart would start to beat extremely fast and my hands would begin to sweat. It got to the point that in my early teen years I had a pre-planned prayer memorized that I was ready to recite at any given moment if by-chance I was called upon. But do you know what? Never in all my years of Sunday school, was I ever asked to close in prayer. Probably because the leaders took one look at my downcast eyes and the sheer terror on my face and decided to take pity on me.
How could others be so confident when praying aloud and make it look so easy? I just could not understand it. I guess I would consider myself a people pleaser; always wanting to give the impression that I have it all together. Looking back, my self-esteem at the time was shaped by how I was viewed by others. Prayer seemed like such a private thing and, when spoken aloud, I thought that people would sit in judgement of my unsure, babbling words and shaky voice.
Unfortunately, this fear carried through to my adult years. In my journey to deepen my relationship with God, this fear was brought to the surface as something that I needed to face head-on once and for all. A few years back I started to identify a “word of the year” for myself which I document in the front of my bible. This was a way to challenge myself and give my personal bible study a focus for the year. In 2018 my word was Prayer. My focus was not only my personal prayer life, but also leading others in prayer within a small group.
As I explored Prayer that year and I learned, and continue to learn, a lot about myself and how I communicate with God. Being a librarian, you know I am going to throw some excellent book recommendations at you that helped me in my journey!
Setting up a consistent prayer routine and writing out my prayers has helped me to stay focused and specific when talking to God. I could spend a lot more time talking about what I learned, but back to praying aloud….
Nothing beats facing a fear like real, true experience. That year I joined an early morning prayer group that met before work one day a week where people took turns praying aloud after the group discussed prayer requests. I had previously voiced my extreme fear to a friend in passing one day and do you know what she did??? At the next prayer group meeting she volunteered me to lead the prayer!! I immediately thought, “Are you crazy?! What are you doing?! I told you that’s the one thing I’m am SO afraid of!” But of course she knew exactly what she was doing and knew that it was a safe, nonjudgemental place for me to take the first step. (One more reason it is so important to surround yourself with trusting, sisters-in-Christ…thank Debbie!)
From that point forward, I literally forced myself to pray in other situations as well and you know what? It started to get easier the more I did it. One verse that comes to mind that helped me is from Matthew:
And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases like the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.
Matthew 6:7-8 (ESV)
I now realize my words don’t have to be perfect. They don’t have to be formal or scripted. I’m not performing for an audience. I’m just closing my eyes, forgetting about my surroundings, and speaking from the heart directly to my Father. If someone does judge my words or how I speak to God, that is not for me to worry about.
Don’t fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns. Before you know it, a sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down. It’s wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life.
Philippians 4:6-7 (MSG)
You know something else I realized? In the past, never once did I ask God to help me with my fear of prayer? So that is exactly what I started doing. I now know that my fear was not “of God.” It was time that I stopped yielding to Satan’s lies and boldly step forward, trusting my Savior to bring forth the words. Because, hey, IT”S NOT ABOUT ME! I will no longer be defined by fear and deemed ineffective in my Father’s Kingdom because I succumbed to the lies of the devil.
It would be dishonest of me to say that my fear of praying aloud has completely left me. I am human. But now, I look to God and surrender my fear and fight back against the schemes of the evil one. I can then approach God with confidence, knowing that He accepts me, loves me, and hears me.
This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to His will, he hears us.
1 John 5:14 (NIV)
Do you have a similar fear about prayer? Or maybe it’s another type of fear that is holding you back from experiencing true depth in your relationship with God and serving Him? I’m sure we can all relate to fear in some way. I pray that we can invite God into the situation and courageously voice our fear to a trusted person of peace. Keeping in mind that we are NOT alone. God is right beside us, fighting FOR and WITH us. Let us continue to fight for each other as well. And, make no mistake, we can persevere and combat our fears with confidence knowing that the battle is already won.