What can I do to not be nervous about praying publicly?
It is common for Christians to be nervous about praying publicly. Public speaking is one of the most common fears, and adding the spiritual aspect of prayer to it can make praying in public something from which many shy away.
First, it must be noted that praying in public is not commanded by the Word of God. In fact, Jesus spoke against taking a certain vain attitude when praying in public, contrasting the pious Pharisees' practice of showing off in prayer with His expectation that His disciples should pray in private (Matthew 6:5–15). Public prayer should never be about making ourselves appear righteous before others.
Public prayer is certainly permitted, though, and can be very beneficial. Praying together is one form of communal worship. We see this in the early church in Acts 2:42. When we join together in prayer, we come as a group before God, to praise Him and seek Him. We publicly demonstrate our reliance on Him and our faith that He is able to accomplish things. Modeling this to each other and doing it together helps to build our faith and give us confidence in God. It reminds us that we are not alone and that God really is there and really does hear us. Public prayer can also serve as a witness to those who don't know Christ.
Praying together is also a way of encouraging each other (Hebrews 10:19–25). Rather than telling someone we will pray for them, it is often best to actually go to God together in the moment, as well as to continue to pray for them privately after. Likely someone has prayed for you in your presence; recall the sense of encouragement it gave you and consider that you can do the same for others. James 5:14 talks about calling the elders to pray over someone who is sick. James 5:16 tells us to confess our sins to each other and pray for one another. These are things we do in one another's presence—publicly.
For many Christians, being asked to pray publicly is something that occurs in a small group setting—perhaps your Bible study group or a Sunday school class. It might also be saying grace before a meal with others. Or perhaps it is even more intimate—praying with one friend or with your spouse or with your children. Other times public prayer involves a larger group, such as being asked to pray to begin or end a church service or perhaps a ministry or other event.
Again, we must note that public prayer is not about impressing others. If we are arrogant about praying in public or using it as a forum to showcase our supposed righteousness, then it is probably best not to pray in public. However, this is generally not the case for those struggling with nervousness to pray in public. So if you are someone who is nervous about praying in front of other people but want to be able to join in group prayer with your Bible study group, what can you do?
When possible, pray with people you know and trust. The more comfortable we are with the "public" with whom we are praying, the less nervous we'll be. If you know the group well enough, you might even ask them to pray for you as you learn to be comfortable with public prayer.
Whether in a small group or a large group, remember that you are not there to impress others with your eloquent prayers or with your knowledge of Scripture. You are there to represent others before the throne of God. It is a humbling position. When we focus on the fact that we are talking with God, and not giving a speech or a performance to a public audience, our nerves are often calmed.
Prepare yourself by praying before you "go public." Ask God to lead you in prayer. Ask Him to take away the nervousness and to give you confidence in speaking with Him in front of others.
Focus your prayers on others, asking God to bless them, the event, and others. Again, when we are focused on seeking God in prayer rather than on the fact that we are praying in public, we often find we are less nervous. Don't worry about saying the "right" words; simply approach God as you would if you were alone.
Remember that you have been granted access to God by Jesus Christ, and you are welcome by Him (Hebrews 4:14–16). He doesn't judge you for your outward appearance or performance, but by your inner desires (1 Samuel 16:7; Luke 18:9-14). God appreciates a humble and contrite heart (Psalm 51:17).
If your public prayer is before a large group of people or for a special event, there is nothing incorrect about writing out your prayer, practicing it, or reading it when the time comes. You can find many wonderful prayers already prepared and written down for special occasions. Add your own touch, then do what you can to become familiar with your prayer by praying it repeatedly before your event.
Many people find that they grow in confidence to pray publicly simply by doing it. Begin with your family or a close friend, then start branching out to your Bible study or community group. Also, the more you pray, the more comfortable you will be with praying in public. The better we know God through prayer, the more comfortable we are in approaching Him in prayer, whether others are present or not. Ultimately the thing that matters is that we are praying. "Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you" (1 Thessalonians 5:16–18).
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