Prayer is our most intimate time with God, and corporate prayer means we’re allowing others into that intimacy.
We already know not to abuse prayer. We know when we pray with others, we should be doing just that: praying with them, not to them. Our prayers aren’t conversations with the guy sitting next to us. It’s not a time to use flowery words in hopes of impressing the pastor. It isn’t a poem for the girl across the circle. And it certainly isn’t a vehicle for gossip.
Prayer is a two-way street between humans and God. So praise, confess, repent, thank and ask away. But maybe we need to pray that we will pray well.
Speaking for myself, when I pray on my own, I usually keep it pretty simple. I don’t tell elaborate stories to God; I don’t delve into graphic details; I get to the heart of the matter. God knows our prayers before we pray them.
And when we pray in community — as we should — I think we should usually keep it simple.
Why is it, then, that we so often don’t?
A trap of praying with others is thinking too much about who’s listening. How do I sound? What do they want to hear? Do my prayers show that I know more than them?
Surely, many of us have seen prayer become gossip. Most of us have probably fallen into it ourselves.
We tell too many dirty details about our friend’s family issues and excuse it by thinking: Well, just lifting it up to God.
We say too much about our friends’ sins, almost like we’re drawing comparisons: Look at all the bad stuff this person did… but here I am praying for their salvation.
We commonly criticize people and disguise it as prayer: God, forgive the senator for passing such-and-such a bill or God, you know all these bad things this guy has done — this, this and this — but I ask that you would change his heart.
We may even go too far into our own past as a source of pride, justifying it as just telling the facts: Look what I’m willing to reveal or Look how far I’ve come.
We gossip for a lot of reasons. To brag, to show that we know things other people don’t know, to condemn, even to mock. Gossip is bad enough on its own, but when it corrupts our prayers, it becomes even worse because we’re abusing a very special gift we’ve been given.
God knows our thoughts and actions, and he knows the thoughts and actions of every person we might pray for. Pour your victories and your friends’ deep, dark pasts into God, but be very careful when you pour them into people. The point of prayer is not to share information with those listening, especially when it’s information that may be damaging.
I’ve seen people admit things in prayer that they regret admitting later. I’ve seen them tell things that should remain secret and mask it with the defense that they’re telling God, not anyone else. I’ve seen prayer as gossip that results in hurt feelings, discomfort, offense, and, most commonly, more gossip. Did you hear what she did? Did you hear what happened to him?
Corporate prayer is a way to lift others up to God. Let’s not use it in a way that will shame others, glorify ourselves, or create dissension in the Church. What is more damaging to the Body than gossip?
Pray from the heart, but use your head enough to know some things don’t need to be said aloud.