praying out loud
Why did Yeshua (Jesus) instruct His followers to enter into their closets so that they would not be seen praying? Why was it necessary that they physically remove themselves from other men when they communed with their Maker? I think that when most of us moderns pray, that it is to ourselves, silently, in our minds. That is how I pray, or formerly did anyway. I would think about the person or thing and then ask GOD to intervene, or do HIS will, or do something special in the situation, but it was usually all in my mind, silently.
But as Yeshua instructed His followers to enter a closet (MATTHEW 6:6), or some private place, and close the door behind them, were they then accustomed to praying out loud? How does scripture portray prayer? If we went through the Bible and looked at how others prayed, do we find them generally praying silently to themselves, or are they routinely praying out loud?
I was surprised with the results of that search. Not once, not even one time in the hundreds of examples of prayer, is it clear that the individual was praying silently to himself. Not only that, but often the passage goes out of its way to make mention of the importance of being heard when one prays.
Of course we are all aware of the fact that GOD knows our hearts (1 CHRONICLES 28:9 and 1 CORINTHIANS 4:5) and that HE knows what we are going to pray for even before we ask (MATTHEW 6:8), but I found it curious that we are never instructed to pray silently to ourselves.
Consider also this passage.
- REVELATION 8:4 And the smoke of the incense, which came with the prayers of the saints, ascended up before God out of the angel's hand.
These prayers were ascending. They were in the process of drifting up with the smoke, rising up before GOD. It would appear then that these prayers were not instantly set before GOD the moment the saints thought about them.
Prayer is, or at least should be, an important part of the believer's life. Maybe it would be a wise investment of our time to search and learn in what manner our prayers are to be offered? We should not rely on Church tradition to dictate any part of our lives, especially one as important as prayer.
Let's first consider an early example of someone apparently praying silently.
- 1 SAMUEL 1:12-13 And it came to pass, as she continued praying before the LORD, that Eli marked her mouth. Now Hannah, she spake in her heart; only her lips moved, but her voice was not heard: therefore Eli thought she had been drunken.
"Contrary to custom Hannah prayed silently" (The Jerome Biblical Commentary, page 165). Noting the usual custom of praying aloud, the above Commentary suggests that Hannah prayed silently. But did she? The passage adds for us the detail that her lips moved. I challenge the reader to formulate a sentence or two by moving his lips and yet not make any sound at all. It's a difficult unnatural proposition because you have to hold your breath to do it.
Most likely Hannah whispered this prayer so quietly that Eli was not able to hear her words and he thus supposed her to be inebriated. The passage acknowledges her voice (qowl, meaning sound or noise, see 2:25), only stating that it was not heard. That she spoke in her heart does not necessarily inhibit her from whispering the prayer (see 2:1-10).
Many years later, after King Solomon had finished building the Temple in Jerusalem, he dedicated it with a long audible prayer in which he asked GOD that the Temple would always be a place where the sinner could seek forgiveness and GOD would hear their prayers.
- 2 CHRONICLES 7:12 And the LORD appeared to Solomon by night, and said unto him, I have heard thy prayer, and have chosen this place to myself for an house of sacrifice....14-15 If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land. Now mine eyes shall be open, and mine ears attent unto the prayer that is made in this place.
It is not happenstance that the hearing of the ears concerning prayers is so prevalent here and elsewhere in Scripture. Most often when prayer is mentioned, the important detail that it needs to be heard accompanies it. The above passage could just as easily have said that the LORD would just know their prayers, but instead it is repeatedly stated that HE would hear their prayers, with HIS ears.
PSALMS is overflowing with the idea of GOD hearing the prayers of HIS people. Consider some the following.
- PSALM 4:1 Hear me when I call, O God of my righteousness: thou hast enlarged me when I was in distress; have mercy upon me, and hear my prayer.
- PSALM 5:2 Hearken unto the voice of my cry, my King, and my God: for unto thee will I pray.
- PSALM 6:9 The LORD hath heard my supplication; the LORD will receive my prayer.
- PSALM 17:1 Hear the right, O LORD, attend unto my cry, give ear unto my prayer, that goeth not out of feigned lips.
- PSALM 39:12 Hear my prayer, O LORD, and give ear unto my cry; hold not thy peace at my tears: for I am a stranger with thee, and a sojourner, as all my fathers were.
- PSALM 54:2 Hear my prayer, O God; give ear to the words of my mouth.
- PSALM 55:1 Give ear to my prayer, O God; and hide not thyself from my supplication.
- PSALM 61:1 Hear my cry, O God; attend unto my prayer.
- PSALM 65:2 O thou that hearest prayer, unto thee shall all flesh come.
- PSALM 66:19 But verily God hath heard me; he hath attended to the voice of my prayer.
- PSALM 69:13 But as for me, my prayer is unto thee, O LORD, in an acceptable time: O God, in the multitude of thy mercy hear me, in the truth of thy salvation.
- PSALM 84:8 O LORD God of hosts, hear my prayer: give ear, O God of Jacob. Selah.
- PSALM 86:1 Bow down thine ear, O LORD, hear me: for I am poor and needy....6 Give ear, O LORD, unto my prayer; and attend to the voice of my supplications.
- PSALM 88:2 Let my prayer come before thee: incline thine ear unto my cry.
- PSALM 102:1 Hear my prayer, O LORD, and let my cry come unto thee.
- PSALM 142:1 I cried unto the LORD with my voice; with my voice unto the LORD did I make my supplication.
- PSALM 143:1 Hear my prayer, O LORD, give ear to my supplications: in thy faithfulness answer me, and in thy righteousness.
Not only are we repeatedly told in scripture that GOD hears prayers, but we are also reminded that HE will on occasion not hear prayers.
- ISAIAH 1:15 And when ye spread forth your hands, I will hide mine eyes from you: yea, when ye make many prayers, I will not hear: your hands are full of blood.
- JEREMIAH 11:14 Therefore pray not thou for this people, neither lift up a cry or prayer for them: for I will not hear them in the time that they cry unto me for their trouble.
- LAMENTATIONS 3:8 Also when I cry and shout, he shutteth out my prayer....44 Thou hast covered thyself with a cloud, that our prayer should not pass through.
Here again in this last passage is the idea that prayers travel through space and are not necessarily instantly before GOD the moment we think them.
How about Yeshua? Are there any occasions where we are told that He prayed silently? Not one. Not only so, but if we consider the likelihood that His also prayed out loud, not a few difficult passages become clear, and apparent discrepancies finally have an explanation. Consider His prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane.
- MATTHEW 26:39 And he went a little further, and fell on his face, and prayed, saying, O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt.
It has on occasion been asked how Yeshua's disciples could have known what exactly He had prayed in this lonely and turbulent hour? But all is clear if Yeshua was praying aloud, possibly very aloud as His prayer was one of absolute desperation. Being only a stone's throw away, Peter, James and John could no doubt have then easily heard His prayer, before they nodded off to sleep. This aligns perfectly with the fact that we only have the first part of His prayer preserved, them evidently being asleep during the remainder of it.
A striking verse in HEBREWS may explain the situation precisely for us.
- HEBREWS 5:7 Who in the days of his [Yeshua's] flesh, when he had offered up prayers and supplications with strong crying and tears unto him that was able to save him from death, and was heard in that he feared.
"Supplications with strong crying and tears" paints a picture for us of anything but silent prayers. Notice again that the verse states that He was heard when He prayed.
If it is the case that Yeshua consistently prayed out loud and not silently to Himself, this fact might also explain how the disciples found Him early one morning in a solitary place.
- MARK 1:35-37 And in the morning, rising up a great while before day, he went out, and departed into a solitary place, and there prayed. And Simon and they that were with him followed [pursued] after him. And when they had found him, they said unto him, All men seek for thee.
I've often wondered how Peter so easily found Yeshua in that solitary place. But if he heard Him praying off in the distant, possibly loudly on that quiet morning, then it might not have been that difficult to simply follow the sounds of His prayers.
Here is another example along this line, except with Paul and Silas.
- RSV ACTS 16:25 But about midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them.
Were the prisoners listening to only their singing, or to both their prayers and singing? From the subsequent action of the prison-keeper, one would expect something more powerful than simply singing was heard, for after the earthquake he "came trembling, and fell down before Paul and Silas....and said, Sirs, what must I do to be saved?" We must assume that there was something in Paul and Silas' prayer, which the jailor heard, which caused this powerful reaction from him.
Another passage which suggest to many that silent prayers are indeed sanctioned by scripture is a passage in ROMANS.
- ROMANS 8:26 Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmities: for we know not what we should pray for as we ought: but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered.
It is popularly taught and thought that this verse is saying that our prayers are sometimes groans which cannot be uttered. Howbeit, that is not at all what the verse says. It says that the Spirit's intercession is what cannot be uttered, not our prayers. The error lies in the assumption that the spirit is our spirit, but Paul has already differentiated between the two spirits in a previous verse.
- ROMANS 8:16 The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God.
Obviously Paul is writing of two different and distinct spirits. Thus, verse 26 is not speaking of our spirit praying within us with words that can't be uttered, but rather it explicitly states that it is the Spirit which is making intercession, with words that cannot be uttered. No doubt GOD's Spirit was leading and moving them in some specific way to pray for others. Paul sets the whole context early in the chapter.
- ROMANS 8:4-8 That the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. For they that are after the flesh do mind [phronema, set their purpose on] the things of the flesh; but they that are after the Spirit the things of the Spirit.
- For to be carnally minded [phronema, purposed] is death; but to be spiritually minded [phronema, purposed] is life and peace. Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be. So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God.
This entire section is a continuation of chapter seven where Paul had confessed his own failing to walk by the spirit when he was blindly persecuting the Christian believers (for further elaboration on this, see the Study, No Condemnation?). Now in the eighth chapter he writes that this carnal mind, this carnal purpose is enmity against GOD.
- ROMANS 8:12-14 Therefore, brethren, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live after the flesh. For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die: but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live. For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God.
Paul continues bringing to the forefront his point about being led by the Spirit of GOD versus being led by the flesh. It is the mind of the Spirit versus the mind of the flesh, being carnally purposed or being spiritually purposed. Then again our verse 26.
- ROMANS 8:26 Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmities [infirmity, singular]: for we know not what we should pray for as we ought: but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered.
The for us is probably not in the original text. Thus the Spirit makes intercession, howbeit not for us but in us for others. With groanings which cannot be uttered, the Spirit inspires and moves us as to what and who we should pray for (see also 9:1).
The word pray here in ROMANS 8 is from the Greek word proseuchomai; pro meaning to or towards and euchomai meaning to declare out loud a wish or desire, as a few verses later in 9:3. (see also ACTS 26:29;27:29 2 CORINTHIANS 13:7,9 JAMES 5:16 3 JOHN 1:2). Thus, our prayers are supplications where we wish or desire GOD's help in some particular matter. The Spirit moves us, indeed leads us by certain groanings to pray, to wish for the betterment of others. Here in chapter eight we have the same basic word groan in verses 22 and 23.
- ROMANS 8:22-23 For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now. And not only they, but ourselves also, which have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body.
The whole creation groans together; we groan within ourselves and in verse 26 GOD's Spirit groans within us. It is all summarized by Paul in the next couple of verses.
- ROMANS 8:27-28 And he that searcheth the hearts knoweth what is the mind [phronema, purpose] of the Spirit, because [therefore] he maketh intercession for the saints according to the will of God. And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.
It is GOD who searches the hearts of men. HE of course knows what the purposes or intentions of the Spirit are, which is making intercession for the saints. How does the Spirit do this? With groanings which cannot be uttered, they cannot be expressed in words. But our ensuing prayers can and should be expressed in words.
Next we come to a another passage which is sometimes referred to as evidence that silent prayers are the ideal way to communicate with GOD. Here Paul is writing about praying with the spirit.
- 1 CORINTHIANS 14:15 What is it then? I will pray with the spirit, and I will pray with the understanding also: I will sing with the spirit, and I will sing with the understanding also.
This entire section concerning which Paul writes the church at Corinth begins in chapter twelve. There we are told that Paul wants to inform them of certain spiritual things. Among these things are nine manifestations or evidences of the spirit, three of which are speaking in tongues, the interpretation of those tongues and prophecy. The Corinthians were operating these manifestations in an improper way and Paul sought to correct them.
In chapter fourteen, Paul equated praying in tongues with praying in the spirit (14:14) and that in this kind of prayer there was no understanding of what one said (14:2,16), the understanding being unfruitful.
Thus, Paul attested that he could pray with the spirit (speaking in tongues) or that he could pray with his understanding, and therefore so could the believers at Corinth. The question before us is, How does this apply to us today? We too can pray with our understanding, but can we pray with the spirit by speaking in tongues?
I've been in, and participated in, literally hundreds if not thousands of these meetings where individuals were purportedly prophesying and/or speaking in tongues; but is this the prophesying and speaking in tongues of which Paul was familiar? A few verses later Paul speaks of what results they should expect to see in one of these meetings.
- RSV 1 CORINTHIANS 14:24-25 But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or outsider enters, he is convicted by all, he is called to account by all, the secrets of his heart are disclosed; and so, falling on his face, he will worship God and declare that God is really among you.
In all of the meetings I've attended, I have never seen nor heard of anyone being convicted in any way similar to this. No secrets of the heart are ever disclosed and no one falls to the floor confessing that GOD is among the group. The prophecies given these days are just not that earth shattering. The manifestations of the spirit to which Paul alluded, including miracles and gifts of healing, obviously had little resemblance to those which we hear of today. One must therefore conclude that the manifestations of the first century Church were of a totally different nature then those which are claimed by today's Church.
Paul and his fellow believers lived at the end of an era (RSV HEBREWS 9:26), when things were entirely different then they are today. As an example, earlier in this same letter Paul instructed the Church that because the time is short and the fashion of this world is about to pass away, it might be better if they did not marry.
- 1 CORINTHIANS 7:8-9 I say therefore to the unmarried and widows, It is good for them if they abide even as I. But if they cannot contain, let them marry: for it is better to marry than to burn.... 29-31 But this I say, brethren, the time is short: it remaineth, that both they that have wives be as though they had none....for the fashion of this world passeth away.
Being confident that Yeshua was soon to return and carry His Church away into heaven, Paul taught that it may be of more use, more profitable, for the believers to be about the work of the ministry rather than being about the raising of a family. But, Paul acknowledged that this decision was for each person to make for himself. To read more concerning the end of that era, see Whatever Happened to Timothy?
At any rate, neither praying with the spirit by speaking in tongues nor praying with one's understanding are said to be done silently within one's own mind.
Here are a handful of other prominent verses from the Christian Scriptures where prayers are exclaimed to be heard.
- LUKE 1:13 But the angel said unto him, Fear not, Zacharias: for thy prayer is heard; and thy wife Elisabeth shall bear thee a son, and thou shalt call his name John.
- JOHN 11:41 Then they took away the stone from the place where the dead was laid. And Jesus lifted up his eyes, and said, Father, I thank thee that thou hast heard me.
- ACTS 10:31 And said, Cornelius, thy prayer is heard, and thine alms are had in remembrance in the sight of God.
- JAMES 5:4 Behold, the hire of the labourers who have reaped down your fields, which is of you kept back by fraud, crieth: and the cries of them which have reaped are entered into the ears of the Lord of sabaoth.
- 1 PETER 3:12 For the eyes of the Lord are over the righteous, and his ears are open unto their prayers: but the face of the Lord is against them that do evil.
Thus we find ample evidence in Scripture that Praying Out Loud was the normal way of praying to GOD, while praying silently to oneself was rarely if ever done. It would seem that GOD would hear our prayers regardless, but it has to make us wonder why silent prayers are never alluded to in Scripture.