The first year we did a house of prayer in the middle of campus for Rez Week I met a few students who objected to the idea of such public prayer. They referenced the sermon on the mount when Jesus spoke about not praying in public, but instead going into your own room to pray in private with the door closed (Matthew 6:6). The King James Version translates it a “prayer closet.”
If you look at the context of Jesus’s teaching in this sermon, you will see that it is not a teaching about where to pray as much as it is teaching on motivation for prayer. He is teaching about how the three Christian disciplines of giving, fasting, and prayer can be practiced in a way to be seen by man or to be seen by God. It is a question of motivation, not location.
The better way to decide if we should pray in private or in public is to look at the life of Jesus and the early church to see which of the two they practiced. We know that Jesus practiced private and public prayer, as did his disciples and the early church as seen in the book of Acts.
Both private and public prayer are needed. They fuel one another. All followers of Jesus should make time for both.
Jesus had a remarkable private prayer life. The gospel of Luke tells of many times when Jesus went off by himself to pray on mountains and in gardens (Luke 4:1, 4:42, 5:16, 6:12, 9:18). Luke, the author of Acts, also shows the disciples in private prayer in houses and on rooftops (Acts 8:26, 9:5, 9:10, 9:11, 10:2, 10:9).
Personal prayer is important because it allows our personal relationship with God to grow. Just as best friends or a married couples need time alone to develop their personal relationship, so too do we need this personal time with God. Developing a routine of private prayer is vital for our relationship with God. Every believer needs a time and place to meet with God each day.
Jesus also had a remarkable public prayer life. Luke tells of many times when Jesus prayed with others publically at funerals, on the sea, and on mountains (Luke 7:14, 8:24, 8:54, 9:28, 10:21). Again, Luke writes about many public prayer meetings among Jesus’s followers in the book of Acts in houses, at the temple, and in the streets (1:14, 2:42, 3:1, 4:24, 12:12, 13:2).
Public prayer is important because it allows our community to grow closer to God together. It gives us the chance to love others and be loved by others through giving and receiving prayer. Corporate prayer allows a community to stand with one another on behalf of their families, campuses, cities, and nations in a way that unites vision. Plus, in public prayer, you learn to pray better by listening to others pray. Every believer needs a time and place to pray with others each day or each week.
Time and Place
This is a meaningful phrase regarding the Prayer Closet vs. the Prayer Room debate. There is a time and place for each. Meaning, both are called for as we seek to walk with God and with others. We need to practice both.
We also need to set aside a time and place for each. While we are called to “pray continually” (I Thessalonians 5:17), we cannot use that command as an excuse to say we pray all the time and do not need a routine for private and public prayer. We need a set time and a set place for both private and public prayer.
If we really intend to practice each, then when will we do so? What is the time and place for our prayer closet time with God each day? Where is our time and place for your prayer room with God and others each day or each week?
Justin Christopher is the national campus director for Campus Renewal Ministries and the author of Campus Renewal: A Practical Plan for Uniting Campus Ministries in Prayer and Mission. He facilitates CRM’s Partnering Campus Project and also gives leadership to the Campus House of Prayer and the missional community movement at the University of Texas.