High Decibel Prayers
I do not know if it started in the Church or with the comedians, but it is a joke that has been around for quite a while: “Shout this prayer like somebody whose fingers were jammed by a car door…shout ‘Holyyyy Spirit’ like a man who stepped on life coals!” This would have been tolerable as a joke, but I actually have heard it in church, and it gives me a reason for concern: It is becoming increasingly fashionable to believe that the loudness and physicality of your exertions during prayer determine the speed at which you get heard, or the strength of your prayer, or the degree to which demons will fear you. I cannot but disagree with such notions.
Loud and Quiet Prayers
There is no doubt that the scriptures, in several places, encourage and prescribe praying out loud. Jesus prayed out loudly with his disciples. He prayed out loudly before the crowd at the grave of Lazarus. The Apostles prayed out loudly in public and in private. In the Psalms, in “A Maskil of David, when he was in the cave,” David said “With my voice I cry out to the Lord; with my voice I plead for mercy to the Lord” Psalm 142 Vs 1. Praying out loud and clearly appears to be a necessity in communal worship and prayer meetings, “otherwise, if you give thanks with your spirit, how can anyone in the position of an outsider say ‘Amen’ to your thanksgiving when he does not know what you are saying?” (1 Cor 14:16).
There is also abundant evidence in the Bible about extreme physical exertion in prayer. Epaphras, one of the companions of Apostle Paul, was recorded as “always struggling” on behalf of the Colossian Church in his prayers. Col 4:12, while Apostle Paul himself wrote the Galatian Church, that he was “travailing” for them in prayers. The supreme example here is from the Lord Jesus Christ. In the Garden of Gethsmane, being in an agony, “he prayed more earnestly: and his sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground.” Luke 4 vs 22.
So praying out loud is not strange in the Bible. What I find strange is this all too common exhortation to roar like a wounded lion, to “not allow the voice of your neighbour to overshadow your own” Would that imply that people who are naturally gifted with loud voices and capacity to shout have an advantage before God? I’m certain that the answer is no.
One of the classical prayers in the Bible was offered by Hannah, the mother of Samuel: “Now Hannah, she spake in her heart; only her lips moved, but her voice was not heard: therefore Eli thought she had been drunken.” (1Sa 1:13). Her voice was not heard by men, but she poured her soul unto the Lord. Another example that easily comes to mind was the Woman with twelve years issue of blood. She came behind Jesus, in the bustling crowd, “and touched the hem of his garment: For she said within herself, If I may but touch his garment, I shall be whole.” (Mat 9:20-21) Need we say more? If it was by the decibel level of the shout, none of these women would stand a chance, but God heard the voice of their hearts! As Cece Winnans said in her song, Alabaster, “And though she spoke no words, Everything she said was heard…”
God spoke of His servant in Isaiah Chapter 42, the One in who His soul delights. “He shall not cry, nor lift up, nor cause his voice to be heard in the street.” (Isa 42:2) He would not be a man of physical force, yet he will be extremely effective and successful. “A bruised reed shall he not break, and the smoking flax shall he not quench: he shall bring forth judgment unto truth. He shall not fail nor be discouraged, till he have set judgment in the earth: and the isles shall wait for his law. ” (Isa 42:3-4)
So, What Really Matters?
What I see in the Bible is the need for fervency: “The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much”, says the Bible in James 5:16. The word fervent has nothing to do with how loud, but how “hot”. Fervency is an inwardly spiritual thing. Check the other places the word was used in the New Testament. it referred to the quality of the inner man. “Fervent in spirit” is the usual phrase. Now, if your internal fervency erupts in a noise, like a volcano of spiritual energy, that is a different matter. I know, however, that the noise does not make the volcano, the hot interior does.
The second issue, next to fervency, is the righteousness of the praying person. Men should lift up holy hands in prayer. And finally, ask in faith, and in line with the word of God. These, to my understanding, are the basic, non-negotiable requirements of prayer.
How did we arrive here then?
So where did this notion that the quality of our shouts determine the efficacy of our prayers come from? Is it borne of an effort to to appear to have done something to warrant the attention of heaven? I see an example in the scriptures, but it is not for us to emulate. It was at the encounter between Elijah and the Prophets of Baal. The prophets of Baal prayed from morning until noon, without results. Then Elijah mocked them saying “cry aloud: for he is a god; either he is talking, or he is pursuing, or he is in a journey, or peradventure he sleepeth, and must be awaked. And they cried aloud, and cut themselves after their manner with knives and lancets, till the blood gushed out upon them”. Of course, all the theatrics did not work.
But Elijah did the right thing: he repaired the altar of the Lord, and set the stones and wood in order, and offered a bullock unto the Lord. A lot of symbolism is hidden here. But suffice it to say that all the steps Elijah took here point to repairing your relationship with the Lord, and igniting the fire of God in the altar of your heart.
I find it instructive that the Bible described Elijah’s prayer by saying “Elijah the prophet came near, and said…”, while the prophets of Baal “cried aloud.”
The lesson is not that it is bad to shout in prayer if your circumstances and spiritual “temperature” demands it. However, we need to be wary of any institutional insistence on the shout as evidence that you are praying, or that your prayers will be answered. I do not see the scriptures supporting that notion. Do you?