Do you pray out loud in private? And why? That’s one of the things I was left pondering at the end of the Priesthood session. Vocal prayer was something mentioned in two of the talks given:
“Let’s examine your Aaronic Priesthood duties as described in section 20 of the Doctrine and Covenants. Be sensitive to what you feel as I apply these duties to your service in your family.
…“Exhort them to pray vocally and in secret and attend to all family duties” (verse 47).” (Elder Larry M. Gibson)
“I will give you an example of what a home teacher might do as he prays. You may already know that you are to:
“Visit the house of each member, exhorting them to pray vocally and in secret and attend to all family duties. …”” (President Henry B. Eyring)
Of course, all public prayers and family prayers are made for all present to be able to hear them. But what about our personal prayers? It’s at this point that I’ll admit that for as long as I can remember my personal prayers have been of the silent variety. In part that would be because I grew up sharing a room with my sister. So, privacy. My husband prays aloud in personal prayer, but given he does so in Japanese, that’s still pretty private. Mainly though, it’s because I was once told by my mother, when I was only quite young, that satan doesn’t know what we’re thinking. Putting that together with the idea that God knows our very thoughts, and feeling that I didn’t want satan to know about my prayers, what was in them, I determined then and there that my personal prayers would remain private, and therefore silent. And so it has been ever since. I do not feel remotely comfortable with the idea of praying my personal prayers out loud.
So, what might the benefits be to praying out loud? From Ensign articles covering the topic:
“As I thought about my prayers, I realized that the majority of them were silent prayers. Unfortunately, my mind tends to wander, and these silent prayers often turned into rambling thoughts not particularly related to prayer. As I began praying vocally, I found that I was able to concentrate more on what I was saying, and my prayers were more meaningful.” (Patterns of Prayer in the Book of Mormon, Ensign, October 2012)
“I have found there is great power in praying aloud. Fourteen-year-old Joseph Smith had surely prayed before the First Vision, but not vocally. The prayer that brought about the Restoration was verbal (see Joseph Smith—History 1:14). Though the Lord hears and answers all prayers, both silent and spoken, I have found that vocal prayer is especially powerful because it helps me concentrate my thoughts. The scriptures are replete with stories of those who lifted their voices to the heavens. Nephi prayed aloud (see 2 Nephi 4:24), Enos raised his voice till it reached the heavens (Enos 1:4), and Alma and his people prayed so loud their captors threatened to put them to death if they did not stop (see Mosiah 24:10–12). Christ offered His great Intercessory Prayer aloud (see John 17:1) as well as His prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane (see Matthew 26:39–44). If at all possible, when I am on my knees I try to pray aloud.” (What I Have Learned About Mighty Prayer, Ensign, December 2006)
Further research on the topic, would indicate that an “out loud” interpretation of “vocal”, though not uncommon, isn’t universal. The distinction then becomes whether prayer uses words (whether aloud or silent) to communicate with God, or is more meditative:
“There are two kinds of prayer: vocal prayer and mental prayer. Vocal prayer is prayer using words either out loud or silently…
“In mental prayer we pray with our mind without using words. In fact this distinction between vocal and mental prayer is only a rough one because in vocal prayer we need to keep our minds on the words we are praying, and in mental prayer we shall from time to time say a word or two. But having said that, the distinction between vocal and mental prayer is widely used and is helpful in understanding more about prayer.” (Vocal and Mental Prayer, Holy Faith website)
Not unnaturally, this definition quite appealed to me, given it means I can see my own silent personal prayers as fulfilling the injunction to pray vocally. I do use words, and sentences, and so forth.
But things can be more complicated still, since some traditions seem to regard vocal prayer as repeating set prayers, such as the Lord’s Prayer, out loud, whilst mental prayer would be ones own thoughts expressed to God, in an unrehearsed manner. And in the catholic tradition there would appear to be three forms of prayer: vocal, meditative and contemplative, where vocal prayer out loud, is seen as giving due homage to God using our full human capacity, including speech, but is also regarded as lower than meditative and then contemplative prayer.
“God seeks worshippers in Spirit and in Truth, and consequently living prayer that rises from the depths of the soul. He also wants the external expression that associates the body with interior prayer, for it renders him that perfect homage which is his due.
“… Even interior prayer, however, cannot neglect vocal prayer. Prayer is internalized to the extent that we become aware of him “to whom we speak;” Thus vocal prayer becomes an initial form of contemplative prayer.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 4:1 Prayer In The Christian Life)
I enjoyed the descriptions that followed of meditative and contemplative prayer. Any idea LDS have that those other Christian folks are just meant to recite set prayers and are then done is just flat out incorrect. Prepared prayers, or set prayers are spoken, but meditative and contemplative prayer, in which we might perhaps recognise some of what we hope to achieve in our own prayers, silent.
- How do you understand the injunction to pray vocally?
Also, using set prayers doesn’t rule out also using extemporaneous prayer. I would be surprised to hear about any significant group of Christians who excludes extemporaneous prayer completely.
Is it possible that Satan needs to hear our prayers out loud to know where we stand?
It’s been noted that when Joseph went to pray in the grove, it was his first time to pray vocally. I think (only speaking for myself) that there is a small bit of pride and/or fear that precludes me from normally doing so. I really don’t want those around me to hear what I am struggling with, what I’m asking for as a blessing in my life. When I do pray vocally, I notice my manner of language is different, my thought patterns are different. Sort of like the difference between writing a story and writing a talk. The intended audience may be the same, but there is something about the way sound falls on the ears that merits a different approach. This has inspired me to seek out a secret place more often and pray vocally.
What Satan knows or doesn’t know, I don’t think affects the way I pray. If he wants to know what the saints are praying about all he has to do is attend church. (Well, maybe it’s not that simple.) I liked the ‘rambling thoughts‘ account in the post. Because of that I try to pray vocally but I’m not terribly good at it. One things for sure though, the Lord does exhort it and command it in the D&C. He doesn’t really say why, though. I wonder if He sees a benefit for us speaking to Him rather than whispering to Him? Although, He does mention the prayer of the heart in D&C 19:28, there again, the prayer of the heart would not be a whispered prayer would it?
I don’t do it as often as I should, but I like to write prayers. I find that I am more focused and my mind is less likely to wander. My written prayers are more intimate and thoughtful. I don’t know whether this is considered vocal or not.
Kullervo, I’d also be surprised.
Kerry, why would I be concerned about what satan needs? I can’t see how that would help me. Would you like to expand on that a little bit?
IDIAT, thanks for the thoughtful response. Both Ensign articles mentioned Joseph’s grove experience, though to me given the battle described, I’m not sure that’s an altogether glowing reference for speaking aloud. Though on your farther point, I’m not that good at speaking to people anyway, and tend to be mostly quiet, unless I’ve been able to prepare beforehand. Phoning people, or attending meetings I have to make notes first, sometimes a lot of notes. Preparing talks, I always have them written out beforehand, and deliver them mostly as written, though in an engaging manner I hope. Which brings in:
Elsie, I think writing prayers would be an interesting experience for me. Do you speak them after you’ve written them?
My children attend a CofE school, and get to take turns in presenting assemblies to their form and year group on assigned topics. As part of this they are required to compose a prayer, something I find quite interesting.
Rich, Thanks for highlighting that verse:
“And again, I command thee that thou shalt pray vocally as well as in thy heart; yea, before the world as well as in secret, in public as well as in private.”
The juxtaposition of the alternatives in each phrase lead me to ask, can we read it as:
vocally – before the world – public
in thy heart – in secret – in private
Thus, public prayers are those we give in meetings, in front of others, or with our families, and then there are our personal prayers which don’t need to be vocal?
I think there are many ways to pray vocally. Set prayers could include sacramental prayers and hymns. Prayers at meetings or around the dinner table definitely apply. I do think personal prayers spoken out loud feel different than those that are silent, and each type serves a good purpose.
With the Joseph Smith First Vision account, the curious thing is Satan attacking Joseph by binding his tongue. This would seem to confirm some significance in being able to say the words of the prayer out loud.
Interesting idea, Mary Ann, thank you. But I don’t know. At that point he had begun to speak. Perhaps it was more an attempt to dissuade Joseph from continuing, have him think that if he can’t speak he should give up. It’s not at all clear to me here:
“exerting all my powers to call upon God to deliver me out of the power of this enemy which had seized upon me, and at the very moment when I was ready to sink into despair and abandon myself to destruction—not to an imaginary ruin, but to the power of some actual being from the unseen world, who had such marvelous power as I had never before felt in any being—just at this moment of great alarm, I saw a pillar of light exactly over my head, above the brightness of the sun, which descended gradually until it fell upon me.”
whether the call he made exerting all his powers was vocal or otherwise. I don’t know if there is any clearer record on that point elsewhere.
I feel like I’m complete rubbish at saying prayers aloud. It might be because my personal prayers are so intimate and inappropriate and in public I have to switch to formal voice and I can’t do it without it sounding fake. I really admire the GA’s in conference whose prayers are so sincere and heartfelt. I can’t seem to do that.
I wonder if saying a personal prayer vocally has similar effects as writing down a goal. They say a goal isn’t real until you’ve written it down. I assume because once you’ve written it down you’ve made more of a commitment to that goal than if you just thought about it or talked about it. I think saying a prayer out loud can be a more binding commitment on yourself that you really mean that prayer, that it wasn’t just a passing thought that came as you said a silent prayer. I think if this is the case, God is more likely to answer a prayer that has more of a sense of commitment behind it. In the case of Joseph Smith, perhaps this level of commitment was necessary before he was able to receive the answer to his prayer.
I find that vocalizing my prayers, whether out loud (rare) or silently to myself, helps keep my mind from wandering. Since I’m trying to limit the ways in which I lose myself in pointless legalism, the actual audibility of the prayer is irrelevant to me, as is the chance of being overheard by Satan. (What a bunch of nursery tale nonsense – as if my prayers are going to rock the kingdom of Hell to its foundations, or give away any Heavenly state secrets!)
I prefer not to be overheard by others, in almost all cases, for the same reason I keep any other personal, confidential conversation private. My main concern is that I don’t wake up, or come around, on my knees by the bed and realize that I’ve been dozing or wool-gathering for 15 minutes! 🙂
EBK, maybe. I’m not much of a goal setter in that sense either though. Writing them down didn’t help me.
New Iconoclast, thanks for the comment. I would just like to point out that my concerns as a child were neither heavenly secrets, nor the idea that my prayers held anything that would shake the foundations of hell,, merely that I didn’t want to provide any further ammunition that could be used against me.
A month or so ago, I taught a lesson on prayer in my Primary class. I had recently read a post at BCC about praying vocally as a class and tried it – a child volunteers for the prayer, and after the child speaks, the rest of the class repeats it. I thought it would be an interesting experience and was curious to their reaction. The kids loved it.
I never set out to write my prayers. I’m a journal writer and when going back over my journal several years ago I noticed how heartfelt and sincere some entries were. There were questions, real discussions, pondering, anger, expressions of gratitude and joy, and I realized this was what the prayers that I gave half-heartedly (mind wandering) at the side of my bed should be like.
I don’t read them aloud afterward. I was taught as a child that prayers were like talking to God on the telephone. I figure this is like writing a letter. I like to think of it as writing my own psalms and I enjoy the ability to go back and see my prayers and my spiritual development in a way I could not do if I never wrote them down.
I’m late to the party, but Hedgehog’s concern that “I didn’t want satan to know about my prayers” is somewhat more than folk doctrine. At least one talk on the topic has been delivered in General Conference (October 1991 https://www.lds.org/general-conference/1991/10/the-dual-aspects-of-prayer?lang=eng. The speaker, Francis Gibbons, served as secretary to the 1st presidency for 15 years and later as a Seventy.)
“…God has provided a channel of communication between him and his children on earth that Satan, our common enemy, cannot invade. This is the channel of secret prayer…”
Well I don’t know if it’s folk doctrine, but I do know I’ve been taught that. That satan and his minions cannot tell my inner thoughts, or prayers – but they gather information on how to tempt me best by watching my actions (how and where my eyes wander, etc.).
Maybe it’s just my love for Screwtape Letters (shrug)?
#10 Hedgehog, in the 1835 account Joseph described his tongue feeling swollen so that he was unable to utter a word. At some point his tongue was loosed and he was able to continue the prayer. I find contradictory statements as to whether his tongue was loosed after Joseph called for help silently, or if it just suddenly got loosed and he was able to call for help vocally. So… doesn’t really clear things up. Sorry.
The repeating of prayers in the temple and us expected to utter verbal “amen” for prayers led on our behalf indicates to me that spoken words (even if just to say I agree or ditto what’s just been said) have a purpose. That is not to say they are necessarily more powerful than prayers uttered silently. Alma the Younger’s experience shows that silent prayer can be just as life-changing as prayer spoken out loud. Hannah’s prayer in the temple was also uttered silently and still considered valid.
The brain reacts differently to hearing the spoken word, even your own, so having vocal prayers can help move your thoughts in different ways if you’ve been only thinking them.
For an inadequate analogy; you learn a language faster speaking it than you do just thinking it.
Nate, sorry I seem to have missed your comment earlier. Yes, I can certainly relate to that. I always feel like I am five years old when I have to pray in public. Not especially eloquent. If I have enough notice, which is usually the case for sacrament meeting, then I will run through in my head particular things that I ought to mention, for instance whether that day has any particular importance (such as Remembrance Sunday, Easter..) and try to include them in the prayer.
Nate… where’d your comment go? I’d read it, noted I hadn’t responded, made a note to respond, did so, and now I can’t find it…
so, found it… Not sure what happened there!
Elsie, interesting link, thank you. Did you get any push-back from parents with that approach?
Interesting idea with the journal. Mine is far more prosaic, and brief. Usually a brief note of what I did that day, along the lines of, supermarket, 3 loads laundry… Makes my life sound very dull I’m sure. I seem to have the same reticence towards journal writing as I do praying aloud.
The Other Clark, Kristine A, nice to know it wasn’t just me, but something other people had heard as well. Thank you.
Mary Ann, thanks for that further information. I’d agree different prayers are valid. Aloud is more appropriate in a group, and having all repeat can be a good experience, I think.
Frank, I guess so. Maybe that links into the paying homage with ones whole body idea. Where to start the person may recite aloud, a set prayer or two, and then become more meditative.
Perhaps a huge benefit of vocal prayer is the love it can communicate to those hearing you pray for them.
For example, you might tell your child you love him/her a thousand times, but with some children (or anyone else you pray with), maybe hearing you pray for him/her communicates that love more effectively, or adds depth to the love they already know is there.
Thanks for bringing that point out Dexter. I think it’s something I’ve heard mentioned in a few talks over the years. Of course, my kids hear me pray about them in family prayer, and there would be the potential for them overhearing the prayers my husband and I have together. I can see it would be a benefit.
Still, I think a reason for praying out loud has to somehow speak to the relationship between the one praying and God. It feels odd to do so specifically for a tangential benefit, almost seems to detract from from the reason for praying in the first place. Perhaps because it smacks of doing so to be ‘seen of men’, even if those men are in this instance, family.
Right, I’m saying it could be a tangential benefit, and it would need to be sincere. If your purpose is to be heard by others, that wouldn’t be sincere and wouldn’t bring any benefit, in my opinion.
I think we’re agreed Dexter. I hadn’t meant to imply you were suggesting otherwise. Sorry.
“I find that vocalizing my prayers, whether out loud (rare) or silently to myself, helps keep my mind from wandering. “
That’s my problem too. Why I can’t create an image of God in my mind instead of all kinds of junk is beyond me.