By Rev. O.L. Johnson
“There’s no such thing as a silent prayer.”
That is a direct quote from a respected television Bible teacher who shall remain nameless. I imagine this is a shock and bad news to millions of people whose prayers are mostly silent, including yours truly.
If we accept this as biblical truth, then literally millions of prayers are wasted each and every day.
Our teacher seems to be telling us that God does not answer prayers that are not offered audibly. To prove his point, he relies on what Jesus said to his disciples in Luke 11:2 when he was asked to “teach us to pray.”
Jesus’ response was, “when ye pray, say…” and he continues to teach them what we now refer to as the Lord’s Prayer.
Our television teacher then focuses on the word “say,” interpreting it to mean “speaking audibly,” by pointing out that Jesus said “when ye pray, say…” and not “when ye pray, think…” Then he gave us his quote as stated above. Beyond that, he didn’t elaborate; but I began to wonder what he felt was God’s reaction to our “silent” prayers.
I came up with a couple of alternatives: either God cannot hear our thoughts; or, he does hear them but chooses to ignore them because they are inaudible.
In either event, our silent prayers cannot be answered, according to our teacher’s view of the text. We can immediately ignore alternative one because we know there is nothing that God cannot do. He is omnipotent.
That leaves us with alternative two. There are verses in both the Old and New Testaments that teach us that God does in fact know our thoughts. Check them out for yourself : Psalm 94:11, Luke 5:22 /9:47, and 1Corinthians 3:20. So God does hear our silent prayers, and because he is God, he’s free to ignore them or not. That’s his call.
Now let’s revisit our teacher’s view of that little word “say.” Does it really mean what he says it means in this text?
To find an answer, let’s consult the parallel passage to Luke 11:2, found in Matthew 6:9. In that verse, Matthew records Jesus’ answer to the disciples’ request in these words, “after this manner therefore pray ye…”
In this verse, the key word is “manner”, which is the English translation of the Greek word meaning “in this way.” So, the word manner refers to what follows in the verse, and not to whether or not it is being communicated audibly. I believe the same can be said of the word “say” in Luke 11:2. It likewise refers to what follows, and not how it is communicated.
I base this belief on the choice of the Greek words, which could have been used in the original text if “speaking audibly” was the intent of the verse. In that event, the Greek word “rheo” could have been used, which means, to speak or say, or utter a command; or, the Greek word “epo” may have been chosen, which means to speak or say by word or writing.
Neither word was used in the original text. The Greek word “lego” appears there, which means “to relate in words, usually of systematic or set discourse.” So, in Luke, Jesus is saying that the proper manner of prayer is a systematic, set way, as he was about to demonstrate to them, beginning with “Our Father.”
Finally, I believe we’ve made the case for silent prayer, with all due respect to our television theologian. So, don’t get upset about your silent prayers. God hears them as well. Pray with confidence.
Rev. O.L. Johnson, a retired LAPD lieutenant, is an associate pastor in his home church, Greater New Zion Baptist, 501 W. 80th St. in South Los Angeles.
Pastor’s Corner is a religious column that looks at the relevancy of scripture in life today. The column will appear monthly in The Wave and on its website, www.wavepublication.com.