We’ve all attended prayer gatherings where someone offers an “unspoken” request for prayer. In no way do I intend to offend anyone who has done so. You probably consider the burden(s) of such a sensitive nature that they need not be publicized. Even though someone should know something, not everyone needs to hear everything.
That said, the notion of an “unspoken” request might stem from an anemic view of the nature of God, prayer and the church. Therefore, unspoken requests fail to take full advantage of and receive the grace God provides to those who ask. Before sharing our unspoken request we should consider what we believe about God and how he intends to use congregational prayer to supply sufficient grace and mercy to us.
1. God is a revealing God. He discloses what is hidden. He shines light where there is darkness. He explains mysteries. We are image-bearers of God, whose image is being recovered by Christ in us. To be like God is to reveal the truth about our heart and those issues that burden us. To be like God is to be honest and being honest means not hiding what is good and helpful for his work in us. Christians come out of the shadows into the light so the world can see God at work (Jn 3.21).
2. Prayer is God’s means of working out his purposes in the world. Unspoken requests do not lean into what those purposes might be. If the church is not made aware of what tempts us, terrifies us, encourages us then the church is not able to participate with us in discerning God’s purposes in our suffering. Our suffering is ultimately for the glory of God and the comfort of his people (2 Cor 1.3-7). Unspoken afflictions rob the church of the comfort God intends to provide the afflicted.
3. The church is the primary arena where God displays and supplies his grace; especially as the community prays together. The church is the community of love wherein God extends his practical care to his beloved children. Through our brothers and sisters in Christ we receive the tangible care of Christ himself. To offer an “unspoken” burden is to distrust the means by which God intends to comfort us. We don’t think the church is a capable community to care for our soul. Unspoken requests are like asking the church to watch us carry a burden. But, Jesus gives the church to share those burdens (Gal 6.2). In fact, it is the very law of Christ to do so.
Often we preface unspoken requests by conceding God knows what’s going on and that’s all that matters. If that’s the case, then keep the whole matter between you and God until you’re ready to share it with the church. Otherwise, be prepared by faith to share with God’s people matters of the fainting heart.
That we have cultivated a community where unspoken requests are common should convict, not comfort, us in the church. Such requests evidence the erosion of love, trust, gentleness and maturity. Unspoken requests provide a measure of anonymity to those who haven’t been loved well in/by the church. Perhaps transparency was once met with gossip, slander, assumptions and hasty conclusions. Therefore, while our heart cries out for prayer we cannot risk the pain of specificity. Let’s be better than that because Christ is better than that.
4. Scripture is laced with recorded prayers and none are anonymous or generic. They are largely congregational and specific.
In the end, unspoken requests might well hinder God’s help: the very help for which we are desperate to pray. They at least confuse how God administers grace to us. They want God’s grace and mercy without the necessary humility to enjoy true comfort. We might well invite sympathy when what we really need is admonition. We might invite admonition when what we really need is encouragement.
Sharing the burdens of our heart demonstrates a humble spirit before God and men. We trust the High Priest and his priesthood to mediate God’s assurance of love to us. We acknowledge that our help comes from outside us as we entrust our souls to God’s care as he intends to provides. Next time we are tempted to offer an unspoken request let us remember that Christ died openly and publicly for us. Let us die to ourselves likewise and trust him to convey his strength through his brothers and sisters who are your brothers and sisters too.