Ah…the unspoken prayer request. I first encountered this wonderful device during my freshman year of college. Pretty much every guy in the Bible study had an unspoken prayer request. As I followed up with the various guys, I discovered that pretty much every unspoken request was a discrete plea for deliverance from pornography. The term proved useful because it allowed the guys to appear both spiritual and datable.
But the expression is not limited to college freshman. Moms, grandpas, and uncle Joe regularly toss out “Unspoken Prayer Request” on Facebook. Many do so because they fear how their needs might affect how others view them or because the need should not be put in the public square. The more pragmatic of us may employ the device because we want to save time. Listing 20 unspoken prayer requests takes far less time than listing out the specific requests of your friends which includes everything from grandma’s sore shoulder to comfort for Bobby who just lost his cat.
Should We Use Them?
But should we use the term? I think the answer is no. I understand how the term can seem helpful. However, the Scriptures never mention an “Unspoken Prayer Request.” In fact, the term does not even appear in the Christian vocabulary until around the 1960’s. I think no one was using the term until the modern era because the Bible puts forth a different view of prayer.
In Matthew 6:6-8, Jesus says:
But you, when you pray, go into your inner room, close your door and pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you. And when you are praying, do not use meaningless repetition as the Gentiles do, for they suppose that they will be heard for their many words. So do not be like them; for your Father knows what you need before you ask Him.
When we pray, we should pray with confidence. We pray knowing that God already knows our needs. We pray knowing that God will act according to his will. If we ask God to give us joy, to deliver us from greed, and to give us patience, we know he will hear us. Our reward through praying comes not from letting everyone else know that we have a secret prayer request. It does not come from communal sympathy. It comes from watching God rescues us from specific problems and communal praise to God. And that rescue does not depend on the number of people praying for us but upon the God who knows what we need. In other words, we don’t need to uses unspoken prayer request because God hears even our faintest whispers and will respond to our cries for help even if no one else knows we have a need.
But What About Communal Prayer?
The early church prayed together and prayed together often (Acts 4:24; 12:5; 14:23). And when the people of God prayed together, they prayed with a purpose. They offered up specific requests to God, following the example Jesus laid out in the Lord’s Prayer (Matt. 6:9-15; I Tim. 2:1-2). They took their worries to God (Phil 4:6). And, they directly confessed their sins both to each other and to God (James 5:16). God calls us to share our burdens with others.
But if we expect to be delivered from sin, we must hate it enough to call sin, sin. We must come out from behind the “Unspoken” curtain and confess our struggles to those who can help us better follow Jesus and to those whom we have offended. Consequently, the woman having an affair should not initially mention her request in the public prayer service. Nor, should she publicly enlist prayer for her sin on Facebook.
But she does need to ask other godly ladies she trusts to pray with her. She does need to confess her sin to her husband and ask him to pray with her and for her. I John 5:16a says, “If anyone sees his brother committing a sin not leading to death, he shall ask and God will for him give life to those who commit sin not leading to death.” We should share our needs with the body of Christ and we should want to pray for our church family. We should not mask the needed acts of repentance with the spiritual empty practice of offering an “Unspoken Prayer Request.”
Are you ready to pray biblical prayers?