“Okay, ladies, who would be willing to lead us in prayer?”
And, just like that, the whole group goes mute. Women who had been laughing and whispering suddenly freeze. All eyes shift to the floor. Previously unnoticed shoes become objects of intense interest. Everyone feels an urgent need to check her phone as the leader hopefully seeks eye contact with volunteers—and ultimately finds none.
Have you been in this situation? Maybe you were the leader, seeking someone else—anyone else!—to lead in prayer. Maybe you were a shoe examiner.
Reluctance to pray publicly can arise for several reasons—fear of public speaking, awareness of spiritual weakness, lack of interest, ignorance of how to pray aloud—but it is always worth overcoming. Especially when older women and younger women are gathered together, the older women (whether older chronologically or spiritually) have an opportunity to love and encourage the younger women by praying aloud with them.
In my twenties, when I was single and longing to be married, I confided my desire to a woman in my church who had waited many disappointing years for a husband. She prayed with me that day and then repeatedly over the next years, asking the Lord to glorify himself in my singleness and to grant me the blessing of marriage. She prayed for a godly and faithful husband, and she prayed that the Lord would make me more holy day by day.
Because of her experiences of prolonged singleness, she understood my desires, and she knew what I needed even better than I did. Like the prayer of Hannah (1 Sam. 2:1-10) which informed the prayer of Mary (Luke 1:46-55), this woman’s wise petitions shaped my own.
A similar scene has played out over all the stages of my life. As a child, the prayers of my mother about my playground scrapes and hurt feelings taught me to seek God’s glory in the midst of trial. As a young mom, the prayers of older moms in my Bible study groups encouraged me that the terrible twos would not last forever, and that the Lord would be faithful while I waited it out. As a writer, I have learned from the knowing intercessions of other writers. As a pastor’s wife, I have been blessed by praying friends also in the ministry.
Older women can rejoice and weep in prayer with younger women—and they can help younger women bear their burdens to the throne—because they have had the same experiences.
This is exactly what Christ does for us. Our Savior who “always lives to make intercession” (Heb. 7:25) prays for us as one who has shared our common human experience. He prays for the hungry as one who has been hungry. He prays for the weary as one who has been weary. He prays for the misunderstood, the ignored, the abused, the slandered, and the betrayed as one who has been all of those. He prays for the tempted as one who has faced every attack of the Evil One and never stumbled. The prayers Jesus is praying for us are infinitely loving because he understands our situation perfectly.
As the Bible study leader hopefully seeks volunteers in the awkward silence, are you willing to imitate Christ? Are you willing to overcome your reluctance and pray aloud, sympathizing with a younger woman whose struggles you know so well? Are you willing to trust God that your most feeble prayers will be his instruments to encourage someone who hears?
Sisters, let us pray.
Megan Hill is a PCA pastor’s daughter and a PCA pastor’s wife living in Massachusetts. She is the author of Praying Together: The Priority and Privilege of Prayer in Our Homes, Communities, and Churches (Crossway, 2016).