For many years Isabella served as an editor and contributor to a Christian magazine in which she had a very popular advice column. She used the column to answer readers’ concerns—from a Christian perspective—on a variety of topics.
One letter came from a woman who was having trouble overcoming a very common problem: She was terrified of praying aloud in front of other people.
The writer described herself as a grown woman, “not very young” of age. She believed it was her duty to pray before others in Sunday-school class or at prayer meetings, but she found it “almost impossible” to do so. Even when she planned out what to say ahead of time, she would forget, and stammer and stutter; and she often ended her prayer feeling embarrassed and pledging never to pray before others again.
Here is the advice Isabella gave her:
First, let me assure you that your “name is Legion.” As a worker among those that are moving toward middle age, I have found this feeling a constant hindrance.
My friend, by all means persevere, no matter how much you stumble, nor how many carefully-thought-out sentences you “forget.” Stammering lips often carry a message straight to the throne of God, and it is to God that we speak when we pray.
Do not let Satan blind you with that specious argument of his that you cannot pray to “edification.” That is not the first object of prayer. Moreover, God often uses the stammering tongue for his glory. I remember and am helped to this day by the thought of the hesitating, sometimes broken, sentences of a dear father who thought that he could not pray aloud.
Now for a few hints that I have found helpful:
First: Cultivate the habit of praying in an audible voice when alone in your room. Perhaps no one thing will give you self-control more speedily than this. We are creatures of habit, and when we have grown accustomed to the daily sound of our own voices when on our knees, habit, after a little, asserts itself when we kneel before others. Because of habit, the kneeling posture is, I think, the most helpful one to assume, even in public prayer, wherever this is feasible.
Next, grow very familiar with Bible prayers, those terse sentences pregnant with meaning:
“Create in me a clean heart, O Lord.”
“In thee, O Lord, do I put my trust.”
“Be thou to me a strong rock.”
“Send out thy light and thy truth.”
The Bible is very rich as a prayer-book. If we linger much among such petitions, habit will again come to our aid, and the Bible words will rush in upon us when we pray before others. When I was a beginner in public prayer, I used to write out certain of these Bible prayers that voiced my desires, and spread them before me, lest my memory should prove treacherous. I found this a good crutch for a time.
For a like reason I used sometimes to write out my own form of prayer, carefully avoiding set phrases and sentences that I should never think of using if alone, going over and over the form to make it simple and direct, and to be sure that it expressed only what I really felt. This I would read aloud, with bowed head; and it helped me in overcoming timidity.
Let me close as I commenced, with an urgent appeal to you to overcome the temptation to shirk this duty; and to resolve to conquer in His name.