Praying outside of the prayer closet

“She wants you to pray for her.”

And so I did, right then and there, in the restaurant. What she wanted and needed was not just that I would bow my head in silence, during which I could have been thinking of anything as far as she could tell. No, she needed to hear and see that I was praying, even if she couldn’t understand the language I was speaking.

That’s why I stood by her chair, rested my hand on her shoulder, and prayed aloud.

Recently I have come across some articles and blog posts taking issue with public prayer, claiming that Jesus’ words about praying in one’s closet meant that we should pray only in secret isolation and never where anyone might see or hear us. I’m not here to offer a theological rebuttal to that impractical and — I fully believe — unbiblical assertion. All I know is that it seems ridiculous to me that Jesus would have wanted me to respond to this woman, “I will pray for you just as soon as I find a secret hiding place.”

Other people in the restaurant might have found my behavior odd, wacky, or even offensive — especially when I raised my other hand towards heaven. I wasn’t putting on a show. I wasn’t trying to impress anyone with my piety. I wasn’t shouting out flowery prayers. I wasn’t “preach-praying”. Frankly, I didn’t give anyone else in the restaurant a thought.

It was all about her. 

She needed prayer. Her head had been resting on another woman’s shoulder as she wept and wept, a torrent of tears that had been held inside of her for a very long time. Her story was grim and painful, her situation tragic and desperate. I wanted to scoop her up in my arms and take her and her children — including the baby she had not been able to see for two months — back home to America with me.

She was a bar girl, a prostitute we had “bought” for the evening. The bar owner had lured her into coming to Pattaya and working there, with promises of better wages to support her children back in her home village. She had only been in town, working at the bar, for three weeks. She looked deeply sad…and shell-shocked.

I prayed for her. I knelt down by her chair, fighting back my own tears, looked her in the eyes, and said, “I came all the way from America to tell you that Jesus loves you.” Over the course of the evening, I told her more than that, and I spent even more time listening to her. (We had interpreters to help us overcome the language barrier.) But I meant my words. My trip would have been entirely worth it to me if all I had accomplished the entire time we were there was telling her about the love of Jesus — because she was worth it. She was that lost lamb Jesus told about, the one that it is worth leaving the 99 sheep in order to search for.

We did more than pray. She now knows about the Tamar Center and about the hope it offers her. My new friends there will follow up with her and stay in contact.

Now I’m back in the States. I want to be the type of person here who is willing to pray in restaurants — not to be obnoxious or to make a show, but to be there for those in need. I want to feel as free and open here as I did there in Thailand. I want to be brave enough to take prayer out of the closet and into wherever it’s most needed.

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