Q: #262. Is it ok to pray silently?
A: As far as I can see, the Bible is silent on this issue. There are some verses that can be used to make a case that silent prayer is ok. For example, in (1 Sam 1:9-18), Hannah was praying at the Tabernacle and “spake in her heart; only her lips moved, but her voice was not heard.” She was praying for a son, and God later granted her request (1 Sam 1:19-20). Abraham’s servant Eliezer was “speaking in my heart” for a wife for Isaac, and before he had finished, Rebekah appeared (Gen 24:45). David said in (Ps 19:14) “Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in thy sight.” Nehemiah appears to be praying silently in (Neh 2:4-5) when he says, “Then the king said unto me, For what dost thou make request? So I prayed to the God of heaven. (5) And I said unto the king…”
Are these conclusive that “silent prayer” is ok? Not really, however, I would add a few other things to consider. First, God is omniscient (all-knowing) (Ps 139:1-6)(1 Jn 3:20)(Isa 42:9)(Ezek 11:5). He knows EVERY single thought we have, good or bad. So obviously, if we are praying silently, He certainly knows we are praying to Him. Also, “your Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask him” (Mt 6:8). God knows what we are going to pray for and what we need before we even pray. Are we willing to say that this only applies to prayers prayed out loud?
Second, we are to “pray without ceasing” (1 Th 5:17). In short, this means that we are to live in a continual mode of prayer in our everyday lives. We should be praying all through the day. If we see a wreck, we should pray for those involved. If we see on tv that some tragedy has occurred, we should pray for the wounded and their families. If God saved us from something bad, or blessed us somehow, we should thank Him, etc… Sometimes, it would be pretty inappropriate to pray these kinds of prayers out loud. For example, should you pray out loud in front of the whole class right before you take a test? Should you pray out loud in line at a grocery store if you see something that should be prayed about? Should you pray out loud in a quiet church service or a funeral for someone who needs prayer? Should you pray out loud during a moment of silence at a ballgame? Should you pray out loud in bed when your wife is sleeping? Some may say yes to all or some of these (I lean towards “yes” to the “moment of silence” 🙂 ), but I believe there are obvious times when prayer is needed immediately, but it would be wrong to pray out loud.
Having said this, I would say that the Bible shows over and over a clear pattern of people praying out loud. Other than the verses I gave above, I know of no other examples pointing to silent prayer. Every time Jesus is shown praying, it is out loud. Other Bible characters are shown praying out loud too. However, this doesn’t necessarily mean they didn’t also pray silently sometimes as well. (Prayers prayed out loud could be recorded to help us know how to pray better.) There are certainly benefits to praying out loud. It usually helps you to focus better, keeps your mind from wandering, and makes you more concise in your prayer. It can also make prayer more personal and intimate.
Obviously, it is also impossible to pray with others if you are praying silently. The Bible talks about the importance of praying corporately with others. However, make sure you are not praying out loud to bring more attention to yourself than God (Mt 6:5).
PS: I should add that it is a mistake to pray silently just to keep Satan and His demons from hearing (See: Q: #77).
PSS: For more verses on prayer, go here.