Prayer can be such a personal experience that you may wonder if you always have to pray out loud. Can you pray silently, or “in your head?” Does God still hear your prayer if you don’t speak the words with your mouth? Is praying out loud better than praying silently or quietly?
These are all legitimate questions and we will explore the answers to these questions in this article. We encourage you to look at the scripture references for yourself and don’t just take our word for it. God invites us to investigate when he tells us, “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart” (Jeremiah 29.13, NIV).
So, do you have to pray out loud when you pray?
The short answer is no, you do not have to pray out loud. You can pray silently or quietly and it’s okay. You can pray out loud vocally and it’s okay. Prayer is more about relating to God than receiving answers. Focus on praying regularly and sincerely, rather than how you pray.
Let your heart be encouraged as you read below and be open to the opportunity to grow in your prayer life as you discover the power of prayer and the freedom we have to pray in many ways.
Praying Silently is Okay
If we pray silently then we are merely praying the words in our head but not verbally speaking the words with our mouth. This means, then, that God can “hear” our prayers that exist in our thoughts. Thinking our prayers is as valid as speaking our prayers. Let’s explore this further.
There are ample examples of God knowing our thoughts. We see Jesus perceiving the thoughts of the Pharisees in Matthew 9, Luke 9, and Luke 11. The Psalmist declares that God knows our heart and understands our thoughts. The Apostle Paul echoes the Psalmist when he writes, “The Lord knows that the thoughts of the wise are futile” (1 Corinthians 3.20, NIV).
Since God is God and we are not, we can trust that the God who knows our every thought will also know when we pray in our mind silently. Whether it’s our words or our thoughts, nothing is hidden from God or inaccessible by God. Accepting this truth can be a comfort, not a fear. It can enable us to see that praying silently is actually okay and scripturally sound.
Silent Prayer is a Better Option Sometimes
While praying out loud is how most people will pray, there are some situations when praying silently is the better option.
Let’s look at some examples.
1. To Avoid Hypocrisy
Jesus spoke forcefully about praying out loud just to be seen and heard. In this case, he urged us to pray in private, which could include praying in silence, or in our minds.
“And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him” (Matthew 6.5-8, NIV).
2. To Show Respect for Someone Present
Maybe you are in a group setting or you’re leading a presentation and you’ve asked to pray for the group. You may want to pray for some people out loud, and others silently in order to respect their privacy. Not everything has to be shared with everyone in order for the prayer to be prayed.
Or perhaps you are talking with someone and sense that they are having a rough time or are in need of prayer. You can intercede for them with God silently in your mind as you listen to them talk. In this way, you welcome the Holy Spirit into the situation to minister and guide.
It can be an act of compassion to pray silently for someone else, depending on the circumstance. Be open to God’s guidance as you go through your day. You may discover a new form of prayer ministry as God guides you to pray for different people you encounter.
3. To Maintain Personal Privacy
You could again be in a group setting and need to pray but the situation you wish to lift to God is personal and private. You need not feel pressured to share that in public out loud in prayer. You can pray quietly to yourself or silently in your thoughts as you unburden yourself before God, your Creator, and Redeemer.
You don’t want to be involved in “prayer meetings” that turn out to be gossip sessions because everyone wants to know what’s going on with people’s personal lives under the guise of prayer. Being nosy isn’t the same as showing compassion for someone who is hurting.
Praying Silently is as Good as Praying Out Loud
As we are seeing, praying in secret is not being secretive, but is valid prayer. Praying in our minds is valid because God knows and perceives our thoughts. We can be accepting, then, of people who pray quietly or silently. We can engage in silent prayer ourselves and be at peace.
Think about it this way. If we are to follow the biblical command to rejoice always, pray continually, and give thanks in all circumstances, then that necessarily means that some of our rejoicing, praying, and giving thanks would be done quietly or in our thoughts. We can go through our day in a God mindset, ever aware of his presence with us. Praying continually then could become like walking or breathing–it’s something we just do as an expression of who we are in Christ.
To be certain, praying out loud is good. You speak it with your mouth and hear it with your ears. This can be encouraging as we pray. To also be certain, praying silently is good. You think it with your mind and “speak” it with your heart. Perhaps use both methods as your situation unfolds. Either way is a form of loving God with all we are.
We’ve see above several examples of how silent prayer is okay and good. As well, whether it’s Jesus praying out loud at Lazarus’ tomb, or a king praying publically to dedicate a temple, we see how praying out loud is positive as well.
So, how can we better understand prayer?
Prayer Is Not About Rules, But Freedom
Pray however suits you best. Whether that’s in the morning or at bedtime, prayer is more about deepening our relationship with God, and less about getting answers to everything, as if God is a spiritual search engine. When we view prayer as relational and not transactional, it transforms how we approach prayer, and how we pray. We don’t pray because we expect something or because we expect to feel a certain way, instead, we pray to build a bond with God.
Consider how you relate to people you know and love. You use a variety of ways to communicate with them: speaking, calling on the phone, writing a note, texting a message, sending an email, filming a video, a Zoom call as well as other methods like physical touch or acts of service. If you do that with your loved ones and friends, do you really want to limit communication with God to only speaking out loud?
We should desire to become closer to God, not further away. We become more like Christ as we let go of all of the obstacles that prevent us from deepening our faith in Jesus. One of the best ways to get close with God is in prayer. We become more like Christ as we do what Christ did, which was talk with God often, silently and out loud.
We can deepen our faith as we trust God to hear us in our minds, our thoughts, our dreams, and our words. Just as we would not want to place limits on God, neither would we want to limit how we can pray to God.
If we narrow prayer to having to abide by specific rules in order for us to pray, or for our prayers to be heard, we degrade the power of prayer. We also dramatically decrease the possibility of drawing closer to God in prayer. We can pray to God any time, anywhere, about anything, using most any method of communication. We don’t have to dress up, or go to a certain place, or use certain words. We have freedom through Christ to talk with God–embrace this freedom!
Praying to God is not about rules and restrictions, but about freedom in faith.
Since our prayers can be spoken out loud, shouted, thought in our minds, sung through a song, or cried through our tears, praying to God in most any form is valid and good. Perhaps if you’ve never prayed silently or quietly, you may want to experiment in praying in that way a time or two. Be at ease as you do so–God is still listening, even if you think your prayers in your head.
Remember, we can remain in relationship with God through our prayers each day, throughout the day!