Corporate prayer, when one person leads a group by offering an audible prayer, is the spiritual equivalent of elevator music. In both cases there is a sound that can be heard by each person present, but it is ignored by most of them.
Usually a time of corporate prayer on Sunday morning begins with an announcement that Brother So and So will lead in prayer. Then Brother So and So intones something like “Let us pray” or “Please bow with me.”
And just what are the rest of us supposed to do?
Therein lies the problem. Exactly what are those of us in the pews expected to do while the good brother is praying aloud? There seems to be three courses of action available.
(1) Listen carefully to the audible prayer and in our minds say “amen.” (This is the equivalent of “I second the motion.”)
(2) Listen to the topics mentioned aloud and then personalize them to our own situation. (When the audible prayer asks for healing for the sick, we silently ask God to heal Uncle George or Cousin Betty.)
(3) Completely ignore the audible prayer and pray for our own specific, private concerns as we are led by the Holy Spirit.
No matter which of these we choose, it requires us to intentionally enter into our spiritual closet and communicate with God. It requires that we make the effort necessary to shut out competing thoughts and focus on what He wants to hear. After all, prayer is a dialogue, not a monologue.
To do anything else is to have a form of godliness but not truly be as spiritual as we want people to think we are. And wasn’t that the sin of Ananias and Sapphira? (Acts 5:1-11)