If Someone Says—
‘Pray with me first, then give me your message’
You might reply: ‘I’m glad to know that you are a person who appreciates the importance of prayer. Jehovah’s Witnesses also pray regularly. But there is something that Jesus said about when and how to pray that may be new to you. Did you know that he told his disciples not to offer public prayers with a view to having others see that they were devout, praying persons? . . . (Matt. 6:5)’ Then perhaps add: ‘Notice what he went on to say should be of primary concern to us and what we should put first in our prayers. That is what I have come to share with you. (Matt. 6:9, 10)’ (Reasoning from the Scriptures, page 295)
The advice listed above is taken from the field ministry aid I was given when I began my life as one of Jehovah’s-door-knockin’-Witnesses back in 1996. I was instructed NOT to allow anyone outside of my religion to lead prayer. In fact, I wasn’t even allowed to pray audibly with the Jehovah’s Witness woman who conducted a Bible study with me until I was a baptized publisher approved by the leadership. The week after I’d been baptized at an assembly, we had lunch together and she announced “I guess I can let you pray for us now.” Let me? Being my first public prayer, I fumbled through a quick and uncomfortable blessing over our meal hoping I did it right.
From that time onward, I was careful never to mingle my prayers with anyone outside of ‘Jehovah’s organization.’ When conducting Watchtower led Bible studies, I always opened my prayer with “Dear Jehovah” and wasn’t about to let some pagan invoke the name of their god(s) nor let some church goer trick me into any arguments that they worship the same god as me while praying to their three headed Trinity!
Even when gathered with fellow believers at the Kingdom Hall, the most I ever participated in prayer was by adding my ‘amen’ since only qualified brothers could lead us in prayer. There were no meetings specifically designated for prayer and worship either. All our meetings at the Kingdom Hall were structured for the purpose of ‘taking in knowledge.’ Though each meeting opened and closed with prayer, they were very brief and devoid of any heartfelt expression.
Is it any wonder I came out of that religious environment not knowing how to pray?
The early disciples of Jesus also came out of a religious environment accustomed to hearing prayers, yet not knowing how to pray. It wasn’t until they heard Jesus pray that they realized their lack and were thirsty enough to ask, “Lord, teach us to pray.” (Luke 11:1)
I never heard Jesus pray at the Kingdom Hall. Not once. I heard utterances from men, that’s all.
Because Jehovah’s Witnesses are organized into two classes of people with only 144,000 allowed to receive the Holy Spirit, the majority of Watchtower members are left to themselves with no indwelling Spirit from which to witness or to pray. In other words, there is no HELPER bearing witness or praying through them (Romans 8:9-16; John 15:26).
In the New World Translation, the apostle Paul is quoted as saying, “it is my gift of the spirit that is praying” (1 Corinthians 14:14)
Paul’s gift of the spirit was praying in tongues as noted in the context of this quote. Jehovah’s Witnesses, along with other Christians, do not believe in the continuation of such spiritual gifts, so they would quickly dismiss this passage as pertaining only to the first century and therefore neither the great crowd nor even the remnant of the 144,000 today would be known to ‘pray in the spirit.’ So, each group would be left to their own words forming a prayer in their native language. But is tongues the only way a person prays in the spirit?
At Pentecost where the gift of tongues was given, Peter stood up and spoke a message of repentance and baptism and declared “you will receive the free gift of the holy spirit.” (Acts 2:38 NWT) Who was this free gift for? Just first century believers? Just the 144,000? Peter continued by saying the promise of the Holy Spirit is “to you and your children, and to all those who are far away, to all those whom Jehovah our God may call to himself.” (Acts 2:39 NWT)
The Witnesses firmly believe that Jehovah God is still calling people to Himself otherwise they wouldn’t put such importance on their ministry and invite people to their meetings. Whether the gift of tongues is still operable or not is irrelevant, the receiving of the Holy Spirit is what is promised here. And it is promised “to all those whom Jehovah our God may call to himself.”
Jesus said it was this Spirit that would enable us to worship God.
“God is a Spirit, and those worshipping him must worship with spirit and truth.” (John 4:24 NWT)
Those who worship God, do so WITH SPIRIT.
And how do such worshippers pray? The New World Translation advises us to “carry on prayer on every occasion in spirit” (Ephesians 6:18)
Surely the New World Translation is not advising its readers to worship and pray in tongues here, but it is encouraging members to carry on prayer “in spirit.” This is the Helper Jesus promised. And the reason we need this Helper in prayer is this:
In like manner, the spirit also joins in with help for our weakness; for the problem is that we do not know what we should pray for as we need to, but the spirit itself pleads for us with unuttered groanings. (Romans 8:26 NWT)
The promised Holy Spirit helps us pray! If this type of help is only for the 144,000, then I never heard Jesus pray at any of the Kingdom Hall meetings I attended for no one in my congregation was of the ‘anointed class.’ I had been taught that only the 144,000 are able to receive the Holy Spirit enabling them to cry out “Abba, Father!” (Romans 8:14-16)
Is it any wonder Jehovah’s Witnesses put such a fear in me to not allow any Christian to pray with me as I went door-to-door? What if they prayed “with the Spirit?” Even after I came out of the organization and was delivered over to Christ through the Helper’s intercession, I still had a lot to learn about prayer. And that’s where fellowship comes in.
Like those disciples who heard Jesus pray, I never asked God to ‘teach me to pray’ until I heard the Helper praying through other Christians. What did I hear? I heard intimacy, I heard confidence, and I heard authority. I became aware of my lack in all those areas through fellowship with people who had actually been Spirit-adopted into God’s family and cried out Abba Father! Do you realize that when you pray with others, you are giving them an opportunity to hear the Holy Spirit?
The Reasoning book offered a diversion from hearing the prayers of such Christians by pointing out the potential error of public prayer. While it’s true that Matthew 6:5 stands as a warning not to pray merely “to be seen by men,” the clear intent from the Watchtower is to restrict any influence from the Holy Spirit, their chief nemesis.
I personally have benefitted from the public prayers of others and I know the same holds true of my public prayers both written and spoken. When two or three are gathered in His name, He is there in our midst (Matthew 18:20). Prayer is an amazing privilege and a topic I enjoy talking about as much as doing! So it seemed a good subject to begin writing about this January.
As we set our resolutions for a new year, perhaps like me you have a desire to grow in your own prayer life. There are plenty of books, blogs, and sermons out there designed to encourage that and well, this is yet another one to add to the mix. As a former Jehovah’s Witness and now as a Christian, I’ve had some unique opportunities along the way that have challenged and grown me in the area of prayer. I’ve got some awkward moments and powerful testimonies to share. I’m committed and passionate about intercession and yet, I deal with the same old hindrances as everyone else: setting aside quality time for it, getting easily distracted, nervous in the presence of others, lacking in words, overwhelmed with words, sharing words not meant to be shared, falling asleep, and bored to the point of feeling like I’m speaking to the ceiling. Yep. C’mon, we’ve all been there, right? Yet, I’ve been to the Mountain and it’s always just enough to get me back climbing to see His face again. So if you’re interested in the journey, join me at Julie’s Prayer Blog page as I usually have a lot to say on this subject dear to my heart.
Keep yourself in God’s love,