I once heard it said that you will never stop students praying in school as long as teachers continue to give tests. But what about prayer on school grounds by non-students? Larry Davis, a principal in Jacksonville, Florida, sent an invitation to teachers, staff, and others in the community to participate in a prayer circle on school property. When the school board found out about the event, which was scheduled right before classes started, they consulted their attorney. They offered Ron Baker, pastor of Russell Baptist Church and leader of the prayer meeting, two options: Move the prayer to Sunday, or hold it at 7 A.M. before students arrive. Baker would not change the planned event, stating, “We’re not breaking the law. We’re exercising our rights well within school board policy (and) well within constitutional guidelines.” Along with Baker there were about 100 other people. The prayer lasted only a few minutes, and then the group dispersed.
As a former youth pastor, I am well aware of the need for prayer for our schools. Baker, apparently, has been praying at schools a few times a week for the past dozen years, without incident. Unfortunately, the principal’s invitation to the prayer has brought scrutiny from outside groups such as the Freedom From Religion Foundation.
Jesus’ words from our reading today are important and instructive for us. Yet we also can find instances in the Bible of significant public prayers (such as Solomon’s prayer at the dedication of the Temple in 1 Kings 8). Jesus is clear that the attitude is what is important. Public prayer that serves only to make the one who prays look good is wrong. We should watch our attitudes as we pray––God is.
1. What do you think about Pastor Baker’s choice? Should he stop praying at schools because of outside pressure?
2. What role should the law play in how we live out our faith? How should Christians behave when they live in countries where it is illegal to speak about Christianity?
3. How is your prayer life? Do you know how to pray? If not, start with Jesus’ example in our text today.