Lighting a candle and praying is a common practice across many Christian traditions. The flickering flame of a candle can create a peaceful, worshipful setting for prayer. Some Christians light candles as a visual representation of their prayers rising to heaven. Others see it as a symbol of God’s light and presence. While praying with a candle can be meaningful for many believers, some question whether the practice aligns with Scripture. In this post, we’ll take an in-depth look at the topic and examine the key arguments on both sides.
- Using candles in prayer has ancient roots in both Jewish and Christian history. It was a common feature of worship services and prayer rituals.
- Some Christians view candles as a helpful visual aid that focuses the mind on prayer. The light represents Christ as the light of the world.
- Critics argue that candle rituals can become empty religious formalism that distract from true communion with God. They warn against anything that detracts focus from biblical prayer.
- There are no direct biblical commands for or against using candles in prayer. Christians disagree on whether it is helpful or superfluous.
- Both sides make valid points, but perspective comes down to personal conscience and Christian freedom. This practice is not essential for prayer.
- Christians should thoughtfully examine if using candles deepens their prayers or becomes a meaningless ritual. Focus should remain on communication with God.
The History of Candles in Prayer
The use of candles in religious settings dates back to ancient times. In the Old Testament, candles and lamp stands were part of the Tabernacle furnishings (Exodus 25:31-40). God commanded that oil lamps should perpetually burn in the Temple as a regular burnt offering (Exodus 27:20-21; Leviticus 24:2). The Psalmist uses the image of a ceremonial lamp being lit to depict God’s Word guiding our path (Psalm 119:105). So the ritual use of lights and lamps was an established part of Jewish worship in biblical times.
This carried over into early Christian worship as well. Second-century writers like Tertullian mention the use of candles and lamps during church services and nighttime prayer vigils. By the third century, candles were lit around martyrs’ tombs in the Roman Catacombs. The Emperor Constantine officially sanctioned churches to hold candlelit evening prayer services.
Over the next few centuries, the ceremonial use of candles became more elaborate in Catholic and Orthodox rituals. They were carried in processions, placed around altars, used to accompany prayers for the dead, and so on. The Catholic practice of lighting votive candles to represent prayers offered continues to this day. So the tradition of incorporating candles into formal prayer rituals has very ancient roots.
Many early Protestants, such as Ulrich Zwingli and John Calvin, reacted against complex Catholic candle ceremonies as unbiblical superstition. But candles largely remained a part of Anglican and Lutheran services. Evangelicals have diverse views. Some avoid using candles at all, while others incorporate them as a visual symbol during prayer. So opinions on whether lighting candles is an aid or a distraction during prayer have varied throughout church history.
Reasons Some Christians Use Candles in Prayer
For those Christians who choose to light candles during prayer, their reasons can generally be summarized in these categories below:
Symbol of Christ as the Light of the World – Many see the candle’s flame as a natural and powerful visual reminder of Jesus Christ coming as the Light into a spiritually dark world (John 1:4-9; John 8:12). The physical light generates thoughts of Christ’s light dispelling sin’s darkness. It helps focus the mind on Biblical imagery.
Focusing Tool – The flickering flame of a candle can have an almost mesmerizing effect for some. It creates a quiet, worshipful atmosphere that helps calm the mind and concentrate during long prayer sessions. Some report that gazing at the candle aids their focus and cuts down on distracting thoughts.
Prayer Offering – Lighting a candle is a tangible way to represent petitionary prayers offered to God. As the candle slowly burns down, it symbolizes the prayer being sent up to heaven. Some write prayer requests next to the candles as reminders. Watching the candle burn motivates continued diligence in prayer.
Connection to Christian History – As mentioned above, candles have been used in Christian prayer rituals for almost 2,000 years. Some light them simply to participate in this rich spiritual heritage of the church. It provides a sense of connection to past believers.
Atmosphere for Group Prayer – Candles help set the mood for communal worship and prayer. The soft lighting invites believers into a reflective, peaceful mindset for corporate prayer sessions. It signifies the presence of God in the midst of the congregation.
So in summary, those who choose to pray with candles do so to tap into the deep Biblical symbolism of Christ as the Light, focus the mind, add tangible significance to their prayers, participate in church tradition, and create an atmosphere conducive to group prayer. The light facilitates their connection to God.
Reasons Some Christians Avoid Candles in Prayer
On the other side, some believers argue against incorporating candles into times of prayer for these primary reasons:
Lack of Biblical Support – Nowhere in Scripture are Christians commanded to use candles when they pray. Jesus instructs His followers on how to pray in passages like Matthew 6:5-14, and He says nothing about lighting candles. The Bible neither encourages nor prohibits the practice.
Potential for Idolatry and Mysticism – While candle advocates view the light as a symbol, critics caution that it can become an idol and object of occultish superstition. Gazing at a flame can induce a trance-like state. Some warn against empty ritualism that leaves out sincere communion with God.
Distraction from Focus on God – Lighting the candle, maintaining the flame, and staring at it could distract from keeping one’s thoughts centered on the Lord in prayer. The external activity may undermine internal focus and attentiveness to God.
Association with Roman Catholicism – Many evangelicals are wary of anything perceived as Catholic for theological reasons. Since ornate candle ceremonies are closely tied to Roman Catholic mass, some avoid their use altogether.
Unnecessary Religious Formalism – Jesus condemned those who practiced external shows of piety without sincere devotion to God (Luke 20:47). Some view candle rituals as empty religious formalism if the focus shifts to performing the practice correctly rather than humbly approaching God.
Lack of Inner Light – Private times of prayer should be illuminating the believer’s heart and mind with God’s truth through Scripture meditation and the Holy Spirit’s guidance. No external candle light is needed, since Christians should be shining with God’s light from within.
In summary, candle critics believe the practice is never commanded in the Bible, risks turning into mystical idolatry, causes unnecessary distraction, associates with Roman Catholic ritualism, smacks of empty religious formalism, and essentially proves useless for those filled with the Spirit’s inner light.
Balancing Christian Freedom with a Clear Conscience
When evaluating whether candles are appropriate for prayer, Christians should give consideration to both perspectives. As long as there are no direct biblical prohibitions, this issue comes down to a matter of conscience and Christian liberty.
The New Testament permits a measure of freedom for believers in regard to non-essentials. But Paul instructed that liberty should always be guided by love, wisdom, and a desire not to stumble others (1 Corinthians 8-10). Christians must carefully examine their own hearts to determine if using a candle is truly edifying or subtly shifting focus away from God.
Each person must follow their conscience. If a candle aids concentration and connects someone to the light of Christ, they have freedom to use it. But if it triggers superstition or seems ritualistic, it should be avoided. Our practices should always be driven by a desire to commune with and glorify God.
Christians who choose to light candles can be careful not to impose it as a spiritual necessity. Those who abstain can show grace to fellow believers and not pass judgment. Mutual understanding preserves unity. But again, determining personal conviction requires giving both perspectives honest evaluation.
In the end, the use of candles is circumstantial – not fundamental to effectual prayer. As Jesus taught, we must pray to the Father with reverent words, pure motives, humility, a forgiving spirit, and desire for His will above all else (Matthew 6:5-15). Candle lighting is insignificant compared to these heart conditions. Our focus should remain fixed on Christ.
The debate on using candles in prayer has reasoned and civil advocates on both sides. As we have seen, there are many angles to consider when evaluating if the practice is spiritually beneficial or unhelpful for private prayer and public worship. But Christians of all perspectives would agree that the inner light of Christ should be guiding us more than any external candle flame.
This examination aims not to definitively settle the issue once and for all. Wise believers can thoughtfully disagree. Yet it provides key considerations for determining one’s conscience on an often controversial practice. Whether we pray with or without candles, our chief aim is communication with our Father and unity within His church. Our supreme allegiance belongs to no ritual, but to the light of the world – Jesus Christ.