Friday, May 05, 2006

Prayer Complaints

Perhaps I'm a curmudgeon-in-training. Last week, I whined about people repeating God's name while praying. Today, how 'bout a new complaint?

It's not a new complaint... in fact I remember having the discussion back in graduate school. And this may not even ring true with many people. If you don't lead corporate prayer very often, you may never even notice. But it hit me again yesterday as I attended a National Day of Prayer service in the town where I work.

I've been to a few prayer services in my time. I've never been a big fan of simply praying along with long corporate prayers. You know what I mean. The long-winded guy prays aloud, and we're supposed to agree with everything he prays, and he goes on and on rambling over every possible topic including a few which make no sense to you and soon your own mind is rambling from what you have to do when the service is over to whatever it was that you ate that is giving you that horrid feeling in your gut. Sure it can happen in a 30 second prayer, but if someone tries a 15 minute corporate prayer it takes serious divine intervention to keep one's mind on track.

I've much preferred the "concert of prayer" approach, where the audience is actively praying while being occasionally prompted by a leader about certain areas to be praying for. That takes me out of the audience mindset and really gets me into the prayer. But still I find myself sitting (or standing) through some long corporate prayers, trying to keep my mind off my inner rumblings.

Yesterday was one of those corporate prayer services where we, the audience, tries to "pray along" with the leader's words. Actually there was a series of pray-ers to lead the assembled group. One was a redundancy guy, with the occurances of the word "Father" going well into triple digits within five minutes. But a couple of others brought back this old complaint: It seemed as though they were preaching while they prayed.

Now, I'm not one to criticize a preacher getting a chance to sermonize briefly, but is prayer the place for it? One of the prayer leaders was praying something about a church who had made a movie that will come out in the fall, and then finally asked God to bless it. I thought I was picking up some sort of radio commercial through the public address speakers for a moment! Another spent a lot of time obviously talking to us during the prayer. And I have to admit, that bothers me. To my way of thinking, the audience of a prayer is not those assembled around the speaker, but the Creator who hears from on high.

When I'm in a conversation with someone, it's considered rude or impolite if I suddenly turn and start speaking to someone else. Why is that not rude toward God?

As I mentioned earlier, we young pastors had this discussion in school. We were taught not to make announcements during the prayer. You know the type...

"And Lord, we ask that you would bless the Ladies Aid group tonight who will be meeting at 7 o'clock, Lord, and that those who attend would please bring a ball of yarn and a hot glue gun, Lord..."

Yes, I've heard almost that exact prayer.

But in school, somehow I was led back to John 11:41-42, when Jesus was praying just before raising Lazarus from the dead.

So they took away the stone. Then Jesus looked up and said, "Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me."

Was Jesus preaching while He prayed? It sure seems that way. Granted He said nothing about hot glue guns, but is there a secondary audience for corporate prayer? I think we'd have to say 'yes' if we took this seriously. Yet at the same time, Jesus' focus remained upon glorifying the Father, and maybe that's where our "announcement prayers" fail the test.


julie said...

At an opening day ceremony, the mayor of our fair city prayed the 'opening day prayer'.
In prayer, he went on and on about how the kids in our community don't have parents that care for them anymore...nobody to love them and teach them the right way to live... the kids are abandoned to fend for themselves...blah, blah...

Now this may be true of some, but I suspect most of the assembled mass of parents were there supporting and loving their kids, like they do every day.

It was a too much sermonizing for me, though I still chuckle at the awkwardness of it.

Callmeteem said...

You got me thinking again Ed. The prayer-preaching bothers me at least a bit. Isn't the audience supposed to be God--but the prayer preacher seems actually to be addressing the congregation.

Jennifer said...

The best prayer I ever heard was by a very old gentleman in my childhood church. He was an usher, about to take up the offering, and he bowed his head and said "I love you Jesus. Amen."

Weekend Fisher said...

It bothers me when my pastor uses the prayers of the church for announcements. Instead of announcing, "Attention: so and so is in the hospital, and the other person's twins arrived safely, and we'll be remembering them in our prayers" and then praying, he works these long awkward announcements into the prayers. I wish he'd separate them. How long could it take to mention the cause for any special-occasion prayers up front?

HeyJules said...

I agree with you - I'm not fond of sermonizing in prayers, either. Another of my personal dislikes is when someone at my church starts a prayer with "Father, we JUST come here this is all we're going to be asking for and then they go on to ask for 15 different things. There's no "just" about it, it JUST drives me crazy!

Douglas said...

Don't get me started on this...oops, too late. I feel sometimes that people who live under a monarchy might have a better grasp of prayer than some Americans who fantasize that their elected officials are their employees.

I'm looking for a phrase to describe it, and I'm thinking that unfocused rambling in one's prayers could be described as "a breach of Kingdom protocol" or "poor Kingdom etiquette," or perhaps "Kingdom incivility."

The kingdoms of this world have their own rules of civility, etiquette and protocol, and while our ambassadors and diplomats may consider the rules of other kingdoms to be humorous in their private moments, if they wish to influence the rulers of those kingdoms, they strive to follow the rules of civility, etiquette and protocol down to the last jot and tittle.

While the Kingdom of Heaven is a much greater and more benevolent kingdom than any of the kingdoms of this world, I believe it has its own rules of civility, etiquette and protocol, and the person who wishes to have influence in that Kingdom has to follow those rules.

One of the rules is "Say specifically what you want." As I write this, I'm reminded of this chapter in Andrew Murray's book "With Christ In The School of Prayer," where Jesus is asking the blind man "What do you want me to do for you?" It wasn't like He didn't know, but the blind man needed to go from saying "Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me," to saying "Rabboni, that I may receive my sight." (Mark 10:51, NKJV)

So I hereby add a hearty Amen to both the post, and all the previous commenters about the discouraging effects of rambling prayers, unfocused prayers, and announcement prayers. And I am so not bringing a hot melt glue gun.

Susan said...

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