Here is a story of how prayer ought not to be…
The Bible study you are attending is wrapping up, and the leader asks the group to hold hands for the closing prayer. After you wipe off the sweat from your hand on your pant leg, you reach for your neighbor’s hand. After grabbing her hand, you realize you have actually only grabbed two of her fingers, but now it is already a few seconds in, and it would be awkward to change your grip. So, you decide let it go (the issue, not the fingers).
It’s one of those group popcorn-prayers where people randomly interject their personal prayer—you know, the kind that is full of outrageously long pauses in-between prayers while people wait to make sure everyone who wanted to say something gets a chance to muster up the courage to do so. This head-cold you’ve been fighting is not helping the situation as a temporary lapse in judgment has you wiping your nose with your neighbor’s hand. This will need an explanation later.
The Bible study was at your house, so the leader asked you to close—and it better be good. Therefore, you are not listening to anyone else’s prayer. Instead, you spend the whole time thinking of something meaningful to say. But because everyone else is doing the same thing (not listening), you wonder whether it is even worth the effort. You feel defeated.
It would appear that God has a short attention span, because everyone opens up each sentence of prayer with a long string of “God, Father, Lord, Jesus”—or some variation of those words. Part way through the prayer, you open your eyes and look at everybody. You kind of feel guilty about it; almost like a “peeping Tom.” You make eye contact with someone across the way before immediately closing your eyes again. At least you don’t have to feel bad about opening your eyes—you weren’t the only curious one.
You then realize your right deltoid (shoulder muscle) is on fire because you had to make an awkward reach to grab the guy’s hand next to you. It has been flexed for over five minutes now, and you honestly don’t know if you’ll be able to make it. You also realize that his hand is shaking uncontrollably from either anxiety or fatigue or, most likely, a combination of both. The sweat is starting to bead on your forehead. Holding hands sure keeps the heat in.
Finally, you think it is time for you to get your heartfelt words of wisdom in, more for the good of the order than anything else. At the next break, you begin to pray but are instantly cut off by your neighbor who started a tenth of a second before you. You mutter for him to go first, and once he has finished, you finally get your shot. For some reason, you have a natural tendency to employ your high-pitched, breathy, “spiritual” voice when praying in front of others. Today is no exception, and you end up saying something completely heartless and clichéd; you would have been better off just reciting the “Lord’s prayer.”
Prayer doesn’t have to be like that. Instead, it should be an edifying time of crying out to God in confession, adoration, thanksgiving, and petition. Join me in making 2009 a year of prayer—that the glory and majesty of Jesus Christ would be revealed in our lives and in our nation. Amen?