Thinking Out Loud

February 6, 2011

Praying By The Book

This is Superbowl day, so I’m expecting most of my traffic today to be women.  Yes, a stereotype, I know.   In my experience, women are the “pray-ers” of the church.  Behind every great Christian male leader, there is a woman (or several) praying for him not to make a mess of things!   I wrote this post a year ago while wrestling with the issue of how prayer takes shape differently depending on your faith family…

Prayer is talking to God.

Talking is a natural form of communication. Think of the number of people you talk to in a day. How many times does the average person work from a prepared text?

None. You don’t write out ahead of time what you’re going to say unless you’re giving a speech at a wedding reception or don’t want to miss anything when you’re telling the boss why you’re giving your two weeks notice.

So why “read” your talking to God? What exactly is the point of a “prayer book?” Granted, you might use a phrase book if you were in a foreign country. Could it be that when some people leave their normal world and enter a Church building, or into prayer, they feel they are in a foreign country?

And why repeat The Lord’s Prayer (aka The Our Father) over and over and over and over again, when in fact, it’s recorded in scripture directly after a verse that says don’t repeat prayers over and over and over and over again.

Learn a new word today:

This is the word that describes a type of prayer that is open, honest, vulnerable…

God wants people who are in relationship to him. A relationship based on love, which casts out fear. The closer the relationship, the less prepared text. You don’t know all those people who are going hear that wedding speech, so you prepare. You fear the meeting with your boss, so you write out notes.

Is there ever a time for a prepared prayer? If you’re coming to God on behalf of a group of people in a corporate worship setting, perhaps. You don’t want to miss anything and you want to be specific. You’re not just going to mention the requests made by John, Jessica, Nathan and Emily, but you want to remember what it is you’re asking that God might do for them. You want to remember the military serving overseas, the orphans in Haiti, victims of human rights violations in China, etc.

But even this can be done naturally. If you can tell someone afterward what it is you prayed for, you can also construct a prayer on the spot that tells God the same thing, without extensive notes.

Matt 6: 7(CEV)When you pray, don’t talk on and on as people do who don’t know God. They think God likes to hear long prayers.

It’s interesting that no matter how this verse is translated — “pagans” is used most often — ornate prayers are associated with “people who don’t know God.” So by implication, less flowery prayers are often prayed by people who do know God.

Word of the day: Extemporaneous. Short, breath prayers. Prayers from the heart. Talking to God as you would talk to a friend. An agenda, perhaps; but not a script. And definitely not out of a book.

When is the last time you simply poured out your heart to God and told him everything you’re feeling and thinking? Now is a good time to start.

UPDATE: After I wrote this piece, I received what is perhaps a kind of op-ed comment, one of the few times my wife left a comment here:

Written prayers are the church equivalent of greeting cards.

Some people just pick one with the right phrase up front ’cause you’ve got to pick something.

And sometimes how they’re written expresses your heart better than you could yourself and you’re thrilled to find just the right one.

You can read the rest of the comments from a year ago here.


1 Comment »

  1. Great logical points.

    As a Roman Catholic I rattled off countless “Our Fathers” and “Hail Marys” and read numerous petitions without giving thought to any of it. When I became a Christian I was amazed to hear people pray – really pray – not just recite words.

    It wasn’t long before I WANTED to just TALK with the One who had adopted me into His family and words – and the experience – became REAL.

    I can see the logic in written prayer POINTS and I keep a list of names of people to pray for – but actual prayers? They leave me cold. While I have come to greatly appreciate the words of the so-called Lord’s prayer, I shudder if ever they are recited in a Church service.

    Comment by meetingintheclouds — February 8, 2011 @ 3:56 pm


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