Screwing Up Prayer

I am not a pray-er.

I DO pray, but I am not the person you ask to stand up in front of the congregation and deliver a prayer. I am not the person to pray over your family’s Thanksgiving meal. Heck, I don’t even want to pray out-loud over our table, set for five. If you need a person to stand up and shoot the breeze or make people think, or make people laugh, I’m your girl. If you need a pray-er, you better look in another- ANY other- direction.

The ability to deliver a good prayer (code: one that is heartfelt, touches my spirit and doesn’t make me mad, sound stupid, trite or too Holier-than-thou) is a Spiritual gift, for sure, and it is one that I do not possess.  I have a friend that can pray the most beautiful prayers over people at the drop of a hat. There is a woman at church who occasionally leads prayer during service who is the most eloquent pray-er. She often brings me to tears with the artistry of her words. She is definitely a more church-y pray-er than I am, but she has such depth and feelings in her words, and she doesn’t say stupid stuff.

I know, you are probably thinking what a bad Christian I am, and you are probably right. I swear and I think about drinking far too much to be a good Christian.  Now I think prayers can be stupid and too church-ish. Next I’ll be saying that church should quit holding out and serve REAL wine at communion. Watch out.

Let me give you just a couple of examples about how prayer can be done wrong. But before I do, please keep in mind that I am not a Pastor, clearly! I have what some would consider entry level knowledge of what the Bible actually says- confession: I have NOT read the Bible from cover to cover (I hope my Pastor isn’t reading this!). And third, my brain works in a way that doesn’t make sense to 97% of the world. This is true. I took a personality test on Sunday morning and I’m in a category that houses only 3% of the population. So you are certainly welcome to hold your own opinions about this topic and disagree with me. If you do disagree with me, you can tell me, but you should probably not try to point out all of the ways that I am wrong or get all emotional about it. My personality type doesn’t change it’s mind easily (code: Stubborn) and doesn’t really do emotional stuff.

Okay, first way to screw up a prayer: Piss me off. Do not alienate a whole population of people when you are praying, by praying that we ‘have victory in Israel’. This is a prayer I actually heard at my church. I nearly had to excuse myself, I was so pissed. Nothing starts a church service off on the right foot like sitting there silently seething.

Israel may be God’s chosen land, God may have chosen Abraham, but He chose him to establish a new nation through which ‘all the families of the the earth would be blessed’. This is back in the Old Testament. You can read it. Or Google it. That would be faster. Just because God chose Israel 4000 years ago as His chosen land, it does not mean that He wants the sh*t blown out of innocent men, women and children. Have you read the New Testament? The part where Jesus loves His enemy? Also, I think it would do many, many people good to actually read the history of Israeli’s and Palestinians. As Christians, it is easy to jump on the ‘God says so’ bandwagon, but I guess, I’d prefer to jump on Jesus’.  The one that says to love your neighbor. Even (or especially) if you hate them.

The second way to screw up a prayer: Get too church-ish. I know that everyone is at different places in their God journey, but when people get too church-y, I don’t trust them. I might get kicked out of church for saying this, but seriously? All the over-the-top, holier-than-thou prayers are like a foreign language to me. I just don’t get them. And I grew up in church. Imagine if you were a first-time church goer. You’d be thinking, “I cannot relate to these people.”  Since churches are in the business of saving lives and the only way to save a visitor’s life is to have them stick around for the second act, you probably don’t want the prayers of your pray-ers to be too over-the-top Biblical Wizard or you are just going to lose people. That is a free tip. You are welcome.

My prayers are far less filled with “Amen’s, Hallelujah’s, Blessing’s, Lord’s, Father’s, As you descended from Heaven to free us from the our bondage of sin and uncleanliness’s…”  My prayers are more conversational in nature, “God, seriously? This is what I have to work with today?” or “Please, Jesus, help keep me from saying what I am thinking right now”.  All throughout the day, just little snippets of conversation that praise, thank, ask for help, question. Keep it simple.  I get how you might need to be a little more delicate when you are praying out loud in church, but let’s not get all crazy.

The third way to screw up a prayer: say something stupid. A prayer can be going along just fine, I’m there, in the moment, feeling closeness with the Spirit, and then someone says something like, “and, Lord, we thank you, for taking our brother John home tscrewing up prayero be with you. We praise you that he is in a better place by your side.” Prayers that include stuff like this put me OVER. THE. EDGE.

I get prayer request emails from a church that I used to attend. Even though I have had a different home church for many years, I have kept my name on the other church’s prayer request list because I know many members of that church and I still feel pretty connected to many of them. Often times, there are emails requesting prayer because someone has passed away. I just got one yesterday morning and it made my teeth itch. It started, “Yesterday afternoon, Jane Doe’s cherished mother went to live with the Lord. Praise God! Please pray for her family…”

If I was Jane Doe, I’d be knocking on the door. I DO understand that after prolonged illnesses there is just a time when people are done living and ready to die. I have first hand experience with a situation like this. Yes, there is relief that the suffering has ended, but I am not celebrating. I am hurting. I don’t want you celebrating either. And often times, a long illness is not even the cause of death.  I DO understand that sometimes it is difficult to figure out what to say to someone who has lost a loved one, but if you can’t think of anything other than, “They’re in a better place now,” you should probably just leave your casserole on the front step and run.  Fast.

My favorite book on prayer is by Anne Lamott. Here’s an excerpt, but you can go get yourself a copy on Amazon too.

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7 thoughts on “Screwing Up Prayer

  1. Not sure I agree with all this, but once again you have made me laugh.
    Sometime when we pray our mind can wander. Once my mind got to wandering too out of bounds as I prayed over the food and instead of ending with the usual amen, I said, “Goodbye!”

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  2. “I know, you are probably thinking what a bad Christian I am, and you are probably right. I swear and I think about drinking far too much to be a good Christian. Now I think prayers can be stupid and too church-ish. Next I’ll be saying that church should quit holding out and serve REAL wine at communion. Watch out.”

    Now, THAT’S what I call a follower of Christ! 🙂

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  3. “She often brings me to tears with the artistry of her words.” this is what i want to preserve, if we do not do something to change the way we communicate the artistry of words will be a dying art. and the right words can have such a powerful impact, in prayer and in everyday life.

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    • Technology has certainly not helped to this end. Although it has brought the world to our fingertips, a lot of what is out there is not worth the seconds of your life it takes to read it (our blogs being exceptions 😉 )In addition, with all of the text short hand, people are losing proper spelling, punctuation and grammar. We will be a people of abbreviated words, but that will give us plenty of time to keep up with the Kardashians, I guess, so it’s a good trade off.

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