I have a confession to make. You might find this strange or something but bear with me because I feel like I should get it out in the open. Maybe, along the way, you will find somewhere where your story intersects with mine. When I first realized I had this problem I felt kind of strange and I’ve been thinking about it ever since. I just feel I need to tell you.
I have great difficulty with corporate prayer.
Anticlimactic? You bet. But then again, maybe it’s a greater problem than we realize. After all, isn’t prayer supposed to be our war-time radio, our means of intercession and our way of entering the throne room of God? So, certainly no form of prayer could ever be disingenuous, fake or anything of that sort is it? There just can’t be people out there who use their pulpit or ministry as a means to put themselves on a pedestal and push their own agendas instead of earnestly pleading or crying out to God on behalf of His children. And if there are they certainly don’t call themselves Christians. People who believe in Yahweh elohim don’t do that.
Or do they?
I came to this question because someone prayed for me during a prayer at the end of class. This is nothing new for me. I’ve had professors pray in front of class before and it wasn’t any big deal. It felt like routine. For some reason my thought process was entirely different in listening to this prayer. I’ll be honest, I first took the things he said about me as a compliment meant for my ears. That was the first thing that went through my head when he said he was grateful I was at that school and my for my refusal to be enculturated by it (Bible colleges have a tendency to reject people like me since I’m “counter-culture”). What a stroke for my ego since I do look up to this professor quite a bit.
But then I thought about it. And I had to choke back the tears.
Jesus talked about prayer. Of course he would. That way we can present very cold and rudimentary sermons on the concept and usage of prayer and give people some formulaic system in which they can bring their troubles to God. And maybe we can feed them some fairly weak and false ideas as to what prayer is and what it can do. So pastors can stand with their hands lifted towards the sky and say “Lord, Lord” and say nice things for the good of the congregations itching ears rather than hitting their knees and groaning with grief as people of their flock are suffering.
Jesus says he has a ready response for those who say “Lord, lord” and do mighty things in his name in Matthew 7:21-23.
In Qohelet (Ecclesiastes) the preacher/teacher says there is nothing new under the sun. I’m inclined to think that’s true since the wisdom in those writings is ascribed to Solomon. He was a really wise dude at least for a time. So, when I say things like I do above I’m reminded that Jesus did, indeed, teach his followers how to pray. It was during his biggest and longest sermon recorded in the gospels. Oddly enough, it’s followed by teachings about people who do works of righteousness but are doing it for the attention:
“And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
“And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.
(Matthew 6:5-8 ESV)
Wait a minute. Jesus says we’re not supposed to pray just to be seen. And we’re not supposed to be long winded and verbose? But there’s something else there besides scripture proving my point. The last sentence says that God knows what we need before we ask him. So, when we pray it’s solely to communicate our feelings to God instead of doing it for show or to show of our oratory skills. In that thought process I have to come back to my professor’s prayer.
He was telling God he was grateful for me.
He entered the throne room of God and spoke to our Father to tell him his true feelings about me. It was inconsequential for me to hear in the end.
The thought of this turned my world upside-down for a moment.
And it should turn yours in all different directions as well. Corporate prayer, to me, seems like an audible cry to God like people did in Acts 4.
When they cried out, the room shook.
So, in reflecting on this whole ordeal I’ve come to the conclusion that maybe it’s not the pray-er that’s the problem nor is it the prayer. Maybe it’s my own cynical judgement and the hardness of my own heart after all of the garbage that I’ve seen done in churches under the guise of well-meaning Christianity. I know there are times when the prayers are legitimate and I should stop analyzing every word that I hear. Maybe I should pray with them and for them and let God sort out the garbage.
It’s his phone to answer after all.