Monday, April 19, 2010

Street Corner Prayers

(photo from
Ok, I have a confession to make, and this is going to sound odd considering my profession...I'm a little uncomfortable praying in public. I know, I shouldn't be, but I am. And here's why. Matthew 6 talks a lot about prayer. That's where "The Lord's Prayer" is, minus the "for thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory forever." It's not there.

Matthew 6 is also where we hear Jesus give instructions on how to pray. "And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to God who is unseen. Then God, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for God knows what you need before you ask."

Why is it that we are afraid to pray in public? At our youth group meetings, we do the "thumbs up" thing and the last one to get their thumbs up blesses the food. Sometimes you would think I was asking them for a kidney or something. Maybe its all the years of watching the dozens of televangelists with their crocodile tears, knowing that it was all just a show. I don't know. I do know that prayer in pubic is something I approach with decorum and respect. Standing as a liason between God and my people is an awesome task, and not one that I take lightly.

In our Sunday school class one week, I was asked what my least favorite part of our worship experience was, and my response was the prayers of the people. It's not that I don't think it's important, I do. It's very important. It just makes me nervous. Over 11 years, I have developed a checklist of things I feel need to be covered during that time, and as I am engaged in the pastoral prayer I am subconsciously checking off that list.

Sometimes I wonder if that affects the validity of that moment in worship. Am I giving myself totally to that task, or am I distracted by my nerves and the checklist? Is focusing on doing the pastoral prayer well taking away from the power of the words? I don't really think so. Jesus himself said that God knows what we need before we ask.

I have spent hours in prayer chapels with other folks, and you can tell a lot about a person by the way they pray out loud. I have noticed a few different types of people as we stood huddled in the prayer chapel; there are those who are quiet and humble, knowing only a few words are needed to bend God's ear; there are those who are obviously sincere, respectful of that moment, but not as quiet; and then there are those that just like to hear themselves talk. Those are the ones that insert certain phrases at the end of every thought, such as "Father God," or "Heavenly Father," or something like that. While it might not be a bad thing, personally, I see it as just adding words. I'm guilty sometimes of the same, but do try to keep it in check.

So, don't be afraid of it, God knows what's in your heart. But at the same time public prayer is something to be tempered with awe and self control. Personally, I'm much more comfortable going into my room and closing the door.


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