Though it’s been the better part of eighteen years, I can still recall vividly the day I received a phone call at work from the secretary at the church my wife and I had recently joined. As much as I was confused at how she knew the phone number she had reached me at (this was before they started passing out cell phones to everyone with a pulse), that was nothing compared to my bewilderment at the reason for her call that day: Would I be willing to be the “member of the week” to close that week’s Sunday service in prayer?
In front of the whole church.
A church of about a thousand in attendance each week.
Me, a 21-year-old who had just joined his first church as an adult.
Uh, no thanks.
If only I had simply said that to her. Instead, I flat-out lied to her, saying something about being out of town that weekend. (And you better believe we stayed home from church that Sunday!)
Now, I know that there are a ton of things wrong with this situation, and it’s all on me. Believe me, the Holy Spirit did a number inside my heart, and I ended up confessing my lie to the secretary the next week. But long before this phone call and lie that impacted me greatly was a lifetime of church services and public prayers that taught me (unintentionally I’m sure) that I was not capable of true prayer.
My pastors prayed with religious terms like “blessed” (that’s two syllables, not one!) and “holy” and “hallowed” and called God names I had never heard of or knew what meant. (A 12-year-old thinks the father of lights is Thomas Edison!) As I was a boy who couldn’t always keep his eyes closed during prayer, I couldn’t help but notice that many of the deacons and other church members who prayed aloud during the service were clearly reading off of an index card, sometimes even pausing as they turned to the second card!
This was how prayer was modeled for me in my extremely traditional church, and it was the number one reason why I knew there was no way I could pray in front of my new church.
How are you modeling prayer to those in your fold? I’m sure you’ve had many a great sermon on the Lord’s Prayer, and there is nothing to minimize or belittle concerning those. When Jesus says, “And when you pray, pray like this . . .” as he did that day with his disciples, well . . . you pray like that.
But beyond the words Jesus prayed that day, behind his plea for the Father to forgive us our debts and to give us our daily bread, what was Jesus actually doing at the root of it all?
He was conversing with his Father. Simple as that.
If you think about it, when we are hearing someone else praying publically to our heavenly Father, it should almost make us a little uncomfortable, as though we are intruding on someone’s private conversation with their Father. Because that’s what prayer truly is, and how we should be modeling it for others.
It’s not about the pray-er getting a certain amount of “Amens!” and “Yes, Lords!” from the congregation. It’s not about remembering all there is to remember on your “wish list” and getting style points when you are able to work into the prayer a biblical, yet unordinary name for God. And one’s prayer shouldn’t necessarily be different depending on whether it’s public or private. Jesus didn’t say, “When you pray in private, pray like this . . .” or “When you pray in public, pray like this . . .” He said, “When you pray, pray like this . . .”
Father . . . Abba . . . Daddy,
Your name and all that comes with it, who you are, is absolutely amazing.
Oh, how I pray that your kingdom would continue changing hearts, beginning with mine.
You know all I need today to survive, so please provide it. We’ll talk about tomorrow’s needs tomorrow.
Daddy, though I follow you, I still struggle with sin. Please forgive me as I strive for a better relationship with you.
In the same way, others have also sinned against me. I don’t have it in me alone to love and forgive them, so please help me to do so with the power of your Holy Spirit in me.
And finally, the devil is going to keep on tempting me. He’s not going to leave me alone. Please continue to lead me faithfully away from the sin he desires to entrap me with.
Kevin Harvey is the author of two books, his most recent being All You Want to Know about the Bible in Pop Culture. He also writes at BibleInPopCulture.com and can be found on Twitter under the handle @PopCultureKevin.