Sunday, October 8, 2017
To whom do we pray. . .
Lord, I just love being here today and coming to you in prayer. And I just love (name). I love her as a godly woman and I love her as a neighbor and I hope we all love her and she knows that we love her. I am so happy to be here today and to raise up (name) to you and to give thanks for her. I love living neighbors to her for so many years and I am so grateful for all the things she has done for me and my family over the years. I just pray that (name) knows how much we appreciate her and love her and want You to watch over her and care for her through us. In the precious name of Jesus. Amen.
Now it is true I did not have a recorder going but to the best of my memory this was the the prayer prayed. The elderly woman in question was a member of my parish and his neighbor and evangelical pastor. We happened to overlap visits at her house. The occasion was the death of her son which hit her particularly hard since it came after the death of her husband and her daughter very close together. My point? This was barely a prayer. It neither acknowledged the aching heart of grief in this woman nor did it even mention the circumstances that had brought us together. It was spoken ostensibly to God but it seems to have been spoken more to the woman than to anyone else. It did not ask for much (not necessarily a bad thing) but it was all about the person praying and the people listening. It was heart-felt but it was not much of a prayer.
Father God, we just thank you for this moment and for these people. We just love them and love that you have given them a baby even though she will have daddy wrapped around his finger. We hope that she will look as much like momma as she looks like her dad. We just bless you for them and for this stage in their life together and for the family they have become. We love them and we know they love You and they will raise this child to love you, too. We are so happy to be here today with them and to celebrate this wonderful chapter in their lives. We expect that they will raise her in the nurture of the Lord and to serve You as Your child. Bless them and bless all of us, in the holy and precious name of Jesus. Amen.
The occasion was the birth of a child to a family that had a small connection to their Baptist but non-Baptist named church. As I sat there listening (I find it hard to say he was praying but I know I wasn't) it occurred to me again that this was not a prayer in any formal sense and I was not sure to whom the prayer was directed (it certainly seemed more directed to the people in the room than to God). It was sincere, as far as I can tell, and earnest but sincere about what and earnest about what? Sentiment? That is the struggle I have with such "prayers" and those who pray them. They have assumed the posture of prayer but have failed to learn from the ancient collect of the great history of people who prayed (in Scripture and outside of Scripture) and confused spontaneity with depth and sincerity with truth. At least where I live, this is the kind of prayer I hear all the time in civic and semi-religious functions by evangelicals and Baptists alike.
I recently led a workshop on formulating the Prayer of the Church. Perhaps it might be good to refresh some of the points made there. The Church is not culture neutral. We have a culture and a vocabulary. It comes from Scripture, to be sure, but it has been milled and shaped by the tradition of prayers passed down to us (think here the great collects of the Church). Learn this vocabulary and use it until it becomes part of you. Second, learn to pray the prayers of the Church and it will help you to form your prayers and shape your words. Before you venture to write, read and prayer the old General Prayer that served Lutherans so well. Remember not to start with you or your prayer concerns but with God has done, in a spirit of thanksgiving. Pray not only your needs but God's promises. So the collects, for example, begin with what God has done or promised or an attribute of God and then pray based upon the saving actions of God, His promises, and His character. In doing this, we learn not simply to pray for what we think or want or need but to pray based upon what our Lord has already promised to do for us and to give us. Finally, remember that all prayers of the faithful are prayed in confidence of God's mercy but also in the assurance that God will supply what is good and right for us (especially when that is not what we prayed for). I am no expert and I am not trying to ridicule the sincere efforts of those whose prayers I have mentioned above, I do know that I am not the first person to pray and that the Lord teaches us the faith as we pray back to Him what He has first said to us. . . with the petition that the Lord lead us to know and believe this without fear.