Before I ever left my former church, prayer time disturbed me. I went through a time when prayer was simply weeping and wailing, “stammering lips” and “tongues” that had no substance for me. I left those “prayer” times with a deep feeling of sorrow or grief, not with peace and joy. But those experiences were common for me.
After I left, I didn’t pray much for several years. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to pray. I admired others’ prayers. But when I would start praying, I’d hear the same “Pentecostal catch-phrases” again and again, and those bothered me as much as the weeping and wailing and feeling of grief had. “Oh, God, touch. God move, minister tonight. Oh, Jesus, precious Lord, be with us. Deliver us. Help me. Help them. Show me…” It drove me nuts, but I coudn’t stop saying them when I wanted to pray, so I just stopped praying. Kind of.
I didn’t pray in the Pentecostal or even in the traditional church sense, but somehow I still think I was in communication with God. It surprised me when I thought one night, wow, it would sure be nice if… and soon, that nice thing happened. My first response? Wow, God, thank you for answering that… uh, prayer? I hadn’t “prayed” but I did believe God answered. That happened several times. After I stopped “praying” it seemed more of my hope-thoughts were answered than before when I had strung my catch phrases together for an hour a day with a wish list thrown in.
There’ve been plenty of times that I wished I had a “prayer life”. I’ve been embarassed when others asked about my quiet time or my prayer life and I had to admit that I didn’t have anything that they would consider a prayer time or quiet time. Still, I hoped that sometime things would settle down and prayer would become a part of my life in a more traditional way again. And so it has gone, for several years before I left and for several since, as well.
Two weekends ago, I visited a church. In Sunday School, there were prayer requests that went on for 20 minutes or so. Prayer time that went on and on. It irritated me a little, but I laughed it off. Then this Sunday at another church, something similar happened. I don’t know what it was about this time, but something about that prayer time really upset me. It seemed, I suppose, more like people were talking to each other about the problems than really putting them in God’s hands. The requests were ongoing: this person wants to have a second child but hasn’t yet, that person is getting older. There was nothing wrong with the requests, but the discussion that each stirred… the half an hour of study time lost in prayer request discussion… it just wasn’t good timing for me. Or maybe it was.
Something seemed to click for me on Sunday. Nothing earth-shattering, but for a change I realized how I wanted to pray. Not with the catch phrases or the wish lists, but more talking to God, discussing things with Him, not everyone else. I told someone today that I think a whole lot of church prayer requests are more to comfort the requester than the one whom we are supposed to be praying for. And if others are anything like me… I wonder how many people have really prayed for a situation themselves anytime before asking prayer in public? It’s more to make the requester feel better, feel they’ve done something, and comforting or encouraging them than with any real empathy or compassion for the one being prayed for. At least it seems that way to me.
(Soapbox over.) And so there was a new curiosity about prayer. I visited the church library after service and discovered a series by Louie Giglio entitled Prayer: A Remix. Wow, Louie Giglio put into words what had been bothering me. After the first part of that series, I found myself praying, and enjoying prayer, for the first time in years. Do I have a prayer life? No. I may never, because I don’t want to fall back into the ruts that have driven me nuts. But it’s not about having a prayer life. It’s about being in communication with God, about talking to Him. THAT I can now enjoy, and that has taken a much different meaning for me after the last few days.
He lists several prayers that we say:
Be with me,
Watch over and protect me,
And forgive me for all my sins.
Our prayers are self centered. How many end in “me” or “us”?
We have already been blessed. The God of the universe stepped into time, died for us, was resurrected, saved us… we are blessed.
Jesus has promised to be with us, to never leave us or forsake us.
and… maybe we should pray, Lord, I want to bless you. Live through me. I know you are with me. Thank you. Use me-it’s not about being watched over and protected, you may lead me into difficult situations. But instead, just use me, God. No matter what.
To which I say, Amen!