I can do better???
This afternoon, I stood in a prayer circle with 30+ pastors, staff, and laity from the UMC. One can only imagine what happened when we were invited to pray whatever came to our hearts.
The prayer time started with a nice, short word of thanks. Then, the pastors started up. Each new prayer got longer, louder, and used more Christianese theological terms.
It was as if each person praying was using the time of prayer as an opportunity to give a short sermon. It truly felt like a competition.
Now, the truth of the matter is that I am extremely cynical. All of the prayers may have been totally authentic…genuine…from the heart. It’s probably my pour attitude…my pastoral pride and ego that stood in the way of fully engaging in this time of prayer and appreciating what was happening in the moment. Whether it’s my cynicism or not, some of the prayers were received as a show.
It felt like Matthew 6:5, 7, where Jesus instructs us…”When you pray, don’t be like the hypocrites who love to pray publicly on street corners and in the synagogues where everyone can see them. I assure you, that is all the reward they will ever get…When you pray, don’t babble on an on as people of other religions do. They think their prayers are answered only by repeating their words again and again.”
I felt led to pray a prayer of repentance…asking God to forgive us for trying to out do one another…to forgive us for attempting to draw attention to ourselves. But, then I realized that this would probably have been more offensive to the people in the circle than the babbling prayers were to me.
However, this does remind me to lead by example with my prayers. We don’t need long, drawn out prayers. We don’t need prayers with fancy words that only people with advanced studies in the theological arena understand (or simply pretend to understand). We need to simply be honest, straightforward, to the point, and speak from the heart.
I’m not saying that, for some, speaking from the heart won’t include long times of prayer of fancy language. What I am saying is that, too often, we church leaders tend to pray in such a manner that others feel intimidated to pray. You hear comments like, “Well, I can’t really pray like the pastor.” Then, you find out that some simply avoid prayer because they’ve never been taught about having a simple, open dialogue with God.
So, I believe we need to model simple prayers. When Jesus taught us to pray, it didn’t take 6 chapters. He didn’t model a 15-minute prayer with unfamiliar language. He broke it down to the bare necessities. Shouldn’t we follow His example?