Wednesday, July 22, 2009
I am fortunate to attend a church that thinks prayer is important. I know, all churches feel that prayer is important; all churches pray several times in its church service, all churches stress the importance of prayer, all churches welcome prayer requests.
Most churches, like mine, make it very easy to communicate prayer requests. There's email, fax, an "iCard" with space on it to request prayer, and you can even phone in a request as well. There's even a prayer team willing to pray with people immediately after church service. My church offers a prayer time on Monday evenings, as well as early Wednesday mornings, that anyone can come join in and pray.
I have never requested a prayer request on an iCard, nor have I sent in a request via phone or fax. I have never gone forward to have someone pray with me after service. Yet I do attend the Wednesday morning prayer time.
I began attending this small prayer group in August.. Initially I was hesitant; I'm not a prayer warrior. I pray, of course, but am not one to "feel" the Holy Spirit, nor do I feel He pays any special attention to my prayers. I hear often of miraculous things that happen to friends that are a direct result of their prayers and I'm amazed by their stories. God has answered my prayers but nothing significant the way others describe. Still, I decided I'd go check it out. Early morning is easy to do, it just takes a bit extra work to set the alarm clock. Oh, yeah. And get up when the alarm goes off!
The first time was difficult and awkward, as I was relatively new to the church and really did not know many people, but I felt welcomed there and I left really enjoying prayer time. I enjoyed how my day just seemed to be more vibrant, I was aware of so much more and aware of others. At the beginning Wednesdays were my "magical" days.
But here's the catch: Though I make an effort to attend "corporate prayer" with a small group of other Christ followers every week, I don't pray out loud. I have perhaps done so 3 times in the past 11 months that I've been attending, but typically I choose to pray silently. We pray for a myriad of things: The church, surrounding churches, surrounding neighborhoods, our country, etc. I feel part of "the group" despite the fact that I don't pray audibly. I am generally not teased that I remain silent. (generally)
Today something happened that shook up my happy world of silence: I guess it can be considered encouragement, but it stung a bit. The assumption that I don't really know how to pray out loud. I can see why my friend thinks this, as the few times I have prayed out loud I really was horrible at it! I stumble, I say all the wrong things, I don't make any sense at all, I stammer and all this lasts about 20 seconds before I struggle to recall the words "InJesus'nameAMEN" Really! It's that bad. So it's no wonder why my friend thought I simply did not know how to pray. He offered up some excellent advice: Picture Jesus in the room with you and just tell Him what's on your heart. He even mentioned how when he taught 3rd graders he'd tell them to "picture santa claus". All excellent advice but ultimately, unhelpful.
See, it's not that I don't know how to pray. I do. I grew up Church. I once could pray elaborate, beautiful prayers. The problem is twofold: There are too many "right ways to pray! I have read countless books, I have started "prayer journals" I have attempted to log and track every prayer request and update with the answers. I have prayed aloud, silently, in small groups, even large groups. I have prayed with my hands raised, I have prayed holding hands, touching someone shoulder, on my knees,etc. I have studied the Lord's prayer as a model, read Kay Arthur's Lord Teach Me To Pray in 28 Days, have been in Bible studies about prayer, etc.
The only thing I know for sure is that God wants His people to pray. God listens to the prayers of His people, and that prayer is powerful. The hows and intricate details to me are unimportant. I think that God can hear my small silent prayers as easily as a person who is praying out loud. I even think he is fine with my small, ungainly attempts at praying out loud.
But that isn't the reason I pray silently. If I were to be quite honest it is because I know I'm not good at it. When I pray silently my prayers seem good but as soon as I open my mouth the words just become so difficult to say. My thoughts form easily but the articulation is difficult. Plus, I'll spend the entire prayer time thinking about "my turn" to pray and what I want to say and how to say it. I realize I'm among friends in an safe environment but I've just given up praying out loud. There's no purpose. My friends I am with pray beautiful prayers, their very voices are full of confidence and love for God. They can be vulnerable as well as wise and trusting. It's uplifting listening to their prayers and I definitely see the value of praying out loud with others; I feel even more blessed as I realize more though my friend's prayers.
I don't know what to do about this: I know it's for God and not others, but that just leads me to think I don't need to pray out loud. I know it's not about "how good" a person is at praying out loud. I know that "practice makes perfect" but I really am horrible at this and really don't see myself ever feeling comfortable praying out loud, and is it really necessary? Does God really care if I pray out loud with others?
The drawbacks are many though: a perception that I don't know how to pray out loud. I guess they'd be right but theoretically I "know" how to pray. It just doesn't come out right. And which is worse? The perception that I don't know how to pray or that I am just really horrible at it and make a judgement as to my intelligence or spiritual walk with God?
I don't know my answers. I guess ideally I'd love to speak insightful, beautiful touching prayers but that won't happen. So the other two options are: 1. To continue to pray badly and not care what others think and the fact that I'm "ruining' a perfectly good prayer time, or 2. Remain in silence and not care if others think I just can't pray or aren't spiritual.
Is any of this even of any importance?
Yet it has made me a bit sad in my day. Prayer is such an important, vital aspect of the Christian faith, to admit it's just something I'm horrible at saddens me. It's like Christianity 101: Even my 4 year old speaks beautiful prayers to Jesus at the dinner table and bedtime. It's real, heartfelt and sometimes even a bit profound.
If you are thinking to yourself, "Oh, she can't be that bad." Trust me. I am. I'd tell you to come join me at prayer on Wednesday mornings to find out but I have no plans on praying out loud again!