Monday, August 18, 2008

Shallow Prayer

Today, a thinking out loud blog entry that randomly jumps from one ranting lily pad to the next...

Is there a way that we could better improve our prayer networks in church?

The traditional way of doing prayer in a corporate way is just wrought with so much... ugh. I can't even really put a word on it. It doesn't feel sincere, or authentic. And it always feels so short-sighted.

I've noticed for awhile, and never said anything, about how our prayer lists in our church bulletins are merely laundry lists of folks in ill health & their afflictions. Is this all that we can think of to pray about?

I do understand that this is part of the culture of older folks. Older folks generally sit around sharing with one another their long history of ailments & giving detailed explanations of their treatments & doctor's visits. I wish they wouldn't include their preacher in their often thorough & long-winded medical treatises, but that's a little bit of a different issue... ;)

(I know, I know... I'm so insensitive)

When we come to our large group of worship, often the best way to describe our "families of believers" is by calling us "familiar strangers." We don't very well get to a place where we can pray in specificity for one another's needs because we can't get comfortable enough in large settings to deal with those kinds of big, personal issues. So all we're really comfortable praying about is our health. Maybe the weather, too, if there's a hurricane looming.

But I'm not necessarily interested in getting into a polemic over why all churches should do small groups. :) In general, I think that there are bigger things that we could be praying about besides all of our boo-boo's. That's an indelicate way to put it, I know, but there are weightier matters to pray about. I wonder about how myopic & narcissistic we appear when so many of the corporate prayers that we offer are about healing our bodies in this temporal existence.

And corporate prayer is important. I'm convinced that many young folks, and especially new converts, learn how to pray by listening to public prayers in worship. And when I listen to these newer folks pray, they're often the most anxious over including all the right phrases in just the right order. So that it seems that we are in the business of breeding generations of Christians who pray artificial prayers whose only concern is their cosmetic appeal to the ear.

I guess what I'm interested in is hearing some fresh ideas that bring authenticity back to prayer en ekklesia. If you have any to offer, I'm all ears. Or if you can turn me onto a resource or two that has helped your ministry "do prayer" better, that'd be great too.


Mark said...

Hey Philip, after you get fired for making this post, I hope you'll consider moving up closer to TN so I get to hang out with you more often.


You raise some very valid points. It has bothered me for a long time that in the exemplary Lord's prayer he spent so little time praying about illnesses, but so much time praying about our inner desire to see God's will be done, and to only have what we need to get by today.

Then again, you have passages like James 5 where praying for the sick is mandated and important. I don't think praying for the sick is wrong, of course, and I'm sure you don't either. I know people's prayers for your mother meant a lot to you during your family's hard times in the last year.

There is definitely a lack of balance in the kinds of things that we tend to pray about, though. At least, I also perceive a lack of balance.

When you figure out how to solve it, let me know. :-) I guess a few sermons about prayer more often won't hurt.

III said...

Just kidding about wishing to hang out with me? ;) j/k, I know what you meant. Thankfully, only a couple members of my church read my blog. And only occasionally, and neither are of the older generation.

In the interest of full disclosure, part of the reason for my firebrand attitude on this issue is that we actually did just finish a Bible class series on prayer a couple of weeks ago. We talked about some of the more intangible, theological elements of what prayer is, but we focused it in more on the practical elements of how do we pray better. And I was extremely disappointed when we did review on the last Sunday and it was clear that essentially none of what I had spent the last 3 months carefully emphasizing had sunk in at all. One of those really depressing ministry moments.

I appreciate you bringing some balance back to my words. I did appreciate each of the prayers for my mother.

I do have an idea or two of my own. Whenever I get around to implementing one of them, I'll certainly write about it.

Mark said...

For the longest time, I was under the impression that no one at church read my blog, but I've continued to be surprised by how many of them actually do.

Randomly, people will mention it in conversation with me as if it's a given that they would be checking it regularly. I always appreciate the blog traffic! Then again, I had one anonymous person come after me one time, which was not so fun. At that point, I stopped allowing anonymous people to comment. :-)

Yes, it is definitely a downer when you've put so much work into something that just doesn't connect. What's really worse is if you have something that goes awesome in one setting yet flops in another. I've had that one happen too.

Chad Billy-Steve Pknicholson said...

One random thought is forcing people to pray with you in public. I've never done that and NOT felt the Spirit move. We have a guy at our church who pretty much prays with whoever passes him after service. It's great. I wish I did that more, you know? Just walked up to a kid and said, "Hey, can I pray for your week at school?" Or a newlywed couple and said, "Hey, I'm going to pray for your marriage now."

As a side note, I find myself more and more bored with the 9-11 am hours on Sundays (and Wed. pm if anyone shows up) and more and more excited with everything else that happens in church outside of those hours... if you catch my specific meaning of church...just thoughts.

Dan said...

I'm with you, Philip. I can't tell you how many times I've looked at prayer lists and thought, is that the best we can do? But then again, I think a lot of what keeps us from praying about deeper matters is a general reluctance to open our hearts and expose what's really inside us.

I don't have a great answer to the problem, but just to think out loud, maybe something liturgical, or at least responsive, would help people become more comfortable with voicing these matters? If nothing else, people would hear themselves and each other saying these things to God, and maybe get more used to it.