There I was, on the uphill edge of a holy prayer circle, just to be that much closer to heaven. My thoughts were gathered, my approach was set, and soon it would be my turn to talk to God with the pious precision of a pastor’s priest. Or something like that. After just the right amount of silence following my predecessor, I whipped out the earnest voice I just knew would score some Amens. Maybe even a “Yes, Jesus!” if I was in the zone.
Ah, but what happened next was more like a “No, Jason.” I remembered exactly one of the several prayer requests mentioned, couldn’t recall the names of those on the downhill edge, and (for shame!) even went into generic request mode as a failing, desperate cover-up. You know, praying for “family needs” ‘cuz you forgot which family member and what need. Or for “help in hard times,” as you’re having an even harder time remembering what the person is going through.
Hey there, I can see your smirks from my uphill edge, but I know I’m not alone. 😉 There are temptations in prayer for anyone as there are in every other activity of life. It’s all too easy for a person to turn public prayer into an art form that’s beautiful to none but himself. (Click to tweet)
Wanna see how? Well, you caught me in a mood of confession, so here are five prayers I can personally remember praying that well…yeah. Let’s never pray those again.
1. The Datemaker
The ambiance was perfect, with the silky, soft glow of the totally sexy high-school retreat lodge’s fluorescent lighting overhead. There she was on the other side of the circle, through whom my prayer would first travel on its way to God. This was my big chance. Delivering a petition with the perfect combination of compassion, charisma, and Christianese would be an even better datemaker than borrowing Elijah’s chariot of fire to sweep her off to Chili’s. There was probably something about God in my prayer and maybe about the retreat or the needs of others, but mmm hm, it was really for her ears and hers alone. And it worked! That evening she took my hand in hers…and then ignored me for the rest of the weekend. The only date I made was with my trusty metal flask…of punch from the camp mess hall.
2. The Sermon Recap
Just gonna be up front about this one: GUILTY! You see, being in positions of leadership in student ministry gives you lots and lots of chances to teach the concepts about God you feel are extremely important and helpful. But apparently lots and lots is not enough. Why stop the discussion before you pray when you can review the major (and if you’re really good, even the tangential) points you made while you’re praying, right? I mean your audience is even more quiet and captive than with their eyes open, and you’ve got God dialed in to make it even more legit! Well, except you kind of dialed him out, since you’re still talking to them and not at all to him. To recap, pray don’t recap.
3. The Crescendo
So you’re sitting there listening to someone very honestly and appropriately praise God and ask him for aid. This person seems truly genuine and may very well be. But then the passion becomes more robust. The volume slowly swells. The number of times you hear “Yes Lord,” “Thank-you Jesus,” and “Fill this place!”—by the one praying—increase at an exponential rate, until soon, somehow, she is simultaneously vocalizing the compelling chords of a keyboard and projecting an aura of an altar you just have to approach. Until ten minutes later that is, when you are covering your ears and praying louder and louder yourself for her to stop before being crushed by the crescendo!
4. The Closer
“God, please help us win this game!” No Jay, God is not your closer, and his saves are of a much more significant and eternal nature. Go Detroit Tigers, but my case here is closed.
5. The Horizontal
The last one’s a sneaky sort. It takes many forms, but all of them eventually end up with Joe or Jill Christian in some way recumbent, unconscious, and certainly not praying anymore. Preferably not dead though; my sympathies if that’s how The Horizontal most commonly manifests in your…life? Let’s see here, we’ve got the “Not A Chance” horizontal where you flat-out started praying on your stomach in bed. ‘Cuz that was gonna work. The “Reader in Repose” version is quite popular, as you decide to pray after nodding off to your book six times. Then there’s the more charismatic “Bow Out” when you’re prostrate facedown before God…drooling profusely. I suppose there could be the “Pseudohorizontal” when you’ve admirably taken vertical preventative measures but still fall asleep praying while standing. Finally, and most common in my younger years, there’s the “Faceplant” horizontal, where you kneel by the side of the bed and wake up two hours later, now praying for partial credit. I think four hours was my record.
I end with The Horizontal (but you’re not allowed to, wake up!), because at least in the case of the first four, such prayers are exactly that: horizontal. Meant for you and other people, not you and God. In fact, whatever entertaining prayers to never pray again you could no doubt add to this list are probably horizontal as well. Just as you’re not fooled when your friend subtly texts others while talking at you; God isn’t fooled when the audience of our prayers becomes anyone other than him. (Click to tweet)
The purpose of prayer—as with any personal conversation—is for us to engage in ever-more-intimate community with God. This is because the purpose of ever-more-intimate community with God is, well, ours. God created us to “seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us” (Acts 17:27). Oh, and it’s also heaven’s purpose too: “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes” (Revelation 21:3-4). Every avoidance of the horizontal prayers to never pray again is an opportunity to reach out for God and find him. One step closer to him, one step closer to fulfilling your purpose, one step closer to heaven! So sayonara Sermon Recap (sniff, sniff), I’ll just have to summarize twice before I pray now.
Want to explore more about your purpose, God’s heaven, and many other important but sometimes confusing topics of faith? Download for free whatever sections of my e-book Healing Hereafter interest you; I did my best to make sure it wouldn’t leave you horizontal!