I grew up going to church. We would wake up on Sunday mornings and my mom would wrestle the four of us to get dressed in our Sunday best. I’m pretty sure my hair was completely unkempt most of those Sundays. I was bored out of my mind most Sundays. My main goal during the service was to figure out how to get to the ‘fellowship hall’s kitchen’ without being caught. I knew that there was a group of old men keeping the box of donuts safe while devouring 3-4 donuts each. I just wanted one for myself (for the record that had happened 3 times in my life).
The optimal time for me to make my move was during the most boring part of the service, The Pastoral Prayer. If you’re not familiar with this part of some church traditions, let me explain. Someone reads the prayer requests of the entire church and sometimes the pastor would open the floor for prayer requests. My favorite though was when someone would shout out an urgent prayer request interrupting the pastor as he read through the other requests. After the prayer requests had been read, the pastor would pray and open the altar (the part at the front of most churches with a kneeling pad). If the Spirit was moving or if people were feeling particularly emotional, or they wanted to get up and walk around after sitting for several minutes they would go the altar to pray. People would go the altar praying for every part of their life. They prayed for distant children, health concerns, state of the nation etc. Prayer time felt like it never ended!
I heard of eternity in my Sunday School class and I’m pretty sure they were talking about this part of the service. For a kid who struggled to sit still for 5 seconds the struggle was REAL. 99.9% of people pray with their eyes closed (not sure why, but they do). So when I wanted to make my move to the glorious donuts, this was my time. Like a child prodigy ninja , I stealthily worked my way through the church (I’d tell you how, but I don’t want people using my own skills against me in my own church) to get to the back and out the door to the donuts.
My mom really wanted us to follow Jesus so just going to the service wasn’t good enough. She wouldn’t return us to our home until we attended a second portion of the weekly experience called Sunday School. Sunday School wasn’t as boring. Sometimes we had snacks. We could talk and move around a bit. Each week the Sunday School teacher would ask each of us for prayer requests. She would then ask for a volunteer to pray for the prayer requests that each of us had just listed.
The person praying would elaborately pray for each prayer request. Most of the time he would use words we had heard our parents use or other adults during that altar call part of the service we just attended. They would say phrases like ‘Direct his steps, help him to follow your leading, bless her heart, Spirit move in her, hedge of protection, seeking His face, or walking in His mercy”. I still don’t know what some of those phrases really mean. Is God really concerned with the condition of our hedges and shrubs?
I remember the Sunday I realized that everyone else had figured out this whole prayer thing, but me. The Sunday School teacher asked for prayer requests and everyone went around sharing their requests. One kid was going to a karate tournament, one kid was going to a spelling bee that week, one kid’s parents were getting divorced, one kid wanted a pony and one kid really wanted a Nintendo Game Boy for Christmas (this was April). As everyone listed their requests, the teacher dutifully wrote them down. We all knew what was next… the tribute to pray for our class.
Like Katniss Everdeen, a girl wearing a blue dress rose her hand volunteering as tribute. The teacher ignored her and looked right at me. I hadn’t prayed at all this particular school year. This was my Sunday.
So everyone closed their eyes and I began the prayer. “Jesus thanks for being who you are…. You’re great. You just heard all the requests. Would you answer them? If you didn’t hear them for the past 5 minutes, Mrs. Smith wrote them down in her journal. You could read them from there. Thanks for this Tang. It was really good this week. -Amen”
I didn’t close my eyes because I just didn’t. I don’t know why people do that still. When I said “Amen”, the expression of shock and disappointment was evident on all their faces. A kid named Jeff laughed and a girl named Emily caringly asked me if I needed help praying the right way. Mrs. Smith wanted to see me after class. When we talked, she asked why I was so disrespectful in my prayer.
We started this miniseries to help people understand what prayer is, what it’s not and how to actually pray. We believe that prayer is powerful, effective and crucial as we explore our faith. It doesn’t have be this awkward, long or a boring part of our lives. It can be fun, impactful and meaningful.
I’m pretty sure Jesus doesn’t care if we use fancy elaborate words or not. I’m pretty sure He doesn’t require a minimum amount of words or amount of time while praying. I’m pretty sure Jesus just wants to talk with us. I really believe that when we use words we wouldn’t actually use in everyday life, it throws Jesus off. When we spend all our time talking and then saying Amen indicating the prayer is over, we miss out on the most important part of prayer, listening to Jesus.
Photo by Roman Kraft on Unsplash
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RE.THINK Church values being a church that is casual. Casual Church goes far beyond the way we dress, it's more about we expect people to take this journey at their own pace. We are here to journey with everyone. So we've created a blog so people can check us out before they show up for a service.