This one is long, I won’t lie. And it will hopefully make you think. It might make you happy, if so post a comment and let me know. It might make you angry, and if that’s the case I’ll remember to steer clear of you. No, feel free to post your thoughts on anything I write. Here we go.

It all began after a youth retreat that I was a leader at. What began you ask? My defined perspective on prayer.
You have to know, I’ve gone to a Baptist church my whole life, and now I’m involved with a Pentecostal church. Now before any judgemental ideas are cast let me just say that hasn’t been too tough to get used to, it’s a great church, with great people and youth. They speak in tongues, yes, and that’s a big things that they are recognized for and usually judged for. And that’s the first point, why do we judge their speaking in tongues? It may be foreign to some; others may think it’s a powerful expression of God working in His children; while others think it’s all a bunch of hooey that doesn’t make sense and just flat-out gets them angry. It was suggested to me that people speaking in tongues might need a translator, otherwise it isn’t real. But I don’t really believe a translator is necessary. Is there really much need for one? Speaking in tongues seems to be a personal way to express one’s self and speak with God. There is no need for me or anyone else to understand what they are saying. In the beginning, whenever I heard people speaking in tongues, I often asked myself ‘I wonder if they’re for real.. or if they are just playing a part because they feel they have to in order to fit in. Do they think that must not be getting anything out of the message unless they raise their hands, or cry, or speak in tongues. Are they really saying intentional words, or just yelling gibberish?’ These were my pre-conceived thoughts, probably much like many of yours. But what it came down to was that I knew fully and completely that it was none of my business. It’s between them and God. They know if they are just playing a part and yelling gibberish, or if they are really speaking to God in their own language. I don’t need to know, it’s so easy to judge.

It’s a beautiful thing to witness; seeing people crying out to God, laying their burdens out in front of them yelling ‘I’m a sinner, I know I don’t have it all together, but I know you still love me no matter what and I want to continue to try and live for you as best as I can.’ But if it’s all for show, if it’s not real at all, can it really influence you. No one should feel they have to act a certain way toward God just in order to meet someone’s expectations, they should just be real however that might look for them at that point.

Personally, I’m not really one to express myself in situations like most Pentecostals. Maybe that reflects a cold-heart, or that I’m trying to keep my cool, I don’t know. Either way, I know it doesn’t mean I don’t get anything from the messages or that God isn’t speaking to me, because I definitely do, I just deal with it in a different way.

This leads me to the idea of prayer. As a youth leader, I was expected to go around and pray with the students who were lying face down, or crying with hands raised high, or speaking in tongues. I felt pressured and out of place. Why should I conform to a certain way to speak with God if that’s not how I connect with Him. I didn’t want to walk around, put my hands on the students and pray out loud… to me, this would just be playing a role I was expected to play, I wouldn’t have been real. Personally, having people walk up and place a hand on my shoulders and pray out loud has no effect on me, I feel no different. Others may appreciate it, and I respect that… people are just different from one another.

The same thing falls into place when praying out loud in a group. I don’t like doing it, not out of nervousness, but purpose. It must be a very specific situation in order for it to be alright for me. It’s the concept of trying to impress others with your words, it feels too much like a show rather than being real and it is a distraction from where your own focus should be… on God and speaking with Him. I know you know what I’m talking about when people speak out loud while you are praying with yes God's and mmhmm's, and if you don’t get any of these ‘gold star stickers’ but the person beside you does, then he's done a better job of praying than you. I just don’t feel like I’m real with prayers, and I find it difficult to know how genuine many prayers can be when people pray in groups.
Now, don’t get me wrong, it’s not that I disagree with praying in groups because I know that the bible encourages it, but it’s the idea of speaking aloud. This is why, in a group, I prefer suggesting to pray for the person on your left in silence. Then it’s just you and God but with the support of those around you. And that’s powerful as well.

Some may feel that praying out loud is an audible way for someone to know you're praying for them, showing that you actually understood and listened to what they told you, and I suppose that can mean a lot too. But I don’t see why it can’t mean just as much to just 'know' that someone is praying for you. They can rest their hands on you and say 'can I pray for you' and then sit silently with you, can’t they?
A suggestion to avoid putting on a show for the person you are praying for, would be to avoid offering advise to them through your prayer. Like, ‘God, I pray for Bill and that you will help him with ­­­­______ and that he will take time to ­­­______, and be nice to people, and please remind him of ...blah, blah, blah.' I believe that those things can be expressed aloud to the person in conversation prior to the prayer, and then the prayer itself can be more intimate between just you and God.

One last thing to cover is telling someone that you’ll pray for them, but never follow through. Some may not open up to people because they fear that they don’t sincerely care because they won’t actually pray for them when they say they will, or won’t follow a couple weeks later to make sure they’re doing alright.

But again, I raise the question, who am I to be concerned about whether they are praying for me all the time, if at all. Is it selfish of me to have this wishful thinking? Can I not be appreciative enough that they listened to me in the first place and let me share with them? And if they pray for me once, isn’t that great! Shouldn't I feel so blessed just for that? Besides, God is outside of time, so it shouldn’t matter when I’m prayed for. All you really need is just one, don’t you? I’m impartial about praying for the same things over and over though. Because it helps you to stay in touch with god, remembering people to pray for ignites opportunity for you to spend in conversation with God.

It’s all very personal. There’s no one right way. Different strokes for different folks right? It’s important to think about it and decide for yourself about these things we’ve discussed, because if you ignore the issue of how you pray, you could be doing it wrong… for you. Do you feel you are real in your prayer, or are you putting on a show?


Jess said...

Hey Ben,
I'm really really enjoying reading your blogs. I think you really do have a gift for writing and I urge you to take this gift God has given you and use it. You're challenging me in so many areas, just as you're, I'm sure, challenging the many others who are reading your messages. Just as you said, all this stuff is really making me think...hard. You have some amazing stories of how God has used you through situations, such as your last blog entry, and I think that's incredible.
I'm actually writing to comment on your "Prayer as a show" blog. This really hit home for me, because I can relate 100% to everything that you said. I understand completely where you're coming from with the whole praying out loud idea. Just like you said, I never feel "real" with God when I'm praying in a group. I always feel, like you said, that I have to impress those that I'm praying with and it seems more like a show than it does a prayer. My focus is not where it should be, on God, but instead it's on what's the right thing to say next, hoping that I won't make a fool of myself. I just came back from Urbana, a huge missions conference in Missouri, and we were encouraged to pray in groups a lot. I mean it challenged me of course, but I never felt that connection with God the way I do when I'm praying alone, silently. This is for sure an area that I'm struggling with right now and I'm glad to see that I'm not the only one that much prefers praying silently than out loud. But just as you mentioned, praying with a group is still a powerful thing, and in my opinion, it doesn't really matter to God whether you're talking to Him aloud or in silence, as long as you're praying from your heart - praying the truth.
Anyway, I'm really enjoying reading your messages simply because they're "real" if you know what I mean, and it's about stuff that matters. Keep doing what you're doing Ben. I'm looking forward to reading more of your blogs, and I pray that God would bless you in everything that you do.
- Jess

Anonymous said...

Hey Ben

(It's Nikki; I don't have an account so 'anonymous is as close as I can get)

I know where you're coming from, or at least I've been in a similar situation. I caught myself with my eyes open while I was opening with prayer at youth, before worship, and I realized half way through I couldn't remember what I had been praying about or where my sentence was headed. I stopped right there, and many people were just looking at me. I recovered and finished my 'prayer' but I think the conversation I had with myself in the ten seconds of silence was more of a prayer than I had really been saying in a long time. I agree, prayer goesn't always need to be verbal, and adding to the idea, I believe that much of what we think-say even when we don't adress God first, is counted as prayer. It's not like he doesn't already know what we're thinking, but it's still important that we acnowledge him as part of our conversation...

It has been pointed out to me recently that taking prayer requests in a group format, and repeating them immediately afterward 'in prayer' is unnecessarily repeatitive. Just saying 'please pray for my dad' is a prayer, and once it's shared, those who truly want to pray can (and probably would anyway) do so seperately. Also, the famous Christian cop-out, 'I'll pray for you'... I'm guilty of using that one too, and leaving conversation without lending any help.

So, here's what I've done to keep me organized and consistant... be it cheesy beyond all reason, it's helped, if not cured, but lazy heart for prayer. A calendar. A list of people to pray for ever day. A chart, not of prayer requests, just of names. God knows the details. Rough visual summary of my own, days across the top and catagories down the side (example, family, church, camp, work, ministry, government, etc) it can be a lengthy process, but that brings me to the last point I have, connected with prayer; tithing.

One of my friends said that tithing extends beyond our money. She said we are called to tithe one tenth of everything; money, yes, but also energy, focus and time. Time, works out to abpout two and a half hours a day. Wouldn't it be amazing for any relationship to spend 2.5 hours n conversation? It was a challenge to me, and I have yet to meet that goal. 10 minutes stretches my attentionspan. Something for you to think about.