THE MECHANICS OF PRAYER: Straight Talk

Straight Talk

I have noticed that quite often when a person or an organization writes a prayer for others to support, the language of the prayer becomes somewhat overly ideal.  What I mean is that, rather than the ideal in life, prayer is for real.

It is for real people who have real problems in this very, very pointedly real world.

Not that long ago I read a collection of prayers written by a very modern woman, and it felt like I was taking a walk through Disney World.  The intentions of the prayers sounded real enough, but the prayers themselves could be read on stage and keep an audience rapt for quite a long time.  God was always soaring around, not the behind-the-scenes, quiet intervener (yes, I know that’s not a real word) one might want to address with dignity and awe.  Everything was a huge battle that you could see taking place right before your eyes, with enough imagination.  But, overall, the prayers themselves didn’t make a whole lot of sense.  And they didn’t seem very useful in the everyday world.

Just how does calling down a whole lot of Old Testament dignitaries to put a rank of demonic intruders in their place help a poor woman whose stove no longer works but she doesn’t have the money to replace it?

Which is not to say that sometimes big prayers are not needed for big situations.  They most definitely are.  But, for most of the time, small and clear is better than bringing out the big guns.  Most of our problems can be addressed directly, and with a minimum of words.

With a minimum of words that are clear, define the problem accurately, and get straight to the point.

An example of what not to do is ask for God to bring to the minds and hearts of starving people in a war-torn nation patience and understanding.

If you’re hungry and you’re being shot at, patience will get you absolutely nothing at all.  And understanding?  What is there to understand in the situation?  And how will understanding relieve your suffering?

One definition of patience is the capacity to not be hasty or impetuous.

If you are starving and your life is being threatened, trust me, it’s OK to be hasty in your supplications.  And demanding, even.  Asking God for patience is like telling him to take his time in alleviating the situation.  What if he says, yes, t0 this prayer?

Instead of potatoes and a cease-fire, you get a deeper understanding of what is causing the conflict and you realize that you are now more able to be resigned to the situation.

I would prefer the potatoes, to be honest.

I read a prayer once that prayed the words, God, you wish that in this world no one should use swords.  And then the follow-up prayer implored that all countries should practice justice and truth.

Wait.  Wasn’t it Jesus who said, I come not to bring peace, but to bring a sword?

And is not both truth and justice considered swords?

Personally, I consider all the virtues to be swords that we can call on when needed.  Virtues like perseverance, mercy, charity, etc.  Etc.  Etc.

Lots and lots of swords that we can call on when necessary.

I think I’ve made my point.  Pray not for (or to) the ideal, but for the reality at hand.

Begin your prayer with a profound statement that expresses your love and respect for God.  But then word your intention succinctly.  There is no shame in blunt honesty.

If you need to take some time in your prayer to communicate what is on your heart, do so. But, again, be honest.  God can take it.  God can take your anger, your sadness, your confusion.  God can even hear about your hatred without taking it personally.

Honest.

And do not forget to say, thank you, at the end.  Again and again, if you have to.  Never forget: respect, courtesy, and gratitude.

Amen.

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