Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Short attention span God?

Have you ever listened to people pray out loud in church? It often goes something like this:
“Dear Lord, I just want to thank you, Lord, for all you have provided, Lord. I’m asking, Lord, that you would bless George, Lord, as he seeks to do your will, Lord. And, Lord, even though we don’t, Lord, always know what to do, Lord, you do, Lord. And, dear Lord, we joyfully look to you, Lord, for the answer to George’s dilemma, Lord, and sustain him, Lord, as he carries on in your will, Lord. Amen.”

Well, Lordy!

Instead of using Lord, people may insert God, Jesus, or Father instead. Some even mix it up using every name for God they can think of and getting really fancy with “Alpha and Omega,” “Jehovah,” “Everlasting Almighty,” and ad infinitum. Sometimes these are loud interjections for special emphasis; “WELL, GLORY TO THE GLORIOUS ALMIGHTY!”


We must think God has a very short attention span! Or that he’s deaf?

Think about it. Would you ever talk to a friend like this?
“Hey John! I’m calling, John, to remind you, John, that we’re supposed to be meeting, John, at the coffee shop, John, at sixth and main, John, around 11 AM, John. Okay, John?”
Do we pray like this so others listening know we’re talking to God and not to them? Do we think by interjecting some form of God’s name more frequently – and loudly – it improves our odds of getting an answer?

Maybe we do it – especially with the fancier name choices – to sound a little holier than Aunt Sal or whoever we look up to as a spiritual giant or our spiritual audience.

Given that God is omniscient I’m sure he knows when someone is talking to him. He doesn’t need us to punctuate each sentence with his name to keep his attention. Right?

What would Jesus do?

Jesus provided us with a clear model and some simple instruction on prayer:
“’And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. This, then, is how you should pray: ‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us today our daily bread. Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.’ For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins. (Matthew 6:5-14, NIV)
Let’s break this down.
  1. Direct your prayers to God, not men. The point of prayer is not to prove your holiness or grasp of religious language. Prayer is talking to God. If your goal is to impress others with your prayerific eloquence, then don’t expect anything from God because you weren’t talking to him to begin with.
  2. Be humble. There is a time for both public and private prayer. When you’re seeking God for yourself, this is a time of intimacy between you and God; go be alone with him. When you are praying for others in a public setting, focus on their needs and close the door on your pride; it’s not about you.
  3. Avoid babbling. In the KJV this is rendered as “vain repetitions.” Some people repeat something over and over turning it into more of a magical incantation than a prayer. They wrongly believe that by repeating this “formula” their prayers are somehow more powerful or more effective. Not so! It just makes the praying annoying. Kind of like OCD-prone Sheldon knocking on Penny’s door.
For praying out loud

Imagine someone coming to you with something they indicated was very important. As they share it, they don’t look at you but at the guy behind you as if they were talking to him. They inject big obscure words and complex ideas that sound impressive but are really meaningless. And they keep repeating everything over and over. You’d smack them, right? At least you’d want to.

Don’t do this with God! When he smacks it really hurts. Not that he would.

Get to your point, be honest and specific, and move on in trust. He hears you the first time and saying something over and over, including God’s name, doesn’t give your prayer any more weight. Besides, God already knows what you’re going to talk to him about.

Here’s the model Jesus offered. Note that a form of God’s name (Father) is used only once:
(A) Acknowledge God and who he is: Our Father in heaven,
(i) Reverently honor him: hallowed be your name
(ii) Agree with his plan: your kingdom come,
(iii) Submit to his will: your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
(B) State your needs or the needs of those you are praying for: Give us [them] today
(i) For material sustenance: our [their] daily bread. Forgive us [them] our [their] debts,
(ii) For relational sustenance based on obedience: as we [they] also have forgiven our [their] debtors.
(iii) For spiritual sustenance, strength, and protection: And lead us [them] not into temptation, but deliver us [them] from the evil one.
Keep in mind that this is a model and not an incantation to repeat. Use the imagination God gave you to pray honestly, sincerely, and creatively. Leave the flowery show-offery to the Pharisees.

Based on the model, our example prayer could go something like this. Let’s assume the specific motivator for the prayer is that George is looking for a job:
“Dear Lord, thank you for all you have provided for George and we trust you for your continued mercy and care. Please bless him and give George wisdom as he seeks to know and do your will regarding work. He needs a good job to be able to provide for his family. In the meantime his family looks to you for meeting their daily needs. As George has so willingly helped others, bring others into his life who can help connect him with a new job; the job where he can be a witness for you. Guard George from discouragement and frustration and fill him with hope and your Holy Spirit. Amen.”
It’s short, direct, to the point, and focused on George’s needs. It isn’t needlessly peppered with the Lord’s name or with reminders of what you’re doing as in, “Lord, I pray…. Lord, I’m asking…. Lord, I’m praying…. Lord, I’m coming to you….” and on and on and on.

Again, God knows when you’re praying and talking to him.

It's okay, don't worry

But don’t worry. If you get a little flustered or tongue tied when praying in public, it’s okay to throw in an extra “Lord” or two if that helps you regain your focus and your composure. Even a couple of “I’m asking’s” are okay.

As Romans 8:26 states, sometimes even the Holy Spirit is at a loss for words! “…the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express” (NIV).

If your prayer is sincere, God will sort it all out. He’s pretty smart like that.


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