Thursday, May 5, 2011

Holy Talk

He calls God "Sir" when he prays.

Patrick Lafferty, one of the young pastors where I worship, gives erudite prayers brimming with theology and doctrine.  Which makes them worthwhile in and of themselves.  But although most of his prayers are spoken in modern vernacular, whenever he addresses our God directly, he humbly switches from a pastoral familiarity to a stark subservience.

And like a servant addressing his Master, Lafferty boldly yet respectfully calls God "Sir."

It's so cool, and many people I know in church think it's a great reminder to us that, while at the same time we acknowledge God as our Father, and our Intercessor as our Brother, we shouldn't forget that the Trinity gives us our very life and breath. And It is holy.

A number of years ago at the same church, the late Rev. Dr. Robert Nielson would pray from the pulpit in such a conversationalist way that it seemed as if he was literally standing alongside God, sharing an intimate time of confession, supplication, and rejoicing with Him.  It wasn't until after Nielson passed away peacefully in his sleep that I met his widow, Lois, during one of our worship service's weekly greetings of peace (where we all stand up and greet those sitting around us).  When I learned that Dr. Nielson was Lois's husband, I exclaimed, "Oh, I so miss his prayers!  When he prayed, it was like he..."

And Lois cut me off with a smile, "was having a conversation with God, right?"

Apparently, over the years, many people had seen what I saw in Dr. Nielson's prayer life. What a testimony, right?

Prayer Can Be Better

Today is the National Day of Prayer, and I have to confess that I didn't know it until I saw the New York Times make mention of it on their website this morning.  President Obama had gone to Ground Zero to commemorate both the NDP and the death of Osama bin Laden this past Sunday.  A little irony there, huh?

At any rate, I'm not going to harangue on why prayer seems to get short shrift in our culture these days, or why we people of faith usually seem to struggle with it.  Most of us know it's crucial to our relationship with Christ, yet the more we try to develop a consistent and legitimate prayer life, the more elusive it can become.

To my shame, I'm not a prayer warrior or hero.  There are many times when I spend as much time trying to recover from mental rabbit trails as I do actually talking with God.  Prayer is indeed a discipline, and like most disciplines, I don't find that always comes easily.  About the only times I can pray without distraction are when I really, really want or need something right away.  But how genuine is that?

Over the years, I have developed some tools and processes which have helped me better honor God when I talk with Him.  The main consideration I try to remember is that prayer really is a conversation between myself and God.  He's invited me to talk to and with Him, and since He's as real as any mortal to whom I talk on our planet, I need to begin with at least the same propriety and decorum that would be expected of me were I having a socially-acceptable conversation with anybody else.

I had a Bible study leader one time tell our group that it is OK to fall asleep while talking to God, because He wants us to rest.  But how rude is that?!  Yes, God invites us to rest, but how appropriate is it for us to doze off when somebody else is talking to us? 

Instead, I believe that for honest communication to take place - not only me communicating to God, but Him communicating to me - I need to maintain my attention, concentrate my focus, and value the sacrifice God made on my behalf so we could have these times together.  No matter how long or formal they are.  Not that I'm always successful, but with the help of these tools I'd like to share with you, I think that my prayer life is getting richer.

So if, like me, you struggle with maintaining purpose and perspective when you pray, consider trying some of these ideas:

1. Incorporate snippets of Bible verses that you've memorized into relevant parts of your prayer.

2. When praying for individual people, mentally post an image of that person in your brain for the duration of your supplication on behalf of that person. This helps break up lists of people for whom you might be praying, and also may keep your attention from wandering off.

3. If you usually follow a structure or formula for your prayers, from time to time, allow your prayers to flow organically, perhaps from topic to topic, or by interspersing your petitions with praises.

4. If you catch your mind wandering, check yourself for a brief moment and scan your brain:  are you thinking about this topic because maybe there's something in it God wants you to address in prayer?  It could be that what you think is a lack of attention is actually God trying to get your attention about something that may seem to be a distraction.

5. Diversify the way you end your prayers; I try using hymns that relate to a main theme in the prayer, or a particular aspect of God that I need to appreciate more myself.  I even own two hymnals for this purpose.

6. I usually pray one "formal" or "official" prayer in the mornings with my devotional, and then follow-up throughout the day with more informal, short, "Twitter"-type prayers of petition and even thanksgiving. I also try to remember to close-out my day with a short prayer before I go to bed at night, but I've yet to make that a habit.

I'm not saying that we need to copy what other people do in prayer or how other people pray.  Personally, I don't call God "Sir," and nobody has ever said my public prayers sound conversational.

But I do think I communicate better with God these days.  And I know that gives Him glory.

Which is what our prayers should do, no matter our style.  Amen?

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