I was skimming around and came across an article about prayer and sports. While the main purpose of the article to point out that it is acceptable to pray actually for the victory of one team or the other, this passage really upset me.
Sometimes we merely fill out a requisition form and call it a prayer. That is, we tell God in a clear sentence what we want and then go back to work, trusting that he gets it and appreciates that he and we are all too busy to stand on ceremony. That’s a kind of prayer but sketchy, a pale version of the full-dress form that entails hours of high-octane concentration, which is God’s way of letting us participate in his constant engagement with and intervention in human affairs.
Passing snide remarks against people who pray short prayers is upsetting, and initially the reason I found it upsetting was not clear to me. To restate the highlighted lines without the snark, and from a different perspective: ‘Sometimes we ask briefly for what distresses us most, and then return to the work of our vocation, trusting God to care for our need and to answer our cry for help.’ Then the author proceeds to call this a sketchy and pale of a form of prayer, the real version of which requires hours of concentration.
Now what bothered me most became clear during church yesterday. Being a liturgical Lutheran, orthodox teaching comes from all parts of the service. In this case it came when the Pastor finished the special prayers and said (and I abbreviate because I am miles away from my hymnal) ‘And we join in that prayer You taught us to pray:’ after which we prayed the Lord’s prayer.
The Lord’s prayer, if you will permit me to summarize is:
- One phrase identifying who we are praying to
- Four phrases of praise to finish out the sentence (in English at least)
- One short sentence asking for God’s care of our bodily needs
- One sentence asking for forgiveness of our sins
- And one sentence pleading for deliverance from temptation and evil
In all, I suspect it takes less than two minute to pray, even at the snail’s pace we pray out loud together in church. And it looks an awful lot like the aforementioned ‘requisition form’.
It seems to me that the author of this piece on prayer has made a grave mistake, he has snarked (though surely unintentionally) at the prayer that God Himself taught us to pray. And while I would never claim that hours of prayer are wrong, it is vital to remember the whole instruction. Here from Matthew chapter 6 (From NIV, from Bible Gateway)
5 “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 others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. 6 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. 7 And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. 8 Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.
9 “This, then, is how you should pray:
“‘Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
10 your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
11 Give us today our daily bread.
12 And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
13 And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from the evil one.’
So, the model prayer taught to us by God Incarnate is a short prayer, briefly pleading from God the needs of both the body and the soul. To say that such prayers are pale and less worthy is at the very least a travesty of pompous misunderstanding.
For more: see the Lords Prayer section of the Small Catechism