This is going to be a thoughtless rant of sorts, so before I launch into it let me preface things first. I used to really enjoy my own personal prayer time (during high school), but in the past several years have had difficulty praying for any sustained amount of time on my own. But, that’s not what this is about. For a while, after that, I found it encouraging to pray in groups. This is not a rant against prayer itself; many from all different faith systems find prayer to be a very important and powerful act in their lives, I in no way want to diminish or belittle that. But, blame it on my cynicism, or my wrestling with Jesus’ words, but there are some things about the way we choose (“we” because I’ve been guilty of it too) to pray that just annoys me sometimes. I wonder if it’s just my own preference, or if it’s a proper rebuke in line with Jesus’ on the Pharisees*, you’ll have to be the judge of that.
These are the times where the pastor or music leader asks you to bow your head in prayer while the band gets on or off the stage. If you were at a play or musical they would just fade the lights and make their transition. We like to spiritualize it. The worst is when the pastor is finishing his sermon, we bow to pray, and then toward the end of the prayer, magically, music starts to play. It’s definitely a top notch transition, but I find using prayer for this type of thing seems to diminish it.
A side rant on this is the fact that parents so often insist that their kids be still and silent during prayer times, and yet here we are watching grown adults use prayer time as their cue to get in place.
What this looks like is pretty varied, but I’m sure you know what I’m talking about. Think of anytime you’ve been in a group with your eyes closed but then you look up and peek just to take a look at the person praying. This doesn’t have to be breaking out into song or speaking in tongues necessarily (nor am I saying those things are only a performance), but it is usually some for of performance that gives you the strange feeling they are doing this more for your entertainment then for God’s listening ear.
This is similar to Performance Prayer (maybe a sub-category), but in the form of a lecture or lesson. This is probably the most annoying type of prayer to me and yet one that happens frequently. Pastors do this a lot, using the prayer before or after their sermon to add to the lesson they’re giving. And we seem to do it a lot in large group settings. I’d liken it to a student in a classroom, raising their hand to speak with the professor, standing up and, rather then dialogging with the professor, launching into their own speech to their fellow students. It’s not that giving examples or illustrations to others is bad, but when we do it as a “prayer” it diminishes the point of prayer completely. If prayer is supposed to be a conversation with God, then conversations or lectures directed toward others should be left out of it.
The “I’ll pray for you” Prayer
This one actually isn’t a prayer at all. It’s an excuse to not action or it’s simply used as a Christian cliche or facade (something we are supposed to say). This isn’t a new thing, James rebuked this in the Early Church. It’s an oft repeated phrase when church groups go to the soup kitchen or on missions trips, when tangible help is not outside of our means, but outside of our willingness to respond. In the church, it’s fallen to the same sort of apathy, a cliche line we tag on the end of a conversation or a concern someone shares. It lacks relevance and, to me, seems to be one of the areas the church claims divine involvement, but I see very little tangible evidence.
I could be wrong about all this, “I’ll pray about it” and let you know. 😉