When asked to pray in public (for example, to open a meeting), some people say yes, but a surprising number decline. They say things like, “I’m not good at it,” or “I don’t know what to say” or (to me) “That’s YOUR job!”
In contrast, Jesus mentions that many people of his time (including some religious professionals) “babble like pagans” when they pray, thinking that “if their prayers are long, their gods will hear them” (Matthew 6:7, TEV and NIV)! A long prayer is not necessarily a good prayer; nor is an eloquent prayer. God loves a sincere prayer.
The same principle holds true for singing in worship; some people say, “I don’t sing because no one would want to hear me.” But they are wrong! Even if the worshipper is way off key, God wants to hear them! “Good” prayer and “good singing” are not measured by their literary or aesthetic qualities, but by their honesty. And that leads us to the other type of prayer.
It doesn’t have to be
the blue iris, it could be
weeds in a vacant lot, or a few
small stones; just
pay attention, then patch
a few words together and don’t try
to make them elaborate, this isn’t
a contest but the doorway
into thanks, and a silence in which
another voice may speak.
~ Mary Oliver
The other type of prayer ~ the one we often forget ~ is listening. This type of prayer is alluded to throughout the Psalms, and is found in 1 Samuel 3:10, as the young man who has heard God calling in the night answers, “Speak; your servant is listening.” Listening reminds us that God loves to have conversations with His children, and that sometimes God starts the conversation.
The current crisis has produced many new questions. How should we worship in a pandemic? Should we go out in public or stay inside? What is the purpose or plan? What should the church become? If we have new questions, it makes sense that God would have some new answers as well, which may arrive in the form of direct words, wisdom, guidance, insight and/or inspiration. All we have to do is listen.
Here’s a reassuring passage: “The Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans” (Romans 8:26, NIV, bold added). Isn’t that amazing? We don’t need the right words, just the right attitude.
We seldom have a plan for a conversation with a friend on the street ~ it usually starts, “Hey, how are you?” and continues from there. We speak, and then we listen; or we listen, and then we speak. The same is true with prayer. This is a good day to give God a call ~ or to listen, and perhaps hear God calling you!