Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Top Ten Ways to Waste a Prayer

In this present age of sentimentalism there are a few things that really get under my skin about various prayer methods. I was reminded about that today as I attended a Presbyterian mid-week church service for a function at work. So I came up with a little 'top ten' list of worst prayer practices (and in general I am assuming public prayer here though some of these may also apply to private prayer). Do these if you want to waste your prayer:

10 - Confuse Members of the Trinity

The Trinity is confusing enough as it is, don't add to the confusion by thanking God the Father for dying on the cross (for example).

9 - Pray in disagreement with the Church

Praying for something like the acceptance of women's ordination is a great way to completely waste your prayer. If the Bride is firmly against it, will the Groom be for it?

8 - Insert unneeded theology or doctrines into the prayer

God doesnt need to hear correct theology in your prayer to answer it and if you're putting on a show with your doctrine for those around, you can pretty much rest assured He probably wont honor it.

7 - Pray in a circle

I absolutely hate prayer circles (where one opens, one ends and anyone who wants to jumps in) though some people like them and thats fine. But whats not fine is having a prayer circle when not everyone is exactly like-minded. I have been in several sitautions where I have brought unbelievers 'curious' about bible studies (in my Protestant days) or lapsed Christians who weren't very 'churched' growing up and had them completely turned off by the discomfort caused by these. It ends up looking like 'hey we're gonna pray and any one who is spiritual enough join in'. Which brings me to the second thing wrong with prayer circles, only the extroverts participate in general. So it ends up looking like the introverts are less spiritual. They're just a bad idea in general.

6 - Use vain repetitions and cliches

The phrase "Lead, guide & direct us" comes to mind. Bonus hint: you dont have to keep reminding God that you're praying by saying "and we pray" before every sentence.

5 - Pray obnoxiously long prayers

I dont know how many times Ive been in the situation where I almost have the rest of the day planned out in my mind and suddenly hear "in the name of Jesus we pray... amen" and remember oh yea I zoned off because pastor Bob has been praying for the last 15 minutes. Long prayers should be kept in private I think.

4 - Use the word "God", "Father" or "Father God" as a punctuation mark

You know what I'm talking about. Those prayers that end every sentence with one of those three words.

3 - Explain the situation to God

"And Lord we pray for little Johnny who, is 11 years old, and after his mother dropped him off at the bus stop about 3 oclock yesterday he got hit by a car and the doctors said he had broken his leg in 4 different places and...."

2 - Pray a sermon to those standing around

This has to be one of the most egregious practices in public prayers yet it is done so often . If you're talking to God then talk to Him not to those around you. That is nothing short of sacrilegious. Those prayers usually begin like "and Lord, help us to remember that [insert mini-sermon here]" I have even been in situations where there was a disagreement among several believers and the preacher there eventually said lets pray as we close and proceeded to get the final words of the debate in the prayer "Lord, I pray for those who dont realize your truth of [insert his own personal opinion on the subject]" Don't misuse the privilege of talking to our God!

And the number 1 way to waste your prayer...

Drum roll please...



Pray to baby Jesus! (This will make sense if you've seen Talladega Nights)

The good thing about the Catholic Church is that all of her liturgical prayers are written and by default avoid all of these errors. Having these written prayers as examples, Catholics in non-liturgical settings tend to do a pretty good job of avoiding them as well.


NotMyOpinion30 said...

Friggin' excellent post. I agree totally.

What's worse is when someone else forces you to do any of these. I'm not going to mention any names, but I will say this, "Who wants to start us off with a prayer tonight?"... which is immediately followed by a tense 20-30 seconds of silence until someone finally does it just to get it over with. That's one definite way to totally waste a prayer.

All of your points hinge off of vanity. I have to admit that I have been guilty of quite of few of them myself. But I also admit it was because I was reflecting on myself rather than God. It's pretty hard to avoid it. Public prayer can be quite awkward because of the temptation of one to flaunt their prayer skills or when one is not an "extrovert" it can be a strain to come up with words that don't fall into any of your "top ten".

Like you, that is another thing I love about the Catholic Church. Orthodox Catholicism, that is. Alot of that preacher Bob stuff wiggled it's way into the Post Vatican-II American Church.

The ultimate prayer is the Holy Mass. That is the only group prayer that I feel at home in, because you aren't supposed to be focusing on the group.

The Catholic Church also offers pre-written prayers, largely by Saints (the best ones anyway), that cover just about anything. Like you said, this keeps you from committing any of the items in your "top ten". I'd much prefer to read the prayers written by holy men and women who had a larger abundance of grace than I will probably ever accept in my life (it shows in how they lived their lives) in total privacy than I like taking part in the prayer show starring [insert lead prayer person here].

Tiber Jumper said...

"Which brings me to the second thing wrong with prayer circles, only the extroverts participate in general. So it ends up looking like the introverts are less spiritual. They're just a bad idea in general."

I am as introverted as they come and so I was always the least spiritual in my old charismatic church!
I love written prayers because they remove the flesh, and pride from the pray-er

NotMyOpinion30 said...

By the way, the whole prayer in the circle thing. I can see the good intentions of some doing this, but coming from a Protestant background where I saw alot of it designed for the purposes you described, I tend to want to avoid this situation too. Especially when the ultra-charismatic folks want to hold hands and show how filled they are with the spirit by swaying like they are live on the Benny Hinn Show.

It kind of reminds me of the way some Pentacostals would basically make other Protestants feel like they had less of the Holy Spirit than they did when they'd ask, "You mean you can't speak in tongues?" Then they'd get in a circle, hold hands, and start blabbering incoherently. Anyone who wasn't making cricket noises with 'em was immediately singled out like "He who is not yet spirit-filled!"

Nancy said...

I agree with all the comments and I'll add one from my evangelical days that really, really bothered me. My mother had cancer surgery in the 80s and at the time she reported that some of the ladies in the church would not pray for her unless she told them what her intention was. So my mum, who is a fairly private person, said no thanks. Using prayer as a cover for finding out the latest gossip is pretty awful.

Publia said...

I don't agree. We are commanded to "pray without ceasing" and given the Lord's Prayer. Beyond that it should not matter. As we are freed from the law, we should also be freed from laws surrounding prayer. Just pray, in the way you feel best, and I am sure God will find that pleasing.

TheGodFearinFiddler said...

Publia, I responded here.

Krystina said...

This post made me smile. For the past year I have been attending protestant prayer group/bible study at a non-denominational church called Calvary chapel with a friend from work. It was a very uncomfortable experience which to me seemed like a 2 hour vent session of everyone's problems followed by people chanting "Yes, Yes, Father God". After each prayer intention there was more "Yes, Yes and more Yes's"....not to mention they were praying for the conversion of Catholics...they didn't know that I was Catholic!