Prayer is just is talking to God.
That’s what we tell children. And new believers. And seekers, etc. But it’s kind of rubbish, isn’t it?
I haven’t heard very many prayers that sounded much like an example of normal conversation. The sentence construction alone would prove extremely awkward were it directed at anyone else. Can you imagine inserting any other person’s given name into a string of words as many times as some of us insert the words Lord or Father into our prayers? It would undoubtedly make the recipient uncomfortable…because it’s weird.
My version of compulsive word repetition is a little classier. I prefer to modify as many phrases as possible with the word just.
Lord, I just thank you…I just ask that you would just…
Those fillers are important, right? Because we all know that God becomes uncomfortable when there are silent pauses between words and thoughts.
I also like to inform God in advance, concerning who or what I am about to “lift up to” him. And I often declare my intent to thank him or petition him before I get around to expressing the actual gratitude or request.
Lord, I would like to take this time right now to thank you…
I guess somewhere deep down inside, I must believe that God appreciates advanced organizers.
Though these things are not completely outside the realm of acceptable phraseology, I certainly don’t include those kinds of prefaces in normal verbal communication.
I can’t imagine myself, for example, saying to the grocery store employee, “I would just like to ask you right now if you could just show me where to find the sandwich bags.” Or, “Thank you, young man, that you care so deeply about customer service that I can know that as soon as the words of my request leave my lips, you will already be guiding me to the laundry detergent.” I simply don’t talk like that, even when I’m genuinely desperate or grateful—unless, of course, I’m “just talking to God.”
I do pat my own back now and again in celebration of the fact that I’m not one of those folks who thinks that God prefers, above all else, a badly botched version of Shakespearean English.
Now, I realize that conversation with God is a little different to navigate. The reciprocity is somewhat less tangible than in a face to face, back and forth conversation with a friend. I’ll give us some allowances for that.
And then there’s who HE is…
But don’t talk to me about reverence and awe. That’s not why we are so weird about prayer. We pray the way we do because we have habits and culture. We do it because we are thinking more about “offering a prayer” than we are about communicating anything to God. I don’t believe for a second that a deep respect for God naturally or inevitably produces repetitive fillers, awkward grammatical structures, and long strings of Christian-ese phraseology. Learnt behavior and/or misinformation produces those things.
I don’t think these little peculiarities are necessarily evil. I just don’t think they are very genuine, either.
But you know what is genuine…and what prompted this post?
A six-year-old boy’s bed time prayers that end with,
“I hope you have a good day tomorrow.”
My son’s sincere and affectionate desire is that God’s heart would be blessed by his activities and experiences on the following day. And his expression of this desire is unfettered by religious language or a false sense of what is and is not appropriate to say to God.
Yes, someone may object, this prayer is sweet and charming, but doesn’t the sentiment arise from undeveloped theology? How is this a model for the sincere and honest prayers of adults. We don’t pray things like that because we understand that the ruler of the universe can’t have good days and bad days. In his sovereignty and omniscience, he is not subject to to the emotional ups and downs of finite beings. Right?
That’s why we pray grown up prayers instead like, thy will be done and may your name be magnified. Those are good things to pray—things God told us to desire and to pray. But, if we switch on auto pilot and consign ourselves to these familiar and “correct” forms and phrases, we run the risk of bypassing the actual heart condition that the words are intended to communicate.
Besides, I’m pretty sure the day God had to initiate the curse on his good creation was a pretty bad day for him. And I’d be surprised if the day of the resurrection wasn’t a pretty darn good day. And if a person reads their Bible with any fidelity to sola scriptura, there’s no denying that God’s “mood” can be affected by the collective or individual love, obedience, loyalty, faith, stubbornness, treachery, foolishness, and other behavioral particulars of those who live on the earth. Not to mention whatever may be going on in the spiritual realm…
So maybe expressing to God that you want him to have a good day isn’t so theologically out there after all.
And there’s just something so heart-crushingly sweet about that prayer. You see, “having a good day,” is roughly equivalent to the highest good—as far as my son is concerned. It means enjoying the beauty and delight of life and creation. It means hugs and cuddles and laughter. It means helping and being helped. It means lots of play and exciting adventures. It means sharing good things and good times with those you love.
That’s exactly what my son would desire for himself. And that’s what he wants for the Father God who loves him.
In short, he really wants God’s heart to be blessed.
He means it, and he says it how he would say it. And I’d be willing to bet that’s just the sort of thing that actually does bless God’s heart.
Is that how I pray? Is that how you pray?
And what factors do you think lend to our prayers being so “weird” at times?