Like I Knew Anything About Prayer

“Forgive me, Father, for sounding forth on other people’s praying. Acting like I knew something about approaching you they don’t. I do that a lot, and I’m quite sure it’s out of line. Forgive me, Father.

“You have taught me how wrong I’ve been before. Like the times I used to criticize those who pray long prayers that begin by telling you what you already know about yourself. And then I read the Scriptures and saw that is precisely what many of the psalms do and it’s what makes them so special three thousand years after they were first offered up.

“Like Job of old, you showed me I did not have a clue what I was talking about.

“And there are the times I used to quote one of your servants of an earlier generation who said, ‘Prayer is not a touring sedan in which to see all the sights of the city, but a pickup truck. You drive it to the warehouse, pick up the goods and come home.’ You showed me there was enough truth in that to get it quoted a lot and smiled at and even copied down, but not enough truth for it to actually be right. Lots of Bible prayers tour the city and enjoy the sights before heading for the warehouse and home.

“In fact, some of them never seem to know where the warehouse is. And yet your Word records those prayers as authentic and worth our studying.

“Over the years some of the prayers that have inspired me most from your precious older saints began with a comprehensive tour of the city. When I wasn’t feeling too rushed to appreciate what they were doing, I recall being inspired by the sights they pointed out, informed by the things about You I never knew, and rebuked by their insights into your people and methods and values which I had missed along the way.

“You’d think by now I would know to be wary of criticizing other people’s prayers. The way I did yesterday morning.

“Mary and I were speaking of ‘praying prayers of faith,’ and I began to wax eloquent on a fellow’s prayer I heard the other night. I pointed out that the service to that point had been spectacular with incredible singing and a great spirit in the place, and then this fellow stepped out of the choir and prayed the offertory prayer. I told Mary, ‘You would have thought he had not been in the building for the last hour. He prayed this non-descript collection of cliches he had evidently gathered over the years, the kind of stale phrases strung together that collectively formed an offertory prayer–thanking God for the lovely day they’d had that day, asking Him to bless those who were not able to be with us here tonight, and then the one that always gets my goat–telling the Lord to use the offering carefully and not to waste it.’ Mary laughed and I said, ‘You know, they pray, “Lord, use this for the furtherance of thy kingdom.” Where in the world do people find that line? But you hear it all the time in prayers before the offering.'”

“And then later you showed me where Paul testified that the things that had happened to him had fallen out for the furtherance of the gospel. (Philippians 1:12) And that once again, I did not know what I was talking about.

“Sorry, Father.

“I went on to tell Mary I wish people who pray before the offering would focus on the people who are about to give. Like, ‘Make us generous, Lord. Help us to give like we believe in you, to reach way down and give by faith.’ Instead, it’s like they’re afraid God is going to misuse the money, so they pray it will be used right.

“One hour later, Father, you showed me the article in the newsmagazine that had just arrived about priests and preachers stealing from the offering plate. That goes on a lot, apparently, and not just embezzlement but also sloppy bookkeeping and inadequate counting systems and a complete lack of accountability. Evidently, billions of dollars from your offering plates are stolen or misused or wasted every year. The concern of the people in the pew that it not happen in their church makes it a legitimate prayer.

“You brought to my mind a scene from suppertime when my children were young. I remember it like it was last week. My younger son was criticizing his little sister over the way she was eating. Not closing her mouth or something. It wasn’t that he was wrong, but I felt he was out of line and said, ‘I want you to quit trying to be her dad. I’ll be the father around here. You get to relax and just be her brother.’

“I even used that in a sermon once because I thought it was a great line, which is probably why I still recall something so insignificant.

“And today, you’re handing my words back to me. To quit putting myself in the role of the father. To relax and just be their brother.

“To judge their prayers–even those that sound stale to me and not fresh, those that go on and on and never seem to arrive anywhere–even those would require me to see their hearts and know their motives and weigh their faith, which only you can do.

“I can only imagine what you think of some of the prayers I send heavenward. When I do. I don’t pray nearly enough, do I?

“Forgive me, Father. And teach me to pray.”

“While you’re at it, Lord, teach me to value the prayers of my brothers and sisters. And not to critique them as though I knew anything about prayer.”