How Not to Pray
My church has found me. I must have passed some threshold of monthly giving or something, because lately everyone in every corner of the church is inviting me to serve with them. Youth ministry, homeless ministry, marriage ministry, small group ministry, communications, uh, ministry, and even . . . prayer ministry. Yes. I, who scored "present" on an online test measuring the quality of my faith, hope and love, am now regularly praying for people after our worship services. Don't worry, I don't get a lot of traffic. But occasionally someone comes up to me for prayer, at which point I am, occasionally, sent into a tizzy. Recently I was sitting around, trying to look welcoming and spiritual, trying not to look at my phone, when I was approached by a woman I'll call Joan. Joan needed prayer, mainly for discernment, because she had two friends who she was trying to figure out when and how to inform that they were sinners and she would no longer be hanging out with them. Seriously. This is the sort of thing some people request prayer for. This is, I believe, how not to pray. I listened to her story and tried to remain sympathetic, but inside I was sort of seething. Who does this woman think she is? I wondered. In what universe would this kind of prayer make sense? What kind of God would respond well to a prayer like that? I asked her some questions for clarification, and then I closed my eyes and started preaching. This, by the way, is also how not to pray. I learned this from Andrew Wheeler, in his excellent and woefully underappreciated book Together in Prayer. Preaching with your eyes closed is not praying. When you tell God what you want other people in the room to know--when you teach God Christian doctrine or remind God how bad people are at following him--you're not praying. You're preaching, and you're not even dignifying your audience by looking them in the eye.