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Have you ever prayed in public? Maybe at a church service? A family dinner? A ministry situation? If you have, you may have been aware of the pressure that ensues. If it’s a dinner, you may have felt the urgency to say a short prayer, especially if the food might get cold. But any public prayer causes the one praying to be as certain as possible to say the good, religiously right, and acceptable—probably brief—words that are “what one says” in praying when others are present. I don’t know about you, but when I have done this, I find that it is far too easy for me to pray a throwaway prayer; one where I’m saying right, religious words but not really thinking much about the One to whom I am praying. Instead of taking my time and making sure that I’m actually talking to God and not just filling in a socially, religiously acceptable space, I just automatically start with “Lord,” or “Father.” Now, I’m not saying one should not address God that way—after all, Jesus told us to do so—but may I be honest and say that, too often, they are just words with no depth to them. Praying just by rote. This is so common to us that we don’t think twice about it. A prayer must be said. The person prayed it. You sit there listening, right words are spoken, and we’re done. Now, let’s get on with the matter at hand.

I’m not dissing on people who pray this way. Like I said, I’ve done this myself.

But I don’t want to pray that way anymore.

I don’t want to pray throwaway prayers.

Please allow me to dig a little deeper.

One of the wonderful things that has happened in my Christian life the last few years is dealing with this issue. I believe the Lord caused me to be no longer fulfilled or satisfied by just saying appropriate and good, religious words when I prayed and then end them with “in Jesus name,” as if that stamped my prayer with religious authority and authenticity. So, in my private prayer life—this is going to sound obvious and simple—I, by God’s grace. realized that when I prayed I was standing before, in the presence of, a son of, made righteous and given eternal life by, the Lord God Almighty, only true God, Creator of all things. I was really, truly, talking to the eternal Being who created gravity and light and all things, who included me in His plan of redemption, the One brings life, and true Truth—ultimate, eternal truth as opposed to earthly truth. He is the only One who did or can do this, none other. I—I—was talking to Him. And He was listening to this fellow standing in the living room. This is an astounding thought. And it should always be an astounding thought. That’s where I want to stay: astounded. The God who knows the names and numbers of the stars—I was in His presence, righteous, talking, and He was listening. So, now I pause before I start praying. I think of the One to whom I am about to speak. I might say something like, “Lord God Almighty, Creator of all things” to bring my brain to that stunning reality; to think about the realities I just listed. What a privilege this is, what is going on here. Me, talking to Him. Talking to the Father, the One seated on the throne and His Son, my Savior, in a place where lightning flashes, thunder booms, and flaming torches burn (Revelation 4:5).

It’s difficult to describe the difference this has made in my prayer life without using common, biblical words. English adjectives and nouns eventually fail and become commonspeak. It may all sound trite to you. “Of course, of course.” If you’ve been praying in this astonishment ever since you were given life by Him, then that is wonderful, truly. However, I have not witnessed such “astonishment of reality” in the public prayers I’ve heard all my life long.

But would I be able to pray in public like I do in private?

Gratefully, yes, to a large extent, although in an abbreviated way. What I find here is a kind of vulnerability that is natural when I’m alone but can seem a bit uncomfortable in public. I decided He was worthy of such glory regardless of that discomfort. I am a trifle emotional, open, genuinely, truly, authentically thankful that I’m talking to Him.

Let me end by saying that the Lord did not work this change overnight. I have enjoyed adding biblical truths as I praise Him, thank Him, and petition Him. It has taken a bit of practice and discipline to pause and think. Seems strange to write that, but it’s true. If I want to pray authentically, I must pause and think.

It is wonderful. I am grateful that He’s showing me that I need to vary what I say so I don’t go to “Roteville.” I want my prayers always to begin with anti-rote: astonishment in His presence.

 

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