Community prayer – it’s what’s on my mind this morning. What is the role of the person who prays for a group of people? What is the role of the minister who delivers a morning prayer in a worship service? Or of the teacher who prays before a class starts? Or of the person who is saying grace at a holiday meal? Beyond that question, is there a right way and a wrong way to do it?
These thoughts were put into motion last night at our Yancey class during a discussion of prayer stemming from the Sermon on the Mount. One of the ladies in the group said, “I don’t like it when people read prayers instead of just praying them” (I’m paraphrasing). I opened myself up when I answered, “I read prayers often.” She went on to tell me why she thought that was not the way to pray, and ended her list with, “They’re beautiful, but are you trying to impress us? You should be talking to God, not to us.” (I’m still paraphrasing).
Those questions stuck with me. They went home with me, they nagged at me, and they ended up being the focus of my morning prayer time.
To understand this post, you’ll need to know my process for preparing a community prayer. If I know I’m praying for a group of people, I will sit down, think, and write a prayer. I then, when the time comes, pray the prayer from what I have written. I can do it from short notes – words to remind me what I want to say – but I still have to, when I write the notes, in my mind, “think” out the prayer. I usually just end up writing in down in full text because it’s quicker.
What is my role when I stand and pray for a group?
I have to believe that that role is two-fold. First, I am serving as a spokesman for the group. I am standing for them, in front of God, offering the group’s concerns and worries to God. This is not me praying for me, usually, it’s me lifting to God the concerns of entire group. (Sidenote: The obvious exception I can see to that is when a person delivering a sermon prays prior to speaking. That prayer is often from the heart of the speaker to God. We, as the community, pray with him/her as a way of affirming our support for the one about to deliver the sermon. “You are not alone; we stand with you as you ask for God’s help.”)
Secondly, if we believe that prayer is two-way communication, then my role is also to communicate to the community, in the prayer, what God wants them to hear. If I do it right – if I am open to it – then God can take that opportunity to speak to the group through what I say.
Speaking for the group, and even more so, being a way for God to speak TO the group are heavy responsibilities.
How does preparation enter into that equation, and is it OK to write things down? Am I doing something wrong when I pray from a written prayer?
If I believe that when God gives me a job to do, that he will work with me to accomplish that job (and after this past year, I believe it), then I also believe that the time I spend in preparation for a community prayer is one of the times when he and I work on what the prayer will be. It is the time when he helps me to discern what concerns the group needs to have raised, and what words from Him that he wants the community to hear. I write it down because, if he spends all of this effort sitting down with me to plan it, I don’t want to miss any of it. I want it to be what he wants it to be, and writing it down is the best way I know for me to accomplish that.
Do I want it to sound nice? Yes, I do, but I hope that isn’t the overriding factor in what I’m doing. Do I write them down, and then pray the prayers to impress anyone in the room? I’m going to give myself a break on this one, and say no. I don’t think I am. It’s something to watch for – a danger, but I hope it’s not my motivation.
Will it always be this way?
Probably not. I’m just starting to develop “prayer muscles,” and I think God has me in Prayer 101. I’m OK with that – in fact I’m enjoying it.
My team teacher opened the class with prayer last night. You can hear God’s echoes in his words. I don’t know if he prepares for those prayers ahead of time, or it God works with him on the spot, but it’s a beautiful gift. Maybe someday I’ll get there.
But for now, God and I are doing it this way.
Images: The first image is of the National Palace in Sintra, Portugal. (The link has a better picture). All of it is old, but parts of it, the chapel, for example, are very old. Can you see the arches? The second picture is taken from the palace, looking at the town itself through the arches. Great bakery in the picture, plus a little shop where Steve bought me a garnet cross. The last picture is of the seaport town of Cascais.