When I was but a young lad in the Southern Baptist Church, I used to go to the occasional prayer meeting instead of the youth activities. It seemed that every adult who prayed would always end the prayer with, “And lead, guide and direct us, Amen.”
My own father did it when he prayed in public. I honestly thought it must be in Scripture somewhere. It’s right up there with those congregants who are caught off guard by praying in public whose every other word is “Father God”, “Lord God” or “Father.”
An example, “Father God, we’re just so happy to be here Father God today Father God. It’s just great to be in your house today Father God, among your people Father God. We’re just praying that we worship you Father God, Father God. And we love you so much and want to be with you today Father God. And Father God, be with those who couldn’t be here today Father God. We pray for them. And we pray for our pastor today, Father God, as you anoint him to preach the Word that you laid upon his heart today, Father God, Father God. Amen.”
You know what I’m talking about if you’ve ever sat through a prayer like that. You start counting the ‘Father Gods.’ Even before the guy starts.
Yeah, we say a lot of cliche things when we pray. Is there a problem?
What can become the worst of it? I heard a very popular Protestant pastor say a few years ago that when we throw in phrases like “Father,” “Father God,” or whatever, we are babbling. He said that it’s to the extreme of blasphemy. We are approaching a holy God who deserves our best. Not a bunch of rambling that we’ve heard repeated before. He wants our hearts. Especially if we’re praying for a congregation.
Think about this for a moment. The disciples asked Jesus how they should pray. It’s not just something you start randomly doing. It’s something that you learn from the Master.
In John 6, Jesus said:
“And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.”
(Matthew 6:7-8 ESV)
We aren’t to babble on before God. So what are we to do?
Why it might be wrong:
We could be throwing our empty, meaningless phrases at God when He really wants our hearts. Listen, He knows already what is on our hearts. He knows our struggles, our sins and our victories. When we get called on to pray, what better moment to just worship the living God?
But a lot of people have a problem praying in public. They really do. Pastors, why not lead some of your men in a study on what prayer is and how to pray for the congregation? I honestly believe it will enrich them and it will draw you closer to them. Heck, pastors need all the friends they can get. You might actually make a friend in the process. And what pastor doesn’t want stronger men in the church? If you’re really daring, you might actually invite some women to participate. Oh my! Shudder the thought!
Why it might be okay:
Could it be okay to use cliche after cliche in prayer? Listen, if you are praying in public and say, “Lead, guide and direct,” and really mean, “Sovereign God, I pray that you continue to lead us in the path you have led us on, guide us in your sovereign wisdom and direct us down the path you have for us,” then go for it.
And hey, if you don’t feel comfortable praying in public, please, please, please tell the pastor. But don’t stop there. Ask him, “How can I pray better?” Then run to the Word and find out how. God is pleased by our prayers.
And I’ll tell you one other thing. There’s no shame in a prayer that has been written down and prepared.
You want to get on track with praying? There is a fantastic little book called “Valley of Vision.” It is a book of Puritan prayers and it will get your heart, mind and soul right. It will teach you to pray. Feel free to even read one of those in front of the congregation. I used to. And I’d say, “Here is a little prayer I found helpful. And I’m going to read it before I start my own prayer.”
Prayer is serious business. But you know what? God just wants to hear from you. He wants your heart. He wants you. Pray what you’re thinking. What you’re feeling while you’re in private.
The best thing is that God wants to hear from us. Always. And He just wants us as we are.
Ray Carroll is the author of “Fallen Pastor: Finding Restoration in a Broken World,” which answers many of the questions I get asked on a weekly basis.
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