Thursday, February 18, 2010

Fake Prayer

Saying something against prayer seems like a bad thing to do, but recently I have had a few reminders that prayer isn’t always a good thing. I saw a blog post recently about “praying the Psalms.” I’ve often wondered if God bothers to listen to prayers that people read out of a book or have memorized. The Psalms are great for meditation and if that leads someone to pray about something personal that’s great, but I sometimes get the impression that people think they can use prayers written by other people as some form of incantation. It doesn’t work that way.

Somehow I get drawn into some of the strangest discussions. The other day Michael Hyatt had a post on his blog about the tension we authors experience concerning self-promotion. I disagreed with the guest blogger and she took far greater offense at what I said than what I could have anticipated. She had included the words of one of her fans and had disagreed with that fan. I basically said that I thought the fan was right, so some degree. Somehow that turned into diatribe against me using harsh words. Then at the end of her response, she included a written prayer. I appreciate people praying for me, when they are sincere, but the context of the prayer made it seem most inappropriate. Along those lines, I suppose I would say that if you feel the need to pray for me, please do, but pray in your prayer closet. You don’t have to send me a copy of your prayer.

You recall that Jesus told of two men who went to the temple to pray. One man, a great religious man, spoke with a loud voice, looked up into heaven, told of his great deeds and thanked God that he wasn’t like the other man. The other man spoke softly and prayed for mercy because of the sins he knew he had committed. Jesus praised the second, but not the first.

Words read from a book are just words. A bless put at the end of an argument for the purpose of squelching further discussion is no prayer. Words spoken in praise of ourselves are not the words God wants to hear in our prayers. True prayer comes from the heart and is spoken to a living God. Though the Psalms are beautifully written, God would prefer a prayer of no artistic value spoken in sincerity. Suppose you wanted to borrow a friend’s car. Most likely, you would go to that friend and say, “can I borrow your car?” Would he be more likely to say yes if you were to copy a well written speech of someone else who had borrowed a car and then you were to read it to him? “O thou my great friend. Canst thou see fit to allow me to borrow thy car so I mightest take my dying grandmother to the hospital.” The friend would probably laugh. “But your grandmothers aren’t living,” he would say. If we can see the problem of using that technique with a friend, who may or may not be able to recognize what we are doing, why would we use that technique with God who knows exactly what we need and why we need it?