Yesterday, I was honored again to provide the communion devotional during morning service. It's cool to be able to do this; I know it's something God's put in me.
But it again raises the question of: how do we pray?
I try to get my thoughts generally in order, but I've never been a "rehearsed" speaker. I prefer to let things flow, as long as I have the basic ideas down. So I spent some time on Friday and Saturday rolling my prepared thoughts through my head, making sure it was going to be applicable and make some sense (I'm terrible about speaking in half-thoughts if I haven't prepared enough). Then, I started thinking about the prayer.
As comfortable as I am speaking in front of a crowd, public praying is not something I would consider myself as comfortable with. Mostly because as of yesterday, I have a whopping two whole experiences with it in 27 years of life (only 12 have been church years, but still). I was always a hand-squeezer, and those of you in religious circles may understand what I mean by that. And what I mean is: when we would all join hands in a circle and pray, squeezing the hand of the person next to us to popcorn it over before the all-encompassing amen, I couldn't pass that squeeze on fast enough. So now that I'm in a position to pray, it's a skill I definitely have to work on.
Friday night, I found myself ruminating over possible prayers in my head as I fell asleep. Thinking what I might say, how I might phrase it. Going over and over the words again and again until I hit on something I thought I might keep....then busting up laughing, pausing, and asking God: am I praying right now?
I was going over these words in my head to make sure I had them "right" (shudder), and each run-through began with a dear Lord and ended with an amen and somewhere in between, there was a prayer. But is it a real prayer if you're just practicing what might one day be a prayer? Can you tell God not to listen, that you're just working on something here?
I was literally laughing out loud at the absurdity of it all.
Because I'm hitting prayer hard; it is a habit, a discipline, a conversational style, and a relationship I believe strongly in cultivating. And I believe that as one who stands before my community and leads in prayer, I ought to be setting an example of at least one thing prayer ought to be. And in all my preparations and rehearsals, the conclusion I came to is this: prayer should not be recited.
It shouldn't be memorized and practiced and written and re-written and so focused on being "right" that it becomes rote.
Because let's be honest: who prays like that? Seriously. Anybody? I don't fold my hands at night and bow my head and begin a liturgy of practiced prayer. Prayer is a crying out. It is a conversation. It is intimate and personal and authentic. It is spur of the moment; it is a dialogue of friends. It is a piece of the heart, put into words as closely as our language can match it but always missing something that the Spirit has to fill in for us with grunting and unspoken space.
As a leader, as someone standing before my brothers and sisters - I don't care if they like my words or not. I don't want anyone to walk up to me after service, shake my hand and say, "Sister, I loved it when you prayed __________." Don't get me wrong - it's nice, but it isn't the point. What I want is to be someone standing there authentically, someone putting out an honest prayer, a sincere supplication, an intimate invitation, a posture of praise. If anyone is to learn anything from the way I pray in public, I want them to learn the attitude of an honest prayer.
That means I have to bring it. I have to bring that attitude, that posture, to the microphone and throw out the script.
There's not really a script. Once I caught myself laughing and was able to take a minute and think about it, I changed my approach. I will still focus on the words I will say to prepare our hearts for the Lord's offering in communion. I will still work to make sure what I'm going to say is applicable, relevant, and more than half a thought. But when I get to the "Dear Lord," I stop. Instead, what I focus on is the story I'm telling. Let THAT get into my heart. Let God use my own words, which are really His words that He's graciously lent me for a moment or two, to influence the way I pray.
Then respond authentically and just let it flow. Let my heart pour out the unscripted words, the matter of the story, all the way to a soft Amen.
How do you approach prayer? Is is awkward for you to pray in public? Could it be that you're too focused on your words and not enough on your heart? What would it mean to abandon "right" words for a new posture - publicly or privately?