In my entire Christian life (going on 43 years, now) corporate prayer has never been easy.
That statement comes from a guy who…
- Has been in church since he was 5 years old.
- Has served as a professional “clergy” for over 20 years.
- Has attended more prayer meetings than movies.
- Has taught people about prayer and how to pray.
- Has encouraged people to pray, out loud, in public, repeatedly.
Even so, I find corporate prayer to be difficult, unnatural, and awkward on a number of levels.
- The temptation to “perform” is always there.
There’s special phrases and words we use that are never spoken in any other context.
“We beseech You, oh LORD…”
“…lead, guide, and direct us and help us to do thy will…”
“…we bind Satan…”
I wonder, who are we trying to impress? It can’t be God. He knows us too well. Because of that I’m convinced He’s not very impressed with any of us. So it has to be the other folks in the room we’re trying to dazzle.
- The desire to not sound stupid is way too strong.
This one’s closely related to the first one, but it’s different.
Yes, it’s self-conscious praying, but mainly because I’m praying to the wrong person (or people).
If I’m truly praying, I’m speaking to God, right? So why am I worried about what the other people in the room might think about how I sound or what I’m saying?
On top of that, if it’s God I’m speaking to, I suspect that most of the time the prayers I send up to Him sound like the rantings of a 3 year old. Cute, but pretty ignorant.
So the reality is that I truly may sound stupid to the Person I’m speaking to… but that’s OK. Like any good parent, He’s got plenty of grace for that.
And He actually likes that we’re talking to Him at all.
- The distractions are brutal.
Why is it that when I bow my head to pray my brain suddenly goes on autopilot. You too? My thoughts wander aimlessly through the landscape of memory and trivia the moment the eyes close. I think there’s a switch in my neck someplace that switches my brain from real-life-adult mode, to grab-a-random-thought mode.
Here’s a quick sample:
- That was a crazy movie I watched last night.
- My stomach hurts.
- My sister will love that goofy cat video I saw on Facebook yesterday.
- What is that smell?
- How many times has the guy praying used the word “just?” 1-2-3-4…
- My mother’s french fries with white gravy on top. Oh, I haven’t had that in so long!
- I need new shoes. These are falling apart.
- 27. Wow, that guy said “just” 27 times in his two sentence prayer.
- It’s my turn to pray? “We beseech You oh LORD, just to…”
Corporate prayer is a real pain in the brain, and the heart.
I want to do it well. I want my interaction with God in the presence of others to be genuine, full of faith, and truly effective (James 5:16).
I want what I pray to connect with the heart of God and benefit those who hear me praying. But all the struggles make it a very painful experience.
Can you relate? Do you think your spouse or your kids can relate?
It’s clear, this is a multi-generational, non-gender-specific problem that we all need to face.
I want to give you some hard-learned but helpful suggestions.
Moving corporate prayer in a different direction
As you can tell, this issue has been percolating in my mind for some time. I’ve considered it a lot because it’s been an issue for me a lot. The answers I’ve discovered are not life-altering or mind-blowing, but they are helpful… at least to me. I trust they will be helpful to you too.1 Admit the problem(s).
As always, none of us can address an issue we aren’t willing to acknowledge. The first step to change is the humility to admit that we need to change.2 Ask God to help you in your praying.
Strangely enough, we don’t typically ask God to help us ask Him for help.
It’s OK, you can read that sentence again. It is a bit confusing.
Something about the idea seems a bit odd. But it’s not. We need His help for everything, right? So if we need help in praying, it makes sense to ask Him for it.
And what do you know… He’ll answer.3 Begin the work.
Adjusting our bad habits concerning corporate prayer is going to be a lot of hard work. But that shouldn’t be a strange thing to us as followers of Christ.
Faith without works is dead (James 2:26).
That means that if we really believe God will help us with this issue, then we’ve got to begin acting as if He’s going to help us.
What does that look like? Here’s some ideas:
- Work hard (with the Spirit’s help) to set your mind on the fact that you’re talking to God, not the other people in the room. Every time you begin thinking about the other people, ask the LORD to help you think of Him instead.
- When it’s your turn to pray, speak naturally, as if you’re talking to a friend (because you are).
- With the strength the Spirit of God supplies, discipline yourself to pay close attention to the things others pray. Even repeat their words silently in your mind to help you focus on their meaning. Consciously agree with their requests, saying silent words of affirmation to the Father.
- If it’s helpful, even speak out quiet words of agreement to help you maintain focus: “Yes, LORD. Do it LORD. Amen, Jesus. Do your will Father.” “Quiet” is a very important word here; you don’t want to be a distraction.
- When you notice your mind has wandered, instead of beating yourself up, confess, repent, and ask the LORD to help you reengage. He’s gracious to forgive (1 John 1:9) and will be faithful to do all those things.
I’d love to hear what your experience has been with corporate prayer. And I’d love to hear any suggestions you might have. Use the comments below.
I really mean everything above. I’m serious about it. Really.
But I also think there’s plenty of humor in our struggle to pray well. The video below is from Michael, Jr., a great Christian comedian who I respect a ton. Enjoy.