Last weekend we attended a family gathering. Before lunch, my “uncle-in-law” and I were asked if one of us would pray. I said I’d rather he did, and he thought I should. In the end, we ended up doing a unison prayer together that everyone knew. That was ok, but my response bothered me.
Why did I want my “uncle-in-law” to do it? I wasn’t afraid to pray out loud in front of others (there was a time when I would’ve been). I felt a little awkward because I wasn’t expecting to be asked to offer the prayer. However, I really shouldn’t have been surprised. Our pastor regularly encourages us to be ready to preach, pray or die at a moment’s notice. I missed it!
After analyzing my response and the situation in general for a while, there are two issues that have come to mind. Growing up, my dad or my uncle usually offered the meal-time prayer for our family gatherings. Their prayers were spontaneous and heartfelt – different every time. This was a beautiful gift given to our family by two wonderful men. My uncle has long since gone home to be with Jesus and we are still blessed to have my dad with us. There is a part of me that finds comfort in having one of the “patriarchs” of the family offer a prayer in this way.
However, because of my own desire to have things be “the way I’m used to,” I neglected to give my own family the gift of hearing a spontaneous, heartfelt prayer. (I’m not saying there was anything wrong with the way things were done at this gathering because there wasn’t.) So, here’s the first issue to think about from this: how often do we try to keep things the way we like them or “the way they’ve always been done” in our congregations? What are we missing out on by doing that? Are we missing out on what God desires to do in and through our communities?
The second issue this situation reminded me of is our tendency to want a “professional” to pray. I have been to many gatherings (in and out of church buildings) where pastors are present. More often than not, the pastor is asked to offer the prayer. Certainly part of a pastor’s job is leading corporate prayer. Sometimes, however, pastors need to just be part of the group, allowing others to minister to them.
This can be hard for both the pastor and the rest of the group to accept. It can be hard for some pastors at first because they are used to being in charge and in control. It can be hard for others because they feel intimidated to pray in front of the pastor. The few times I have had the privilege of witnessing an event where someone other than the pastor or professional pray-er was allowed to pray, the pastor at the event appreciated having someone else lead the prayer and the people were given another example of how to pray. When the “professional” is the only voice that’s heard in prayer, it is easy for people to think a professional is needed in order to pray to God. It’s also easy for people to believe there is only one way to pray (the pastor’s way). The truth is that God loves variety, creativity, and honesty and there are many ways to pray that honor God.
Next time, I plan to be prepared. I don’t want to miss out on whatever God has in store!