“Oh no. Another one?” I found myself subconsciously saying every time I was expected to be at a group prayer meeting. So I started avoiding them. I couldn’t even put a finger on when it started – when I started hating prayer. I mean, how can someone who claims to love God and even works in ministry hate prayer?
I didn’t know. So I faked it for a long time, because I knew I was supposed to like prayer. Actually, I was supposed to love prayer! I even faked it to myself. I wouldn’t admit what I knew I felt. It wasn’t prayer itself that I hated, but group prayer. Corporate prayer.
See, I enjoy prayer when its just me and God. I have seen him answer my prayers in the most amazing ways. I’ve received anonymous checks in a time of need, after praying something as simple as, “God please provide.” A lot of those answered prayers were the most simple, raw, and unedited prayers – yet He still answered. I love sitting on a mountain side watching the sunset and just listening for God as I marvel at his creation. But when it came to praying with others, my love for prayer ceased.
I finally admitted this to myself, that I honestly despised group prayer, because I wanted to know why. Was it because I grew up in the church and just plain grew tired of it? Was it because I didn’t really believe prayer worked? Was it because I was too busy and had other things I’d rather get done?
After reflecting and praying (ironic I know) about these questions, I realized that I’d grown to hate group prayer because it seemed so……..well, fake. I’d been a part of hundreds of group prayers and they were all stained with the same empty words, mannerisms and cliche phrases that we’d picked up over the years. I hated group prayer because it often seemed like we weren’t even really praying.
Our prayers can be so scripted. We pray the same cliches every time. We ask God to somehow bless a greasy, fatty, carb-infused Lil’ Caesar’s pizza to our body. We ask God to be with us, even when Scripture says he always is. Honestly, we aren’t even really saying anything. We are reciting words that we’ve heard “more mature” Christians pray before us. So we incorporate them into our own prayer vocabulary. Or sometimes we even pray as if God is almost in the third person like he isn’t in the room, rather than praying directly to him.
I don’t pray like that when I’m on my own. I pray the most embarrassingly honest prayers that someone would laugh at if I prayed that in front of them. But maybe its time we start praying that way. Not for the sake of making a statement, but for the sake of shifting our prayers to being real, free and genuine.
I honestly think we care more about what those around us think, than what God himself thinks. In a group, when is the last time you asked God a specific question in prayer and waited for an answer? Or is that too risky? When is the last time somebody asked God for something extremely specific? Or is that too risky too? When is the last time you uttered an unpolished, Christianese-less prayer before the God of the universe? When is the last time you just sat together listening for the voice of God? Don’t we always comfort new believers that prayer is “just a conversation with God.” Yet we never give God space to speak.
Instead we throw up a list of our demands one person at a time, then once there is an awkward silence, a designated person closes. Or even when a pastor or speaker prays, does it not feel more like listening to a speech rather than genuinely seeking God together?
“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.” -Matthew 6:7
See, I’ve read this verse hundreds of times. But it wasn’t until the other day, that I realized that this is the American church. This is us. This is me. I heap up empty phrases that don’t really even mean anything. When was the last time my prayer was so simple that it was less than 30 seconds long? I would almost feel unspiritual or disrespectful if my prayer was no more than a couple sentences. Wouldn’t that be a bad witness to the younger believers in my group? Don’t I need to hit all the bases and make sure I don’t leave anything or anyone out?
In the book of Malachi, priests are offering lame, blind, sick, injured, and diseased animals in their sacrifices to God. They keep the best animals for themselves and simply go through the motions, when it comes to their interactions with God. They perform the ritual, but their worship is completely empty. Its meaningless. Its useless. God tells them to present a sacrifice like that to their own governor and asks, “Would even he accept that?” God even goes so far to say the he actually wishes they would shut the temple doors! He would rather they don’t even ‘worship’ him if they aren’t going to do so in genuine worship.
In the same way, do we not do that with prayer? Are we not simply going through the motions when we utter empty, meaningless phrases before God. I am fully convinced that God would rather us shut our mouths than utter these scripted and fake prayers before him.
I don’t write this to be critical of others. I really don’t. Because I am the problem. I have struggled with group prayer not just because others seem to pray in such a fake way, but because of how I pray in such a fake way. I write this because I doubt I’m the only one who feels this way. I write this in hopes that we can honestly examine our prayers and begin to change this culture. Can we stop uttering useless, lengthy scripts pretending like we are somehow doing God some sort of favor? Instead can we let our prayers be genuine and heartfelt? It starts with you and it starts with me.
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