Thursday, May 28, 2015

This Ain’t Wrestling

With all due respect, I’m not convinced this’ll be terribly effective:

“If you are in need of more prayer than your schedule seems to allow, shoot me an email and our leadership team will pray for you by name. You don’t even have to write anything; just ask us to pray and we will.”

Paul Santhouse is VP of Publishing for Moody.

Oh, he’s got the right general idea, I think, in that he’s convinced prayer is important. Under the title The Challenge of Prayer he writes in Moody’s Sunday newsletter, “Here the road forks. Either I learn to wrestle with God in prayer, or I wrestle through managing without. All believers face this tension — I do every day”.

Not wrong.

I’m just not sure this sort of prayer — the name-checking sort — is what James had in mind when he wrote “The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective”.

It kinda reminds me of that old seventies trend. You know, the hit songs that climbed the charts by referencing a string of celebrity names: “Rock and Roll Heaven” by the Righteous Brothers, or “Do You Remember Rock ’n Roll Radio” by the Ramones.

Sure, there are short prayers in scripture. Sometimes it’s necessary to fire off a request in time of urgent need or deep distress, when circumstances prevent considered thought, time set apart or even articulating our needs out loud.

But surely quickie requests of minimal content (“our leadership team will pray for you by name”) where the person being prayed for is unknown to those praying AND his or her current circumstances are a complete blank (“You don’t even have to write anything …”) or prayers that are assigned to anyone willing to mouth them because you can’t be bothered to set priorities (“If you are in need of more prayer than your schedule seems to allow …”) are questionably efficacious.

If my schedule doesn’t allow for adequate prayer, my schedule needs adjustment.

Duty-conscious, uninvested, contentless prayers are neither the pattern of the Lord nor the apostles.

To me they seem the height of pro forma-lism:
“The term pro forma (Latin for ‘as a matter of form’ or ‘for the sake of form’) is most often used to describe a practice or document that is provided as a courtesy and/or satisfies minimum requirements, conforms to a norm or doctrine, tends to be performed perfunctorily and/or is considered a formality.”
— Wikipedia
To be fair to Mr. Santhouse, he does seem to understand that wrestling with God in prayer is vital: that service without it is largely futile and that independence or failure to prioritize the things that really matter are not the will of God for his people or a sustainable pattern for Christian life.

Our God is a God who prizes relationships. This is the whole message of scripture. He is not impressed with ritual or routine.

Put simply, working our way down a prayer checklist is not “wrestling”, folks.

Maybe this practice needs a rethink.

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