As a pastor, I pray a lot. One of the unwritten rules that pastors discover very early is that people with “Rev” in front of their name are much better prayers than people without that designation. There is very little if any truth in that rule but that is a topic for another blog. The point for today is that as a pastor, I pray a lot. During the two worship services I lead each Sunday, I begin with an invocation prayer, followed a bit later for an offertory prayer, then there is the pastoral prayer. I also do a prayer before and after the sermon and close the worship service with a benediction, which is also a prayer. If, as sometimes happens, we have a business session or a meal after the worship, I end up praying again. And once in a while, someone will mention something before or after the worship and ask for prayer–which I often will do right there and then.
During the week, I pray before and after Bible Study meetings. I offer prayer at every pastoral visit–and in all but 2 or three situations over the course of my ministry, people have not wanted me to pray. When I finish a pastoral counselling session, I offer prayer. If I go to a meeting of some kind, I offer prayer. Occasionally, if I attend a public meal, I get to offer prayer. In short, I pray a lot.
With all this praying, you would think I would be really good at it and understand prayer–after all, I am a professional pray-er. I can and do pray at times when no one else seems to be able to. I often have people tell me that they have lots of faith but really can’t pray out loud in public–they freeze up and stumble over words and are generally too tense and uptight to pray out loud in public. Some of these people don’t mind at all speaking in public but praying stops them cold.
When I hear this, I am hoping that the issue is not their difficulty with praying but a difficulty with being in public. But whatever it is, it does seem that people have a problem with prayer. And, I confess that for all my prayer activity, I too have some questions and concerns and difficulties with prayer. Sure, I pray a lot–but I have discovered that for me, the public prayers I do so much of are relatively easy. I struggle with the private and personal prayers.
Public prayer is easy for me–when I am praying in public, I am praying for others–I am expressing to God their concerns and needs and thanks and all the rest. I offer these prayers on behalf of others–I stand between them and God, communicating with each for the other. This middle-person role is the basic definition of a priest. I can do that. I work at understanding what is going on in the hearts and minds of those I am praying for and do my best to present what I discover from them to God. As well, I call on all my knowledge and experience of God to bring something from God to them as I pray.
This priestly type of praying isn’t a problem for me and my pastoral experience suggests that my priestly prayers do help people connect with God. In both words and deeds, people have shown evidence that these prayers have helped them connect with God and find something in the connection that helps them.
But for all that, prayer of all forms is still an area of faith that I am working on. I have lots of theories and lots of knowledge and I definitely know that prayer is an effective and powerful tool for me as a pastor and as an individual but–well, the “but” is sort of hard to define. If I had to define it, I would have to say that for all my public, professional praying, I am not sure that I do a lot of private and personal praying.
That might sound strange–I should know when I am praying. I say, “Dear God” or “Our Father” or some other official prayer intro and get going, ending the whole thing with “in Jesus name, amen” or “amen” if I am rushed. I am either praying or not praying and should know the difference.
But I don’t always know when and if I am praying–and maybe I actually don’t need to know the difference. I will look at that in the next blog.
May the peace of God be with you.