In both of the collections of congregations that I serve, our worship service includes a prayer time. We do the traditional pastoral prayer followed by the Lord’s prayer. But in both, we have introduced some variations. First, I don’t do a long pastoral prayer—it is short and focused on something growing out of the sermon. We also include a time of silence for people to make their own prayers. Normally, this comes at the beginning of the prayer time but now and then, we have it in the middle of the pastoral prayer.

We also encourage people to share prayer requests with the congregation which I then incorporate into the pastoral prayer. Occasionally, we have a Sunday when we get no such requests. Those are unusual because we generally have a few requests for prayer. Some come from within the congregation and others come from people outside, requests passed on to us because even people outside the church want prayer.

As a pastor, I am obviously in the prayer business. I pray a lot both publically and privately. I do Bible studies and other courses on prayer. I write about prayer. I encourage people to pray. But for all of that, I have to confess that I am still working on understanding what prayer really is.

You see, most times when people talk to me about prayer, they seem to want something. They want God to know that they have this need that they want God to take care of, generally is a specified way. There is an unspoken assumption that it we can get enough people to pray for us about the request, God is more likely to answer with the answer that we want.

And so while we are divinely encouraged to bring all our needs to God, it does seem to me that a lot of people view prayer as some sort of spiritual version of 911, something that it great to have but which we only use when there is an emergency. We pray when we are in trouble and need God’s help.

I don’t want to take away from the right and ability to approach God in prayer when I or others am in need but the more I think about it, the more I wonder is maybe we have allowed ourselves to take prayer down a side road and in the process of following the side road, have missed the main road of prayer. I wonder if we have settled for a stripped down version of prayer when we could just as easily have the full-featured version.

The full-featured version may be hinted at in Genesis 3. There, in the midst of the tragic story of sin entering the creation, we find the story of God walking in the garden in the evening (Genesis 1.8). Now, I managed, with great effort, to pull off a shaky “D” in Hebrew so what I am going to say about the passage comes from others, whose ability to understand Biblical Hebrew obviously far surpasses mine. But many commentators suggest that the underlying grammar suggests that this walk was an habitual thing, something that God did every evening.

My conjecture would be that God walked in the garden with the man and the woman and they talked and shared. The man and the woman were praying. I suspect there wasn’t a lot of “Give me, grant this, fix this, do this, heal that, remove this”—there was likely some of that during these evening walks but mostly, I think, God and the humans enjoyed each other’s company and shared or walked together quietly as people who know and love each other do so comfortably and well.

That has always been my vision and goal of prayer, to be able to be comfortable in the awareness of the presence of God. I can ask for things if I want. I can make comments about this and that. I can ask questions. I can tell a joke. I can enjoy a comfortable silence.

I am definitely not there in my prayers. I would like to be and I work at being there but I have a ways to go—my introversion means that I don’t do this well with people and it is much harder with God. But I want to walk in the garden so I keep working at it.

May the peace of God be with you.



Sometimes, when I am in a counselling session with a troubled individual, I will use a question to help them get a hold of what it going on in their lives.  I will say something like, “What are you feeling?” or “How did (does) that make you feel?”.  A significant number of people will answer the question by saying, “I think…” and then going on to give a reasoned response that tells me two things:  first, they know what they should feel and secondly, they have no idea what they personally feel.  Often, I will keep asking the question, pointing out that they are giving me thoughts instead of feelings until they either tell me to stop or begin to see their feelings.

There are significant and deep connections between what we feel and what we think but they are actually two different processes and two different viewpoints.  We all feel and we all think–and in the long run, it is good to know the difference between the two as well as how they are related and interact.

My feelings affect my thinking–and my thinking affects my feelings.  The less I am aware of my thinking or my feeling, the more complicated the process becomes and the less I am in control of any of it.  For many people, the difficulty is that we don’t recognize or acknowledge our feelings–and that opens the door for those unrecognized and unacknowledged feelings to dominate my thinking.

I am an introvert, a reality which means I tend to be uncomfortable in large groups of people.  The larger the group, the more uncomfortable I feel.  Unless I can be assured of a certain amount of physical and psychological space, I have serious negative feelings.  So, when the possibility of going to something where there will be a lot of people, I need to take that into consideration.

If I don’t consider my initial negative feelings, I can think myself into lots of good reasons for not going:  parking will be a problem; it will be late and I am tired; it will cost too much; a riot might break out; it will be a great spot for a terrorist to strike; someone there might have the flu–well, you get the idea.  When I don’t take into consideration my feelings, my thinking falls into alignment with my feelings and gives me reasons for not doing (or doing) what my feelings want.

Now, when the feelings are about a crowded concert, that is one thing.  But my feelings can have serious affects on all my life.  If I was abused by a school teacher, I can and probably will let those feelings affect my entire view of education–especially if I repress the feelings and pretend that the abuse didn’t happen or didn’t affect me or doesn’t matter.  My thinking gets distorted by the feelings that I haven’t been willing or able to deal with.

From my perspective as a pastor and occasional counsellor, the solution to the issue of feelings dominating thinking is simple.  All we need to do is admit and accept our feelings.  As a pastor and occasional counsellor, I recognize that this can be a very painful, difficult and time-consuming process that is anything but easy.  Sometimes, it can seem to an individual to be beyond their ability, which is why God has given us pastors, counsellors and therapists of various kinds–having someone there to help us through the painful process of coming to grips with our feelings makes a real difference.

In the end, the more we recognize and understand and accept the reality of our feelings, the freer we are to actually live our lives.  Rather than be guided and directed by what we don’t know and thus don’t control, we are able to think better because we know all (or at least more of) the factors that have been causing problems.  We can take into account our feelings but we can also think of ways around them and ways to deal with them and reasons why the feelings can be ignored or deal with in a better way.

Asking people how they are feeling is an important part of my pastoral and counselling processes–and it can be a valuable tool for any of us.  The more we understand our feelings, the freer our thought process.

May the peace of God be with you.


            Many years ago, I was a new pastor just beginning my pastoral career.  I was spending time getting to know the church people which for me involved visiting them in their homes.  One afternoon, I dropped in on a family who were fairly involved in the congregation and who were well respected by the rest.  They were good people and I was enjoying getting to know them and working with them.

On the afternoon in question, I was driving by and saw their car in the driveway and decided to dropped in unannounced–this was a totally acceptable and even expected thing in those days.  The husband and son were in the yard, taking a break from some yard work they were doing.  I got out of the car, walked over to them and began chatting about the weather, the work they were doing and other bits and pieces of conversational fluff that we generally use to get things going.

I noticed that the father was a bit uncomfortable but thought it was because he needed to get back to the chores he was doing before I arrived.  However, as I mentally processed the scene, I realized there was a different problem.  I became aware of the smell of tobacco smoke and noticed with my peripheral vision that his right hand was curled into an awkward position–and that there was smoke coming from it.  His break included a cigarette but he didn’t want the minister to know that he was smoking but hadn’t had time to throw it away when I drove into the yard.

Later in my ministry, I could and did joke with him about that day but right then, he felt a need to hide his smoking from me–actually, he wasn’t really hiding it from me.  He was hiding it from the minister either because he was sure that as a minister I didn’t know anything about people smoking or he was embarrassed about being a Christian and a smoker.  My response to the situation right then was to ask if his wife was home so I could see her and give him time to finish or get rid of his cigarette before he burned his hand.

We all have things that we like to hide from someone.  Some of these things are signs of deeper problems–the alcoholic who claims to be in the wagon but who has a hidden stash in the workshop probably is doing something potentially more serious than my friend with his cigarette.  As I have been thinking about it, the key issue isn’t what we are hiding but the fact that we feel we have to hide something.  The desire to hide things is as old as humanity–shortly after Adam and Eve came into being, they felt it necessary to hide themselves from God.

Hiding things from other people is one thing.  Sometimes, we can successfully keep things hidden from most people for a long time.  But often, we really aren’t as deceptive as we think we are.  People who don’t want others to know they smoke, for example, don’t seem to realize that smoking outside in secret doesn’t really hide the obvious cigarette smoke smell that hangs on their clothes and hair.

Even more serious is the problem of thinking that we can hide things from God.  I expect that almost everyone who has faith in God also has a sense that we aren’t what we should be or could be and we know that God knows everything so he already knows what we are trying to hide–Psalm 139 among other Scriptures makes that really clear.  But even knowing that, we still try to pretend that we can hide things from God.

We pretty up our prayers to avoid letting God know what we really think or want; we put on a suit and tie for worship, hoping that a smart exterior will cover the less than great interior; we quote the Bible hoping that will deflect God’s vision from the less than Biblical stuff we are contemplating and even doing.

Of course, we know that none of this works–but we try it anyway.  But for me, there is a real freedom in  remembering that while I might be able to hide some things from some people, I can’t hide anything from God–and his response to his total knowledge of me is to continue to love me and shower me with grace.  That allows total honesty with God, which is much better than a potential burn to my hand.

May the peace of God be with you.