Let’s NOT just have a quick prayer!

January 2, 2013 | Viewpoints
Dave Bergen |

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom…” (Proverbs 9:10)

Picture this: the meeting is about to start when the leader—perhaps you—in a hurry to get to the agenda, suddenly remembers an opening prayer might be warranted and blurts out something like, “let’s just have a quick prayer.”

Sound familiar?

After rushing through a few generic platitudes about the greatness of God and the need for guidance, the meeting begins without so much as a pause to actually acknowledge and invite the living presence of the Spirit of God.

This is not prayer. It is a travesty. True prayer demands attention. It is the practice of being in the presence of God. And the God into whose presence we are invited, the One who calls us to be partners in the weighty enterprise of God’s activity in the world, is One who merits a great deal more time and attention.

Annie Dillard writes: “Does anyone have the foggiest idea what sort of power we so blithely invoke? Or, as I suspect, does no one believe a word of it? The churches are children playing on the floor with their chemistry sets, mixing up a batch of TNT to kill a Sunday morning. It is madness to wear ladies’ straw hats and velvet hats to church; we should all be wearing crash helmets. Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares; they should lash us to our pews. For the sleeping god may wake someday and take offence, or the waking god may draw us out to where we can never return.”

Dillard reminds us that drawing near to God, whether in worship or prayer, is not safe or predictable. It is not something we dare undertake lightly. When we pray, we engage God eternal.

This is the God whose name we carelessly utter in irreverent frustration when we’re stuck in traffic; the God against whom we rail when the pain of loss punches us in the gut. And this is the God to whom we address our praise and worship and prayer.

We ask God for forgiveness, fully expecting that we are heard, completely confident we will be healed from the wounds of our sin. We invoke God’s name when we offer each other peace. We recall the mystery of God’s grace in our communion prayers. We invite God’s kingdom in the words Jesus taught us—thy kingdom come, thy will be done.

Our God is a God who changes us, who transforms the world. We should think twice about how we approach such a God. To pray to the living God requires crash helmets. For in prayer we become fully mindful of the incredible difference and distance that exists between us and God and at the same time conscious of the mind-bending depths of love and commitment of the One who has bridged that gap and draws near to us with the fierce devotion and protective love of a parent. Prayer is a powerful expression of faith and hope.

So please, let’s NOT “just have a quick prayer.” But let us truly pray, with clear intention and rapt attention.

Dave Bergen is Mennonite Church Canada’s executive minister of Christian Formation.

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