Prayer is not something that I take to easily. I know it’s important—essential, in fact—but there are variety of reasons that it is just hard for me to do. Part of my issue is that growing up, I was only really exposed to two types of prayer: the pulpit prayer and the talk-to-God-in-your-head prayer.
Given that I didn’t have a pulpit in my home, the latter was my main option. Trouble is, I’m a rabbit chaser with the thoughts inside my head. Thus prayers don’t last really long until I’m wondering what I’ll have for lunch or what would happen if I screamed my lungs out during this time meant for quiet meditation.
I’ve learned now that those are not the only two ways that you can pray. God has made all of us different and so there are different ways in which we can connect with our Creator through prayer. Unsurprisingly, I do a better job staying focused when I’m writing my prayers. And I have also found that sitting in an empty room and just hashing out my feelings out loud to God works even better. Even still, it is not something I do as regularly as I should and I feel like I’m way behind the curve for where a 29 year old seminary student in ministry positions should be.
All of which brings us to the times when I am asked to lead in prayer. I always feel weirdly unqualified; sort of like I’ve been invited to lecture on brain surgery (“Well, the brain is in the skull and we know something’s wrong in there…so, we’re just going to take the scalpel, start cutting, and see what happens”). There is also this temptation to perform, to pray one of those prayers that’s part hair-raising locker room pep talk and part Oscar-baiting cinema oratory. Yet this flies in the face of what prayer is actually supposed to be: humans humbly coming before their Creator.
There is also the fact that praying as individual and leading in corporate prayer, while similar, are distinct. The heart of what you’re getting at is the same, but the voice is different. When I pray to God by myself, I’ll say things like “crap,” “screwed up,” and will often be brutally honest about my doubts; on some days those doubts even concern whether God exists at all.
Those things would not have necessarily flown last night as I led prayer time at church with a group that was almost entirely 15 to 50 years my senior. It’s not that they are crotchety or judgmental. On the contrary, our church is incredibly gracious and has been ridiculously encouraging as I have helped led worship over the last few months.
But when I lead in prayer, I need to lead in prayer broadly for a congregation diverse in age and life experience. It is not just a time for me to pray and for them to listen, but for us to join in prayer as a community. I should add that I need to lead broadly yet honestly. Sometimes I feel I come closer to nailing that balance than others.
So prayer is a difficult thing for me, as an individual but especially when given the privilege and responsibility of leading in prayer. I pray that I’ll continue to learn as I go along.