What Do Our Prayers Say About Us? (Part 1)

coffee_cup_424.jpgThere is something sobering about having years of messages/sermons recorded.  For decades now, every one of these Sunday morning messages has been recorded and made available.  The recordings were first made on cassette tape, then CDs, and now these messages are available on iTunes.  If someone were to listen to every one of those messages, which span several decades, what might they conclude?  What could they conclude about the church?  What seems to be important to the one speaking?  What are the recurring themes? 

Now that is sobering — and humbling.

I also wonder the same about our public prayers.  If several people were able to examine transcripts (if they existed) of all public prayers from church assemblies, small groups, Bible classes, etc., what might they conclude?  What seems to be important?  What are the recurring themes?

I suspect that one might conclude that praying for the sick is very important to us.  In many circles, if the opportunity was given to make prayer requests, the focus might almost entirely be on praying for the sick.  Of course, praying for the sick is important.   But a question emerges that I think is important.

What else seems to be stressed in public prayer?  What do you hear stressed or emphasized repeatedly?

I think these are important questions to ask.  What is stressed and what is not stressed?  Do we pray for the things that seem to be front and center in Scripture?  Do we pray for what seems to be important to Jesus?  Recently, I mentioned in another post that at times I have surveyed the messages that I have preached in recent years.  Even a cursory glance at the titles was revealing to me.  I began to see a few gaps that I just didn’t realize were there.

Where are the gaps in public prayer?  What do you think ought to be stressed more than it is?

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19 thoughts on “What Do Our Prayers Say About Us? (Part 1)

  1. I think our prayers as local church are often very tribalistic and introspective.
    I think we miss out praying for leaders
    – and the church leaders.
    I also think chuches often miss out praying for other churches in their community, if they are going through a tough time, or if they are recruiting a new pastor, praying for their influence to be extended. My pastor once told me how he was in a small town in Arkansas ministering at a church, and he said he prayed more fervently for revival in the town that at any other time in his life, and revival came, but it came to the baptist church down the road from the one he was ministering in. I think we need to plug in to God wider body, not just our denomination, and bless those who are trying to be witnesses to Christ, however and wherever they choose to worship.

  2. I agree with Liam about our lack of prayer for other churches.

    I don’t hear prayers for the poor and hurting in our community very often in a corporate setting, either. Many churches are good at praying for the needs of their members (“Please provide a job for Bob, Lord”), but sometimes those prayers stop at those sitting inside the four walls of the church.

    One thing I hear in prayer is the entreaty for the congregation to learn or connect with the essence of that week’s sermon, asking God to connect the words of the speaker with the hearts of the hearers.

  3. I find in all prayers, not just the public ones, but also in them, that there is lots of supplication and not enought adoration and thanksgiving. I wish we spoke about adoring God more and that we thanked Him more for answering our prayers, for providing for us, for guiding us.

  4. Jim, without a doubt I think the biggest lack we have is silence. I know that we usually think of this as a personal discipline.  However, I am so convicted that our public prayers need times of silence also.  When we are so busy praying the list or speaking, we retain control of the prayer time.  When we surrender in times of silence and remain still with our hearts open, God has the opportunity to speak.  Then we have the added blessing of community discernment as we reveal what it is that he is leading us to.

  5. Jim, prayer is very autobiographical isn’t it.  I am grateful for the mercy and patience of the Lord with some of my prayers.  I think one reason that I started using "prayer books" was simply because my prayers seemed to never get beyond a wishlist of sorts.  Nothing wrong I suppose with that in its proper place but I have come to believe that prayer is so much more than that.   Thoughtful post. Thanks once again.  BTW, I have been out of town for several days and away from my daily reads so I just noticed your graciousness to me in listing my blog and your kind words about it.  Thank you.  Shalom,Bobby Valentine 

  6. Jim,
    One glaring absence in our prayers is something Jesus spoke about directly–i.e., praying for enemies.  Almost each week someone prays for our soldiers, but I don’t remember the last time I heard some pray for our "enemies."  Have we allowed nationalistic fervor to dehumanize certain groups of people around the globe so that we, God’s children, dare not even lift them (our enemies) up in prayer?

  7. I have to say that there is some great observations in the comments here. Great question Jim!

    I think from my perspective the first thing that entered my mind is – that in public prayer I hear alot of “just bless us, Lord” type prayers. Asking for God’s approval of our plans and programs…

    I don’t hear much from the platform of prayers for widows, orphans, foreigners – those on the margin. I don’t hear much prayer inviting God to deepen and have His way in our communities…

    And there is little room for silence and listening as a community for God’s direction, prompting and presence.

    Like Bobby, in my own life, this sickness of puny praying (spontaneous, off the top of my head praying) has led me to prayer books.

    Great stuff Jim!

  8. Randy Harris once said that if someone were to listen to our prayers similar to the manner you were mentioning they could easily walk away thinking that physical health was the most important thing in the Christian life. I would have to agree. I think we need to be praying bigger, more boldly, and more about kingdom business.

  9. Liam,I think you are exactly right.  On several counts, I like what you said.  I like what you said about the need to pray for leaders as well as other churches.  Very well said. 

  10. Hi Arlene–I like what you said regarding silence.  It is interesting how uncomfortable we are (at times) with silence on Sunday mornings.  Maybe this reflect our discomfort with silence in our individual lives as well. Thanks.

  11. Bobby,I will echo what you said about the usefulness of prayerbooks.  (In particular I have enjoyed Phyllis Tickle). Even being attentive to the Psalms will greatly broaden our prayer language.

  12. Ben,That is a glaring omission.  I wonder if that does not also reflect the same omission in our individual lives as well.  I just wonder if we do not pray for enemy nations because we don’t even pray for those individual enemies in our own lives. 

  13. Doug,Your comment regarding the "just bless us" prayers caused me to think.  I found myself praying at a meal regarding our two children.  My total focus was "just bless them."  Later I thought about this prayer.  It seems obvious to me that he has been and is continuing to bless them in a number of ways.  I wonder if I should have focused on thanking God for blessing them or praying they might be responsible stewards with God’s blessing. Thanks 

  14. It seems many ask for prayer for sick relatives, but rarely for personal needs.  It takes humility to ask for personal needs, and I find it rare that people ask for public prayer for those. 
    I don’t often hear people praying specifically as 1 Timothy 2 calls us to do – for all men, for authorities and rulers.
    I rarely hear prayers for social justice.  For God’s Kingdom to come. 
    For increased faith. 
    For unity beyond unity within a local body or unity within a denomination.

  15. Jim: I could easily get on a soapbox with this one, but I’ll exercise self-discipline and say that I tire of hearing people ask and even beg for something God has already promised! Example: "Forgive us our sins," but seldom thank God for the forgiveness that has already been granted. One might think we sin a lot during worship because we hear that petition 2-3 times per assembly!