Prayer lifts our souls to God. Sometimes it also lifts our spirits because our misplaced words make us laugh.
One Sunday in a church that I served previously, the ushers prepared to take the offering, and an usher offered up this prayer: “Father, help us to ... help us to make it through ... help us to make it through Brother Bob’s sermon. In Jesus’ name, Amen.”
There was a slight chuckle in the congregation, and after church the usher came up to me and said, “Brother Bob, my prayer didn’t come out right. I was gonna pray for the Lord to help us make it through our troubles, and I also wanted to pray for your sermon, and it just all came out wrong.” Hmm, I wonder.
Reminds me of the man who was asked to pray and said, “Lord, be with all the sick and tired of the church.”
Another fellow I heard about was sleeping during the sermon, when a prankster next to him decided to punch him in the side, and whispered loudly in his ear, “The preacher just called on you to offer the benediction!” So the man stood up in the middle of the pastor’s sermon, and proceeded to dismiss the congregation in prayer. The preacher had no choice but to end it right there and let everybody go home.
Then there are other folks who are fully aware of what they’re praying, but they overdo it. Once when the great evangelist Dwight L. Moody was holding an evangelistic meeting, a pious preacher offered a very long prayer. In fact, the prayer went on for so long, that people began to get restless. Moody, concerned that the service needed to be full of life and enthusiasm, finally stood up, motioned to the music leader, and said, “Brother, would you lead us in a song while our brother finishes his prayer?”
Sometimes we forget that the purpose of prayer is not to impress other people or to signal the end or beginning of a religious meeting. Prayer is communication with God. Jesus said that hypocrites prayed to be seen by men (Matthew 6:1), and told us not to think we’ll be heard by long, babbling prayers (Matthew 6:7). The Lord’s Prayer, a prayer that Jesus taught us to pray, only takes about 15 seconds.
While Jesus got up very early to pray (Mark 1:35) and even prayed all night long (Luke 6:12), Jesus himself never prayed long prayers in large public gatherings. His prayers were short and to the point, just like normal conversation would be. Prayer does not have to include flowery words, either. In fact, you don’t have to have words at all!
Romans 8:26 says that the Holy Spirit helps us when we don’t know what to pray, “with groans that words cannot express.” As Max Lucado says, “Pray all the time. If necessary, use words.” When we do, God will hear. And smile.
(Copyright 2012 by Bob Rogers. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Read this column each Friday in the Herald. Visit my blog at www.bobrogers.me.)