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I want to get it right

April 3, 2012

Some years ago, when I was a very young Christian, I started to attend a prayer group at my church.  Now, although my parents were Christians and I grew up in a Christian home, one thing we never did was pray aloud in a group.  I am not sure why this wasn’t done but it just wasn’t.  So, when I started going to the prayer group the idea of praying out loud was terrifying.  For the first few sessions I just sat there but eventually I worked up the courage to mumble a few sentences during our prayer time.

After I had been doing this for a few weeks I began to feel a little more at ease and more willing to pray.  But it was then that disaster struck.  After one session, while we were standing around talking, an older women member of the group came up to me and told me she was glad to hear me praying more and asked me if she could give me some tips on prayer.  I readily agreed.  She then lowered the boom.  In a sweet and caring voice she told me.”You’re not praying right.  I don’t want your prayers to go unanswered so, if you would let me, I’d like to teach you how to pray.”

Frankly I was devastated.  But I mumbled my agreement and she gave me a multi-page article written by some pastor called “Theologically Correct Praying.”  Her admonition to me, as she asked me to study it was “You can’t talk to God as if he was some guy sitting in the next chair; you have to talk to him as the Lord of all creation.”  She went on to say how I needed to start off every request with an honorific like “Lord God” or “Heavenly Father” and then to be sure to close with “in the name of Jesus” as I didn’t have any right to talk to God except through Jesus.  She urged me to study the article and to practice at home and then smilingly assured me that she was positive I would do better soon.

Well, I tried.  I read that article over and over; studied the examples of “wrong” prayers and “right” prayers and did, in the mind of my advisor, improve my praying.  It wasn’t until several years later that it dawned on me that the whole idea of theologically correct praying was baloney.  I mean, was “Lord God” the area code before God’s phone number?  If I failed to dial it would I get a recorded message saying my call wouldn’t go through?  Was “in the name of Jesus” an incantation I needed to give at the end? 

I spent quite some time being angry but one day I realized that my anger had turned into my own version of self-righteousness.  I had come to see that “simple” prayers were the better ones; that talking to God as if he was sitting next to me was more intimate.  Worse yet, I began to imitate that women and tell others that simple prayers were superior.

In our Christian walk we have the urge to get it right.  This is, at the heart, a good impulse.  Learning and Christian growth comes from this desire.  But grace reminds me that “to get it right” is a hopeless and unnecessary task.  The God who answered the “Lord, save me!” of Peter as he was drowning is ready to hear me when I call to him.


From → Christianity

  1. Linda permalink

    Thanks so much for these words Tom! As much of this is new to me, it’s helpful to have some guidance.

  2. pdolwick permalink

    Thanks Tom! Encouraging words for those of us who struggle to get it right sometimes.

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