I understand the desire to lift up our neighbors in their difficulties in prayer. In fact, it’s what we’re told to do. Paul tells the Philippian church to do just this at the close of his letter: ”Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” (4:6)
Lately, though, I have come to feel that we do far too much talking in our prayers. Our sharing of concerns in corporate worship sometimes feels like the old community news column in the paper where the comings and goings of neighbors were reported in great detail. So much medical information is shared sometimes that the prayers of the people become one long HIPAA violation! [The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, which protects medical privacy, is very familiar to health care professionals.]
So much medical information is shared sometimes that the prayers of the people become one long HIPAA violation!
But it’s really not the content so much as the way we pray…the way I’ve prayed as a worship leader…that is getting my attention.
The 4th century desert mystic, Evagrios of Pontos, called prayer “the ongoing conversation of the human spirit with its God.” No conversation worthy of its name contains so much one-sided talk as the kind of prayers we send up, both in public and private settings. If we believe prayer is the kind of encounter that can change us, then there must be space for experiencing the silence that is God’s medium.
We’re uncomfortable with such disengagement. How long do our silences last these days before we reach for our phones or some other form of distraction? Evagrios, even out in the Palestinian desert, knew a similar struggle. “The devils will surely suggest distracting matters, desiring that your mind will search them, and suspecting failure in prayer you will know chagrin, and lose confidence,” he said.
But silence is worth the risk. Sure, I have run down my to-do list in the silence that was supposed to be prayer. But God has also spoken powerfully through that silence.
“Practice genuine patience, and your prayer will always taste of joy,” Evagrios says (as translated by the great poet, Scott Cairns, in the book Love’s Immensity). Unburden your busy mind to the God who listens…then…shhhh! Can you taste it?