• Rev. Joel L. Tolbert

The Audience of Prayer

Today, I'd like to share a few nuggets I've learned about prayer with you. I hope whatever your intentions are for Lent, giving something up or taking something on, prayer will help you hear and enact God's will.


1) Start prayer with silence. Sometimes, we know what we want, when, and how. So, we dive into prayer to ask for it. I can understand that impulse, and many of our Psalms embody that kind of prayer. However, I find it more authentic and helpful to start prayer with silence, long enough to let some of my stuff fall away, and long enough to let some of God's stuff begin to get my attention.


2) Give a majority of our prayer time, attention, and words to what God wants, more than we give to what we want. I find some people use prayer as a drive-thru service to God. We pull into prayer, tell God what we want, and then drive out from prayer trusting God will deliver. But in prayer, we are not the customers. God is our Lord, our Parent, not our waiter. In prayer, submit to God. Let God give the orders. Let God ask the questions. Let God make the demands. Prayer is our submitting to God, not God submitting to us.


3) Pray to God, and no one else. I have heard people pray in such a way that they aren't speaking to God on behalf of themselves, their community, or others. They are using prayer to say something to the people listening, perhaps to teach, remind, or even persuade. But in prayer, the audience of our prayer is never other people. The one and only audience of prayer is God. Whatever words we dare say, say them to God, even if others are listening.


4) Be honest and vulnerable. On Instagram or Facebook, people often post only the best parts of their lives, the fun pictures, the accomplishments. We seldom post the sadness, the failure, or the loneliness. Prayer is not social media with God. In prayer, be blunt, honest, and vulnerable. Tell the truth, the whole deep messy silly awkward hard truth. Wonder with God about your doubts and fears. Reveal to God (and maybe yourself) your deepest passions, questions, and concerns. Listen as God asks you questions. Try not to answer what you think God wants to hear, but what you really feel, think, or believe. That kind of prayer trusts God loves you and is a great sign of a solid relationship.


5) Let prayer change you. I remember Friday afternoon pep rallies before Friday night games. The goal of those rallies was to get everyone on the same page and fired up, so we could go accomplish something together. Prayer is like a pep rally. We only throw pep rallies when there is a game to follow. Prayer is not meant to be its own end. Prayer is meant to change us and prepare us to go. God lifts us up from prayer as changed people, and sends us out into the world to be agents of God's change for others. That's why the phrase "thoughts and prayers" sounds so hollow. We've seen the thought or prayer be the end of it. Imagine if everyone who posted or said "thoughts and prayers" actually stood up from that conversation or keyboard and went and embodied some of the change that was needed. The world would be more like God's coming Kingdom.


I hope these nuggets help you pray as we walk together through Lent.

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