Today, we’ll examine the second response I received to my December 11th posting, in which I posited the notion of Social Prayer. One man’s comment began with, “very interesting. BUT…”
If I may take some editorial license, I believe his expressed concerns could be summarized as:
1. Why do we infer specific physical postures or vocal adjustments are necessary when we pray?
2. Couldn’t such behavioral modifications seem disingenuous to others and perhaps even hypocritical to us?
This faithful reader of Wisdom for a Change also recommended a prayer practice. When a group of people gather to pray, he recommends ensuring one chair remains empty. Then, he uses the empty chair to remind himself and others that ‘He [Christ] is here with us. He is listening. He will speak, if we make room and have open ears and hearts!’
To this gentleman’s concerns and his suggestion, I say a hearty, “I agree!”
God-pleasing prayers do not require us to bow our heads, close our eyes, or change our tones. In Matthew 22:18, and elsewhere in Scripture, we are reminded that God knows our thoughts and even our intentions. God hears, God sees, and God knows everything, regardless of our physical postures or vocal characteristics. Our omniscient God sees the unseen. So what would be the point of assuming a holy posture if one had an unholy heart? For years now I have encouraged small groups, choirs, congregations, and others to examine the ‘posture of our hearts’ in preparation to pray.
Yet – or should I say and… we would err if we believed our physical posture or vocal tones were meaningless when praying. Two reasons come quickly to my mind.
First, while prayer is prayed to God, prayer is often heard by others and almost always heard by ourselves. Why is this significant? Because as with all forms of engagement with God, prayer is not only reflective; prayer is formative. We hear what we pray. We are affected by what we pray and so are others when they hear what we pray.
Some of the greatest influences in my life to this day are the memories of seeing and hearing my parents pray as I grew up. While they were not praying to me, their fervent prayers were indeed formative in me. Not only did their prayers reach the throne of heaven; their prayers were heard by me and God often used them to touch my heart. They were indeed effectual. In a variety of postures and tones I recognized my father and mother were speaking to a God who was (and is) alive and with whom they each had a personal relationship.
Secondly, when a person prays aloud, leading others in prayer whether intentionally or unintentionally, the individual figuratively is ushering others into the presence of God. Throughout Exodus, Leviticus, and Deuteronomy we read many examples of Moses leading the congregation – all Israel – through prayer. Postures and tones mattered. Similarly, it is unimaginable to believe that the Psalmist’s prayers of praise sounded the same as prayers of lament or the familiar prayer of repentance in Psalm 51.
There are times for conversational prayer, times for soaring oratorical prayers, times for whispered prayers, and times for groaning prayers. Relational prayers to Abba are not confined to casual conversations or to monotone, emotionless murmurs. Like life, earnest prayer will cover the spectrum of human experience and emotion. And because of this, the empty chair may be reserved for the Gentle Shepherd or the Lion of Judah. He is there and he will listen to the one who draws close in sincerity.
As we introduce more prayer in our social settings, we might expect our social lives will increasingly manifest something of the tremendous depth and range of what it means to be fully human in full communion with Elohim, our Creator. Nowhere is such a change needed more today than in change-related matters.