a psychology of modern prayer

Let it be known from the start that this is not a the­ol­ogy of prayer, nor is it even an objec­tive stance on the sub­ject. These are merely obser­va­tions and con­sid­er­a­tions that I’d like to leave with you on the tra­di­tional and some­what mod­ern approaches to prayer.

Prayer preach­ing. This goes out to those pas­tors who went over their unof­fi­cial allot­ted preach­ing time. In an effort to get a few last words in and drive the point home, they take the oppor­tu­nity of their clos­ing prayer to do so. It ends up they’re not really pray­ing to God, they’re con­tin­u­ing to preach to the peo­ple with their eyes closed. The prayer goes some­thing like this:

Dear Father, thank you for the mes­sage we heard this morn­ing. I ask that we would com­mit to liv­ing by these prin­ci­ples. Our hearts are prone to wan­der, but your Word says we need to stay in prayer to fight this war. We can­not let the desires of this world to pull us from doing what’s right. We must stay in com­mu­nity, call each other, and encour­age one another to stay strong through­out the week. Thank you for the strength you offer, but we must rely on it daily and ask for it daily. Etcetera, etcetera. Amen.

Group prayers. These are becom­ing less pop­u­lar, but still found in many tra­di­tional churches often on Wednes­day nights. A time is set aside for the entire church (no mat­ter the size) to pray out loud. In these prayer meet­ings, there’s always the reg­u­lars who pray. Usu­ally one of them starts it off, often after a few moments of awk­ward silence (espe­cially for vis­i­tors who are unac­cus­tomed to this prayer format).

There tends to be a con­sid­er­able amount of peer pres­sure in these groups. Depend­ing on the spir­i­tual matu­rity of the indi­vid­ual, there’s an expected time to pray and a cer­tain level of elo­quence. Though no Chris­t­ian would say there’s an expec­ta­tion, each indi­vid­ual tends to self-​​impose the expec­ta­tion upon them­selves. In between prayers, there can be lengthy times of silence as the group waits for some­one else to pray. In the mean time, peo­ple are count­ing down how many more reg­u­lars are left to pray.

Peo­ple tend to be very dis­en­gaged which you can eas­ily tell by sit­ting in the back and watch­ing as you see the over­whelm­ing major­ity with their eyes open, look­ing around, check­ing their phones, inter­act­ing with their kids, or some other obvi­ous action of dis­en­gage­ment from the main event.

Per­son­ally, my obser­va­tion has been that 8 out 10 times, smaller groups tend to be more pas­sion­ate, engag­ing, and deep in their prayers over­all. Also, I’m not sure how spirit led the prayers are or how help­ful they are if most peo­ple are dis­en­gaged. It seems like peo­ple pray some­times just to pass the time and con­tribute to the prayer time end­ing. How can we make these more engag­ing, spirit led, “flow­ing”? I have some thoughts (but that’s a dif­fer­ent post), but I don’t think we should rel­e­gate to fault­ing only the indi­vid­u­als for being dis­en­gaged. There’s also a respon­si­bil­ity of the lead­ers to…LEAD…people into engagement.

“Cap­tain obvi­ous” prayers. I’m not really sure the psy­chol­ogy behind these prayers. They’re some­what bib­li­cal as we can see by look­ing at exam­ples in the Psalms. Pos­si­bly it’s peo­ple who haven’t devel­oped a higher prayer matu­rity and this is a safe fall back. These prayers are those when a per­son states truths about God. That in itself isn’t bad because David does that a lot, but in restat­ing truths, he typ­i­cally had an agenda and pur­pose that he was lead­ing up to. Some peo­ple state truths and just leave it at that. Not nec­es­sar­ily wrong…this is just an obser­va­tion that stands out to me.

List prayers. These prayers often are pre­ceded by prayer requests. We store all the requests in our mind and then pray through them while men­tally check­ing them off. Here are some of the pit­falls. When there’s a list, it becomes goal ori­ented, and the goal is to get through the list. Usu­ally each item on the list is allot­ted the same amount of time. They’re very cookie-​​cutter and typ­i­cal words included with each request are: give them peace/​comfort/​strength, in Your time, may Your will be done, help them to trust You, etc.

Fer­vent prayers. This is some­thing that is not psy­cho­log­i­cal but entirely spir­i­tual, but lack­ing in most prayers. I’m a firm believer that God answers prayers, but he hears the prayers of the earnest and fer­vent per­son. Both of those char­ac­ter­is­tics can­not be fab­ri­cated. It’s a state of being direc­tion­ally pro­por­tional to our walk with God. If the fervency/​relationship is miss­ing, we default to psy­cho­log­i­cal ruts as men­tioned above.

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