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.