Wednesday, November 14, 2007

No Fan of Improv

Why is it, I wonder, that we have so many well meaning people who think that prayer is about having a casual conversation with God? As though He were your Big Buddy in the sky. I used to pray this way when I was a child, and I didn't know any better. I distinctly remember the kind of opening line I used to have in my bedtime prayer. It would go something like this: "Well, God, here I am again . . ."

When I was a child, I thought as a child . . .

But we have grownups praying this way. I can understand it if some layman has never been instructed, but a pastor? Yet we find clergy types all over the globe who pray in just this way: "Dear God, we just want to thank you for the beautiful day you have given us, and for our time together, and, just, really, for being there for us. Bless our time together . . ."

I'm not saying there's anything specifically false or heretical about such a prayer, mind you. Yet there is a problem here.

Too many people think prayer is mainly about feeling comfortable talking with the invisible God. It is not. If it were, then why would the disciples have asked Jesus to teach them to pray? Did He tell them that they should just converse with God on an impromptu level? He did not. Did He encourage them to learn some improv with God? No.

To be sure, He bid them to call God "Father," but that was not as an invitation to think of Him as a heavenly pal. (Actually, it was an implicit invitation to regard themselves as having access through Jesus the Only Son, but that's another matter.)

I submit that it is not helpful to think that you have a healthy spirituality (whatever that is) if you have learned to think of God in such informal and ordinary terms.

Listen: God is Father indeed, and Almighty; He is also Son, and Incarnate; and He is Spirit, who has breathed into our nostrils the breath of eternal life through the Word of the Gospel.

Should we not, therefore, learn to speak to Him by the breath and words He has given us?

Something, I say, is very wrong with the loose informality that has come to be the norm for prayer. We are beggars before Royalty, paupers before a Judge. To be sure, He is a gracious one, but that is all the more reason for us to address Him with the gravity and respect that acknowledges who He is.

Behave yourself when you talk to Him. And learn some better prayers, you who mutter bland banalities before the Lord of Hosts.

Consider the Psalms: they are never informal and chummy improvisations! The Psalmist would not dream of making prayer a matter of simply remembering that, after all, God is always in the room. Rather, he said this: "Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in thy sight, o Lord."


Lawrence said...

This why we have/need people like you to remind us of the proper way to do it right.

Venkman said...

Babies aren't born knowing how to talk. So why do we think newborn Christians would instantaneously know exactly how to worship or exactly how to pray? Do they also not need their Father to teach them?

"When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me." [1 Cor. 13:11]

There is growth in the spiritual life. Parents take great delight in a newborn babe who can only utter a "goo" or a "ga". And I dare say such talk at that age is also very God pleasing. Yet those very same "goo's" and "ga's" sound rather pathetic coming from a sixteen, twenty, or fifty year old. In fact, parents should realize that if this is the case, something is very wrong!

The same is true with prayer and many "Fathers" need to recognize this so to teach their sons to become men.

Venkman said...

In other words, well done Father.