Going back to basics
It has now been more than 15 years since my oldest daughter Johanna left home to attend a Christian liberal-arts college. Early in her college career she took a class for students who were interested in ministry.
One section of the class focused on writing prayers. Her professor explained, that their primary concern when it came to writing prayers was to never forget the people who would be hearing the prayers. He explained if you want to motivate and encourage the worshippers you must consider how they will respond to the prayer.
Most of the prayers Johanna was exposed to when she was growing up were not written. My daughter discovered that she enjoyed written prayers, but she became frustrated with her professor. She called me to discuss her frustration and said, “Dad, aren’t our prayers supposed to be directed to God, not other people?”
I understand what the professor was thinking. As someone who regularly speaks and writes I try to always be very aware of my audience. Any good communicator knows that you must never forget who you are talking to if you are going to successfully connect with them. I also know that public prayer is…well public.
After talking with my daughter, I looked up the definition of the word “prayer” in the dictionary I had used when I was in college. Webster defined prayer this way, “a humble or sincere request made to God.”
I am not throwing stones at my daughter’s professor. I am confident he was a gifted instructor. However, he appeared to have forgotten the most basic fact about prayer. Prayer is ultimately directed to God, not others. His mistake amazed me but it also illustrated our human tendency to sometimes focus on the wrong things.
In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus taught his followers how they were to pray by giving them what is commonly called, The Lord’s Prayer. He began that prayer with these words, “Our Father who is in heaven, Hallowed be Your name.” (Matthew 6:9, NASB) When Jesus taught us how to pray, he started his prayer by focusing our attention on God. In fact, if prayer is not directed to God, by definition it is not prayer at all.
All of us sometimes forget the most elementary things. Sometimes we need to go back to the basics to get things right. It’s not wrong to study the prayers of the Bible or to read books on prayer, but in the final analysis prayer is talking to God and if we get that wrong, we are not really praying, no matter how much we know about prayer.
Tim Richards grew up in Fairdealing and previously served as associate pastor of Pilgrim’s Rest Church. He currently serves as a pastor on the staff of Concord Church in South County St. Louis.