Monday, August 31, 2009

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Man-Centered Worship: The Curse of Prayer Requests

Why must every corporate prayer begin with, "Are there any prayer requests"?  When did "prayer requests" become such an integral part of our Christian culture?  Whenever it was, I'm convinced it was the beginning of the death of God-centered prayer in our worship.

Certainly we should pray for what we need, and we should pray for one another.  But should this really occupy the central place we've learned to habitually assign it in our corporate prayer life?  It's almost as if we have rewritten the Lord's prayer like this:
Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread ... and healing from our hangnails and our Aunt Suzy's gout; and safe travel to Cleveland this weekend; and good grades at school; and a promotion at work; and money to complete our household repairs; and ... and ... and ...
Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.
This is precisely what the Lord specifically instructed us not to do immediately before giving us the above prayer as a model (minus the red text):  And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.

The practice of "prayer requests" in corporate worship is a cultural device we've grown accustomed to, and which we probably assume was common among Christians ever since Jesus walked the earth, but they have become a huge distraction for us.  Our corporate prayers no longer resemble the Lord's model, because our myriad requests have come to so dominate them.  What's more, our individual prayers--learned in the corporate setting--follow a similar pattern.  They demonstrate our preoccupation with worldly things ... our refusal to give central place to the King:  infinite, eternal, almighty, holy, righteous, just, loving and gracious.  We nod in His direction before we get down to the "real" business of filling out our wish-list.

Frankly, our prayers may be directed to God, but they're mostly about us.

In the Jailer household, we've begun to recondition ourselves.  We now talk much more earnestly about God-centered prayers, beginning with an emphasis on praise.  We've had to relearn prayer, because it's apparent that we just don't know how to do it.  It's been remarkable and instructive to watch our kids struggle through what to say to God when requests are excluded.  We've all been conditioned to ask for stuff ... stuff that Jesus said the Father knows we need before we ask it. 

Our prayer-request culture has taught us that prayer is little more than a sanctified "Dear Santa" letter.  Moving toward God-centered prayer begins with actively constraining our preoccupation with prayer requests.

9 comments:

  1. Whilst I agree with the finale comment in reference to a "Dear Santa" letter, please allow a few observations. Jesus taught us to ask and to ask coninually. Of course, Jesus knows all, but He taught us to pray anyway. Paul taught us to bring everything (requests) to God in prayer {Philippians 4:6-7). Mark's household prayed all night for the safety and deliverance of Peter in the book of Acts. How are we to know how to pray for others if we never enquire. I realise prayer requests can turn into gossip sessions, and that praise should be a large bit of prayer. But then again isn't prayer just as much in the listening as in the talking?

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  2. Much to think about here in the article and in the first response. I tend to agree with both positions. James says, "we fail to have be cause we do not ask and we ask and do not receive because we ask for things to spend on our selfish wants".

    From being involved with many prayer groups over the years, I agree so much that our prayer times regress into discussions, gossip and self-interest issues.

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  3. I read your complete blog post and I found it very interesting. It's important to remember that God tells us over and over to bring to him our troubles and sorrows. He also tells us very clearly beginning in Matthew 7:7, " Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened." He also tells us to show compassion for others. Beginning in Nehemiah 9, "But you are a forgiving God, gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love. Therefore you did not desert them," One of the greatest ways that we can show our love and compassion for others is to pray ernestly and diligently for them with our whole hearts. We do need to teach our children to pray and in doing so it is important that we stress to be thankful in our prayers, ask for forgiveness in our prayers as well as to lift the needs of others up in our prayers. God wants to hear from us all the time and in all ways with all of our requests. I believe that asking your children to pray by leaving out prayer requests for others' needs is leaving out an essential part of our relationship with God- the showing of compassion for the woes of others.

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  4. Man Centered Worship happens when we exalt a person because of his position or stature in a community of Christians. It is not a curse to pray for your brothers and sisters in Christ often. There are a multitude of verses that contradict your thoughts on this subject my friend.

    James 5:13-15 Is any one of you in trouble? He should pray. Is anyone happy? Let him sing songs of praise. Is any one of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up. If he has sinned, he will be forgiven.

    Don't just pray for people, anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord!

    God bless you

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  5. Fair enough, though I tried to stipulate that I DO believe that praying for our needs and that of others is biblical and necessary. What I'm addressing is not whether we should pray for those things (we should), but whether the practice of starting every corporate prayer event with, "Do we have any prayer requests?" gives this one element of prayer an outsized place in our worship, so that we come to neglect the others (praise, thanksgiving, confession ...)

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  6. Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. (Phil 4:6) I just don't know how by sincerely doing this during worship would turn it into a man-centered worship and make it into a "curse" rather than a blessing.

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  7. I guess I'd say "too much of a good thing". It's a good thing to present our requests to God. It's a good thing to pray for one another. But when this "good thing" becomes the dominant focus of corporate prayer time, I'd contend it turns into a bad thing. (Yes, and I'm trying to be provocative ... in the sense that I'm trying to provoke some thought about a Christian "habit" that has outgrown its purpose).

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  8. I agree Jailer, that our very vital and appropriate personal prayer for the day-to-day events of life can overwhelm our attention on the larger issues of the Kingdom. I've heard of categorizing our prayers into strategic, tactical, and logistic prayers. Notice how some many are logistical prayers (e.g., give me some . . ., heal my booboo, etc)? How many are strategic or tactical in nature such as Paul's prayers found in Eph 1:15-20, Phil 1:9-11, Col 1:9-12?
    Tom of OCF

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  9. Interesting, strategic, tactical, logistic. Aren't we complicating the heck out of all of this?

    I agree with my friend jailer. Many times this corporate prayer request gets out of hand and you are praying for the friend of a third cousin of someone you didn't even know.

    I would suggest that all look at a Jewish prayer book. The prayers are very simple. What we call the Lord's prayer is really a Jewish prayer in structure. The Lord's prayer is simple. That is what Jesus was trying to teach.

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