Earlier this week, for a change of pace, and to set our orientation, I had our staff open our weekly meeting with a period of liturgical prayer. This kind of prayer is not really part of our tradition. It appears, from what I occasionally read, that some from our tradition are intensely opposed to such Anglican/Catholic practices. I am not exactly sure why. Ever since first participating in a liturgical prayer experience several years ago in a small gathering of pastors – all PCA – I have found this expression of corporate prayer to be quite refreshing, at least when in smaller groups. If little else, liturgical prayer, when done appropriately, minimizes a lot of the quirkiness common to other kinds of prayer gatherings.
Prayer gatherings at many churches are… – well, somewhat bizarre. I do not mean to impugn the sincerity or intent of any of them. But even when sincere that does not mean there is necessarily an absence of weird. This is probably a good thing, since many of us whom God has redeemed, and adopted as his children, are somewhat strange; a little quirky. And this seems to become evident at some of our prayer gatherings.
I served one church where the prayer gathering was held almost sacred. However, when I had the audacity to suggest that maybe we should minimize the length of time in study (which was roughly 45 minutes) and increase the time of praying (which was roughly 10 minutes – if we included the amount of time it took to allow everyone to “share” their prayer requests, before actually praying), my suggestion was met with some serious push-back. How silly I was to assume prayer should comprise the bulk of our time at a prayer meeting.
Even when the prayer is taking place in the prayer gathering, some of our peculiarities are evident in the practices. A few churches in which I have been part the practice was what I have come to call “serpentine prayer”. (And no, despite being from Tennessee, this has nothing to do with snake handling.) Serpentine prayer is somewhat of a variant of a prayer circle, where one prays, then the next, all around the circle. In serpentine prayer, when the room is not large enough to accommodate everyone in a circle, people sit in rows, and prayer goes down each row and wiggles to the next row. Nothing wrong with this. But when I encouraged more spontaneous prayer, revolving around some pre-agreed subjects, the evident initial discomfort was quickly – and spontaneously – replaced by the re-emergence of the serpentine method. But this may not be nearly as odd as some other groups. A friend served a church where the long held practice for the Wednesday Night Prayer Meeting was to have the pastor open in a brief prayer, the people spend 30-minutes or so sharing what was on their minds and hearts, then watch the pastor pray for everything during the remainder of the time. No attempt to get the people to pray was successful, or even welcome. (They eventually fired him for trying to change the church too much, prayer meeting being among the most aggregious. Before he was fired, however, someone from the congregation, in attempt to get him to leave because he was “changing” things, even poisoned his dog. It had worked before. My friend later learned that his predecessors dog had been poisoned for similar reasons. But I digresss…)
But even when quirky, the prayer meeting can be a beautiful thing. For those present. And for God. (see Psalm 133)
I was amused by Steve Burchett‘s article penned for For the Church. In the article Burchett identifies and names some of the quirky participants found in many prayer gatherings. If you have been in many church prayer meetings you will likely recognize many, of not all of them. Who knows, you might even see yourself!
- The Sleeper
- The Non-Participator
- The Whisperer
- The Rambler
- The Dominater
- The Repeater
- The Preacher
- The Gossiper
- The Distracter
- The KJVer
(Check out the descriptions and encouragements from the whole article for yourself: Prayer Group Participants)
Quirky or not, there is something to be said for those committed to gathering for prayer.
I am saddened by the decline of weekly prayer meetings in most churches. If they are not yet dead, they are almost certainly under hospice care. And more frustrating are those who are activists for prayer in schools and in public forums, and yet who themselves will not commit to regular participation of group prayer. It is no wonder that at times non-believers may look upon the church with scorn, as such hypocrisy is startling. We loudly lament the absence of prayer in public places, yet we as a people will not commit to joining together for prayer in the one place from which prayers should be perpetually lifted up to God! How absurd. Maybe we should fill our houses of prayer before we condemn the culture for not doing what we do not do.
May God, in his grace, bring about a change, and restore prayer to a place of prominence in his church. In the means time, and always, may God have mercy upon us.