What Did You Say?

Every once in a while, I like to check an app that counts the words I use on Facebook.  The end result is a cloud full of words that people see when they read my posts.  (You can see my most recent one above.)

Sometimes, I like the cloud– I love to see it filled with words like Love, People, God, Prayer, Joy, Peace, Thankful, etc.  I’d like to think that this is how I always look and sound.  Of course it isn’t.  I don’t always speak encouragement and love on people.  Sometimes, I complain and rehearse negative self-talk, or I explode and rant about bad drivers, rude customers, constant bills, and more.  Checking on my word count may not keep me from using negative words altogether, but it does show me patterns I may not be seeing or hearing on my own or from my friends.

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My prayer life acts in this same way–especially as I journal about my prayers.  I can look back through my prayer journal, and see patterns in prayer requests, notes, and even answers to prayer.  Sometimes, I see patterns of struggle–desperation, need, frustration.  Sometimes, the pattern is steady; other times it is a roller coaster of ups and downs.

It’s important to spend a little time periodically getting feedback like this.  Why?  Because what we actually say (and pray) may be very different from what we think we have said.  Jesus was very careful about words:

Matthew 12:35-37 English Standard Version (ESV)

35 The good person out of his good treasure brings forth good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure brings forth evil. 36 I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, 37 for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.”

Mark 10:17-18 English Standard Version (ESV)

17 And as he was setting out on his journey, a man ran up and knelt before him and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 18 And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone.

Paul is also careful to distinguish between words:

Romans 5:7-8 English Standard Version (ESV)

For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

I include the last two examples because they both refer to “Good” people.  I want people to see God’s goodness in me.  But idle or careless words and habits can show up in my thought life, my prayer life, my on-line life, and my face-to-face conversations.  In attempting to show how “good” I am (self-righteousness), or how clever I am (even at someone else’s expense), or how__________________________________ (daring, popular, hard-working…you get the idea) I am, it compromises all that I want my life to say about God, and all that He is waiting to say through me.

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Words matter– whether in praying or blogging or commenting on someone else’s post.  I pray that I am making mine count!

Prayer Bullies

When I first felt the urge to blog about prayer and prayer life, I held off a bit.  I think prayer is many things– important, impactful, practical, personal, holy, and humbling.  I finally decided to start writing, not because I am an expert on prayer, or  that I have mastered the practice, but because I feel passionate about growing in my prayer, to pray with more knowledge, focus, and impact.  I’m sharing in the hope that you will be encouraged, challenged, and equipped to do the same.  I want to explore the many aspects of prayer, and learn all that it can be. But one thing prayer should never be is a bludgeon.

I find it embarrassing to be in the company of certain fellow Christians when I hear them try to stop a discussion or argument with the phrase, “I’ll pray for you.”  Occasionally, they say it in love and mean it as a sincere gesture, but most of the time it is as condescending and insincere as a Southern, “well, bless your little pea-pickin’ heart.”  “I’ll pray for you”, in this context, suggests that you (and only you) have a problem.  I don’t need to listen to, reconsider, or even try to understand your argument, because I have already determined that you have no valid point and I have no obligation to hear you out. But more than that, it suggests two horrible things about prayer that are untrue and misleading.  First, it suggests that my only interest in you is to “fix” you.  In other words, I can’t convince you to see things my way, so I will reluctantly spend some of my precious time praying that you see things my way.  I won’t listen to you, try to understand you, or give you any of my respect, but I will do my best to bring your bad behavior and/or faulty beliefs to God’s attention (in contrast to my.own).  Prayer should never be a threat, or a weapon to be used against another person.  Secondly, it suggests that prayer is leverage; that I have God on some kind of leash.  I pray when things aren’t going my way, and God “fixes” them–including people who don’t share my theology or doctrine or worship preference.

One of the dangers of writing and talking about prayer in a public forum is the risk of seeming to or actually to impose personal preferences, practices, and beliefs on others.  I hope to suggest many prayer thoughts and practices that I find true, helpful, challenging, or even dangerous, but I don’t want to insist that there is only one way to think about prayer or to practice it.  Prayer is our way of communicating with our creator.  He didn’t make us all the same; we don’t all like the same things, we don’t all interact the same way; we don’t have the same talents, passions, or responses to the world around us.  The one constant in prayer is God.  What I believe about God will determine how I pray, why I pray, maybe even when or how often I pray.  But it won’t determine God’s character or his actions toward another person.  I cannot make God make you do anything.  I cannot use God as some kind of enforcer or hypnotist or brain-washer– nor should I wish to.

I do pray for people who dislike or despise me, who dishonor or deny God.  I pray for their health, their safety, and their redemption.  I pray for family and close friends and complete strangers.  But I should do so knowing that God cherishes each person–gave his life for each one.  God is not a bully, even though he has been characterized as such by some.  God wants us to pray for everyone–not with pride or bitterness or an agenda, but with his compassion, grace, and love.

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