Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Prayer Requests, Anybody?

"Ok, before we close, does anybody have any prayer requests?" Everyone looks at one another blankly. Finally, the silence is broken, "My uncle's cousin's neighbor's dog was hit by a car two weeks ago... so, ummm... yeah, that kinda makes me sad."

As I have led various Bible studies and small groups over the years, it's been difficult for me to discern whether certain requests are genuine needs, simply an escape from unbearable silence, or offered as a cover up for what a person is really feeling deep down. Consequently, I've stopped asking for prayer requests in large classes of recent. What I've found shouldn't be a shock: nobody missed it.

This leads me to wonder, what concept of prayer and of prayer requests does the Church proliferate these days? Is it the humbling experience of going before our adoptive Father casting all our anxiety on Him and asking, gratefully yet expectantly, for the things we deeply need? Or, is it the grown-up evolution of a childish Sunday-school exercise? If that statement sounds a bit harsh, maybe it is. Maybe we should be rebuked for showing irreverence and contempt for the privilege of prayer which we have been given by our Lord and Father.

Equally as disconcerting is the reflection that this makes on our interpersonal bonds within the Church. How often do we resist sharing "real" prayer needs within a group because of the impact it may have on our facade of self-sufficiency. We are a people of independence, strength, and personal triumph. What need do we have to share our deepest weaknesses with those around us?

It is clear that there are appropriate times and places for sharing our deepest struggles. Certain levels of trust and confidence must be established. Nonetheless, whose responsibility is it to seek out such genuine relationships in the church? To find for oneself spiritual accountability? It is our own, and we should not only seek it, we should crave it.

My charge is twofold: if a situation does not allow for genuine prayer concerns to be shared--concerns that will edify you and result in praise and honor of God--then do not act out of compulsion to share something for prayer. Why not? Because my second charge is this: consider what you bring before the throne of God. He does not--like some friends might--need for you to bring Him problems in order that he can feel wanted, needed, and loved. We need not invent items about which to pray so that God will feel honored that we are praying to Him. He wants us to come before Him genuinely so that He can love us genuinely by meeting our genuine needs.

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