This won’t be fair to you, since I can only tell you my side. And the lady on the phone hung up on me so I can’t offer her a chance to clarify her side of things.
But I thought it might save you some time to tell you right now how I choose to pray with people. That’s what this lady wanted me to do on the phone. But, as I say, she hung up before we got to it. I think it is fair all around to say she did so because her concept and my concept of what it means to pray together were not in sync. She probably saved herself a lot of time by withdrawing her request to pray once she noticed that. (And by the way, she told me she did not attend our church. She just wanted “some clergy” to pray with her.)
Let me try an illustration. If someone tells me they want to write a letter of complaint to my daddy but it’s a little dark over by the desk so they want me to hold a flashlight on the page while they write out what they have to say… my assistance and cooperation will be difficult to obtain. Because this is not just a matter of me helping a stranger to carry out their plan. This involves a third party, someone I know and love. If I hear you criticizing my daddy’s conduct or those of his other children, I will have little desire to stand with you while you do so.
I guess I could rattle off some inoffensive, rote cliches to show solidarity with you. “Now I lay me down to sleep, fasten your seat belt, a penny saved is a penny earned.” But I probably won’t.
I was going to tell you what to expect if you come to me and ask me to pray with you.
I will start by listening as you tell me what you want God to do. Jesus often started with that question. It is likely I will not know what it is that you want and I may not really know you very well. So I’ll listen and learn for a moment while you educate me. It’s likely I’ll ask some questions to make sure I am understanding you.
But, as in my parable, I’ll know from the first moment that it’s not just you and me having this conversation. Our Father who art in Heaven is the third party listening in. Although we intend to speak TO Him at one point or another, I assume He already knows what you are facing. While I listen to you tell me about yourself, I’ll also be asking the Lord what He wants me to notice and discern.
Praying with someone is always going to be that kind of three-way deal.
This makes for a big conflict when people think that once they’ve said their say, that’s all there is to say. It makes “prayer” more like a speech: “I’ve got this figured out, I’ve told You my plan. So God, why aren’t You doing what I want? And by the way, you there, praying with me, here’s where you say Amen.”
By the way, I think it’s okay to have that conversation, or at least to start that way. Job thought God was making a mistake. Abraham objected to God’s plans for Sodom. Moses tried explaining why he couldn’t go to Pharoah. Jonah was frustrated by God’s travel plans. The Syrophoenician woman refused to be turned away by Jesus when she begged for her daughter’s deliverance. Each began personally disatisfied with the way things were going and God didn’t mind hearing about that.
But what makes prayer a conversation with God is that God gets to say something, too. We hear Him only if we do some listening and some reflecting on what He has already been saying to us.
So after someone tells me what they want us to pray about, I am ready to stop for a moment and consider what God may already have said about that. And that may mean that my prayer ends up not being, “God, change what You are doing” and instead becomes, “God, forgive us, we need help to change what we are doing.”
I mean, if Jesus began his public ministry by preaching, “Repent! Change what you are doing!” you can bet it will be likely that, whatever we’re doing, we need to change.
So if I take a moment for that interior prayer of listening to the Holy Spirit after I’ve heard what your request is, don’t think I am ignoring you. Unless you think I won’t hear God right, which is always a risk. Then you might do as the lady on the phone did.
“I can tell you’re busy,” she said abruptly after I asked about her church background.
“How can you say that? I am showing my interest in you by asking you to tell me about yourself,” I replied, surprised.
But her mind was made up. “You are being legalistic. I just want you to pray with me that I’ll have peace of mind.” And she hung up before the conversation could go any further.
So why did you send that phone call to me, Lord? I wondered. And I realized something about how our conversation had unfolded. A couple of times I was ready to break in and say something to her, but I’d felt a hesitation, like the Lord was telling me, “Not yet. Keep listening.” And what I heard was a woman who was not listening. She didn’t need to. Her mind was made up. She just wanted my Amen.
And not that it will help this lady, but I ended up thinking maybe I should write this all down for you, gentle reader, so that, if it should happen, you’ll know why I am not going to just hold a flashlight for you. I might want to have a conversation with you about the letter you’re writing. And I’ll want to be ready to spend time listening to the Lord before Whom we are laying our requests.
That’s so He can be part of our conversation.