I strongly believe that virtually everything we perceive is affected by its context, and we ignore that at our own peril. But being aware of our context does not mean allowing it to dictate our actions or responses.
Recently I’ve been wondering if we allow our context to dictate how we pray. I did an intensive study of prayer a few years ago: I read books by men and women of widely different times and theological backgrounds, and the Old and New Testaments. Jesus’ instructions and models are in the Gospels, and the Epistles contain a surprising numbers of Paul’s prayers.
The biggest surprise was not what I found, but what I didn’t find: I found no mention of group prayer! Kings prayed in front of Israel on behalf of Israel, but the king alone was praying. When Samuel saw Hannah praying in public, he assumed she was drunk, so he obviously wasn’t used to seeing public prayer. Jesus often went off alone to pray, and sometimes he took his disciples, then asked them to wait and WATCH (not pray) while he went on alone. After trekking with him daily for three years, they asked him to teach them to pray. They obviously hadn’t been doing it together, or they would have known how. When he gave them specific instructions about how to pray, he told them to go in a room and close the door and pray “in secret,” and assured them that their Father would hear them.
Wow! That’s a lot different from the seminary class I heard about in which students were taught to “preach in their prayers”! So instead of really, personally talking to God, the future pastors were taught to say what they wanted their listeners to hear, and just pretend they’re talking to God? Pretend that God needs to be reminded of the three-point outline of the sermon just preached? Or the meeting someone forgot to mention earlier in the service?
Last Sunday our pastor warned us against “performance religion.” I’m wondering if we’ve become accustomed to “performance prayer.” Soul-searching time, here.