Yay! Someone joined my blogring other that Meestahooang!
I realize that I haven’t written in a while. It’s not that nothing has happened…much as happened.
There’s so much to choose from, let’s see…
Prayer. I am intrigued by this spiritual discipline in the life of the Christian. It seems to be one of the only things that you can suggest for people to do at church and everyone will agree or fail to disagree about.
Yet interestingly enough, prayer, while popular in word, is least popular in deed.
Recently, we made a public invitation to our church to go up to “The Prayer & Fasting Mountain of the World.” I know that name sounds presumptious (of the world?! There must be some nuance in the Korean that does not get translated over into English), but it’s an interesting place and a great place to pray. Anyhow, no one came…well, three people. Last time, we had at least seven. We have a church of about 30-40, depending on how you count it.
I don’t know if I was discouraged as I was intrigued. I have been observing how churches have been doing prayer (well, the very few churches that I have been to or conversed with) and it seems that the vast majority of churches experience the same thing…people don’t come out to pray.
So being the culture-engager that I have become (or becoming), I began to wonder, why is this the case? It’s funny, because most churches like to repeat that tired old maxim, “If you really want to gauge the health of a church, see how many people show up to the prayer meetings.” I think there is a lot of truth to that saying, but I feel like it places all the onus on the church members, as if all we have to do is announce a prayer meeting and all the mature Christians will immediately come.
Before I disappoint, I have no answers…yet. I am exploring.
So, I spoke with a person who chose not to go and basically, there were several reasons for not going. First of all, s/he did not appreciate the dual-congregation style of the prayer meetings. It’s boring, tiring, intrusive, uncomfortable…all that to be in a joint prayer meeting with the Chinese congregation. Second, it seems like an awfully long time. An hour drive each way, three hours at the camp. Even though not all three hours are spent in individual prayer, five hours just sounds like an unbearably long period of time. I’m sure there were other reasons, but this person was not able to articulate them (just my luck).
Then I asked him/her when s/he experienced the most spiritual and meaningful prayer…and s/he said it was at church. Interesting…it was not by him/herself at home.
I’m not entirely sure what to do with this data, but I have some hunches on how we should approach prayer as a commune of believers.
The first thing I think we need to attend to is to find integration between the spiritual life of our prayer meetings/events and each member’s individual spiritual life. It’s easy to say, “Well, if they don’t pray at home, how can they pray at church?” Again, this prayer thing is hard enough. Comments like that obviously aren’t helping. But I would actually suggest the opposite. Not necessarily, “Well, if they don’t pray at church, how can they pray at home?”, but sorta like that. Basically, let’s have meangingful and spiritual prayer experiences together as a community. Let’s arrange our prayer meetings so that they can model the prayer life of a believer “at home”. Let’s not just do laundry lists. The basic sharing-then-prayer is nice and therapeutic, but it resembles nothing of what prayer “in the real world” is like. Let’s experiment with new ways to pray…let’s not just focus on closing our eyes and crouching over. Let’s do songs, painting, poetry, walking, I don’t know…
Second, let’s integrate that spirit of spiritual and meaningful prayer into everything we do at church. Let’s stop saying, “Before we begin, let’s pray real quick.” Why do it real quick? Has anyone ever said, “Before we begin, let’s pray real long,“?? Or meaningless pre-eating prayers, “Hey, let’s pray so we can eat!” Saying grace is not giving yourself permission to eat! It’s being thankful! I don’t mind ritual. I love ritual, especially when ritual is heavily imbued with meaning. But this flippant toward prayer…no wonder people think prayer is boring and powerless to change their life.
But integration needs to be frequent also. Let’s pray at every meeting. And let there be short teachings associated with different prayer times so people can be reminded why we pray those prayers. “You know, this food is evidence of God’s grace upon us. Let’s tell him how thankful we are…” or “Let’s open up this meeting with some prayer, because we don’t just want to be entertained, we want him to change our lives…” Catch my drift? Establish prayer rituals, but keep refilling them with meaning lest people begin to treat them as empty ritual.
Third, let’s start slow and let’s be encouraging, not frustrated. If we think we have reason to be frustrated with a under-praying people…imagine how God must feel with all of humanity for all of history! Frankly, it’s no small thing to ask someone to set aside five hours of their precious Saturday to pray. Some have suggested that we have no problems asking people to attend a banquet…but give people the impression that the banquet will be boring…I don’t think they’re gonna want to go. Weekly prayer meetings? It’s hard enough for some people to attend church twice a week…to attend a prayer meeting can sometimes be tough. I think we should have prayer-only stuff…don’t get me wrong…but let’s be sensitive. People have families, jobs, and need time to unwind from the demands of life. Sure, there are people who are just spiritually unhungry…or worse…dead. But not all.
But ultimately, the desire is that the community of God prays together and that they integrate prayer into the regular functioning of their life…not to boost numbers to prayer events and meetings. If prayer events/meetings are being attended, change the way you do it or cut them out completely. Quick beotching about it…it’s just an event…a meeting. Don’t think it’s some pet project.
Lastly, let’s stop getting on people to pray if we don’t explain why prayer is worthwhile. Prayer is a discipline…and by itself, it has merits. But that’s true for anyone, in any religion or non-religion. For the Christian, prayer is a means to something. There are benefits to reaching that goal. There are biblical teachings, there are anecdotes that support those teachings, there are joint experiences that can be gone through to real-ize those teachings.
Alrighty. I’m not an expert…just an experimenter for now. But here are some thoughts.