In my last post, I tried opening my prayer series with encouragement. Even though public prayer is intimidating, we’re all in this together. But even if most of us feel nervous, there are still stakes–especially if you’re a dude in your teens or twenties. If you want to impress that girl at your youth group, public prayer may be an essential skill.
For evangelicals, public, spontaneous prayer is our gauge of each other’s religious virility. Prayer not only shows our passion for God, but also our willingness to be a “leader of our generation.” It’s an essential skill for any mega-church pastor.
It’s also a good way for teenage boys to impress girls.
I learned this the summer before college. I was camping with a youth group from a local mega-church. Our last night, we circled around a campfire for worship and prayer requests. As the others made petitions for surgeries and travel, for school work and spiritual growth, I leaned back and breathed in stars and the windy pine.
Amy had a prayer request about her brother in California. Her face glowed in the firelight, her eyes flecked with the embers. Amy liked indie rock and wore Egyptian jewelry, and was far too pretty for me to talk to. If only I…
Everyone was staring. The youth pastor asked if I would pray for Cayla’s dad’s surgery, and for Tom’s marathon training. My face was burning—not from the campfire—as I nodded.
Before my turn, Brock would pray for the church’s upcoming mission trip to Kenya. Brock was one of those Colorado dudes who snowboarded and wore hemp necklaces and always had three days of scruff. He also had no trouble talking to Amy, who evidently did not share my belief that Brock was an idiot who could barely form a coherent sentence.
But when Brock started praying, something happened. Head and palms raised to heaven, he urged God to give the mission team:
“The strength of conviction, the purity of heart, and the all-consuming passion to declare your glory to the nations. Lord, I ask this team would be a banner around which your saints will rally, a drink of cool water on the lips of those who thirst for righteousness.”
Some murmured amens, and his cadence picked up:
“May the scales fall from the eyes of those they meet, may your light shine forth through them, and may they plant the seeds for your eternal kingdom. And when the New Jerusalem descends like a bride for its bridegroom, may you find that their labor has not been in vain, but has instead yielded a bountiful harvest, multiplied and overflowing.”
I shot a look to Amy, who was nodding her head and—subtly—eyeing Brock as he reached a crescendo:
“It is in the name of Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who gave us this commission to go into all the world, and who redeemed the whole world to himself, we pray…”
His voice trailed, which meant it was time for me to go.
I cleared my throat to start, and realized my voice was shaking. After thanking God for “this day,” and “our fellowship,” I flailed for something spiritual to say. “Lord, please…be with Cayla’s dad, because he’s having surgery.” Be with? That doesn’t do anything. Isn’t God already supposed to be everywhere?
“God, I pray for Tom as he has the marathon coming up…” Pray for? What an empty phrase. Of course I pray for Tom—that’s what I was doing at that moment. Shaking my head, I realized I was still in the middle of a sentence: “Please help him, and….be with him.”
I was out of ideas, so my brain froze. I should have just ended it with in Jesus name, amen. But that’s not what happened. Instead I said, and I quote: “And that’s about it.”
I looked up. Amy was making circles in the dirt with her shoe. The rest of the group, unused to this tripping at the finish line, raised their eyebrows, wondering if I was really done. I was. I sure was.
If you’re now worried about your public prayers: relax. For every Brock, there are ten of us.
But more importantly, I have some killer advice on praying in groups. And I’ll share it with you in my next post…
Does anybody else have an embarrassing prayer story? Oh, come on–you can be honest.