It was a long prayer list. One awaiting a transplant, a newborn with serious difficulties, those injured in a fatal car accident in addition to several with chronic health difficulties and the expected seasonal illnesses. It took several minutes just to read the list before the fellow making announcements offered a brief closing prayer which included a request that the Lord, “be with each of those mentioned in their various difficulties.” That was it; amen.
Why do we often spend so much longer talking about what to pray than we do actually praying?
Perhaps we’re not so much talking about what to pray as passing along news; praying isn’t considered as important getting the information out. Announcements are often given a more prominent place than Scripture reading or prayer. (And if we call it a prayer list, then telling about others’ misfortune can’t gossip—can it?).
Perhaps we don’t really believe prayer has any effect; we just know we ought to pray. If that’s the case, talking about prayer is pretty much the same as praying—we’re having positive thoughts about the person in need either way. (Would it surprise you if some church-goers don’t have faith that God answers prayer?)
Perhaps we don’t know how to pray; we do still assume others know how—we’ll let them do it. No one wants others to listen to them having a conversation they don’t know how to have, so if I’m not comfortable praying I don’t want to pray aloud in front of others. But if I just talk about praying, maybe you’ll think I’m much better at it than I really am. (I can even use Scripture about going into your closet to pray so I will seem holier when I hide my spiritual inadequacies.)
And so we spend 5 minutes talking about prayer, and less than 5 seconds praying. How can we reverse that?
Perhaps start by having a conversation with God about each person on the prayer list rather than informing the congregation. (Let them overhear, or read it in the bulletin.)
The only way to learn something is to practice it—prayer is no different. If you are comfortable in private prayers, but not praying in front of others, then start by praying aloud during your private time and progress to praying about easy things in front of a few others who might welcome the encouragement in praying. If prayer itself is foreign to you, start by reading what Jesus taught his disciples about prayer in the Gospels, and progress to studying what we are encouraged to pray about elsewhere in the New Testament—practice what you learn and praise God for his presence.
Spend time in God’s Word. The better you know him, the easier it becomes to trust him. The Gospel of John is a good place to start building your faith.
Five minutes in prayer doesn’t sound like much, but if you’re not accustomed to praying it may seem an eternity. My prayer just now is that we will each spend a little more time in prayer today.