I think that ‘sugar coating’ our prayers, specifically when we are praying out loud with others, is an issue all Christians can face, consciously or subconsciously. What I mean by that is adding words and phrases to our prayers which, if we are honest, are unnecessary ‘Christian lingo’ and chosen for the ears those around us, not solely for God. I recently read The Message version of Matthew 6 , and I was struck by verses 5 and 6, which say:
“And when you come before God, don’t turn that into a theatrical production. All these people making a regular show out of their prayers, hoping for stardom! Here’s what I want you to do: Find a quiet, secluded place so you won’t be tempted to role-play before God. Just be there as simply and honestly as you can manage. The focus will shift from you to God, and you will begin to sense his grace.”
I have never actively ‘hoped for stardom’ when praying with others. But I have realised that there have been times when I have been so aware of those around me, and wanting to make myself sound as eloquent and heartfelt as possible, that it may sound like I’m talking to God, but in reality I’ve been talking at him, and talking to those around me. In trying so hard, I have got the emphasis completely wrong.
The thing is, God doesn’t care what I sound like. He doesn’t care whether I get my words muddled up, or can’t find the right words, or whether all I can manage to muster is a cry for help; He just wants us to be real. In other words, as this passage says, he doesn’t want us to ‘role play’ and slip into the character of what we think a godly Christian should sound like.
When we pray out loud in a group, it is impossible to ignore the fact that everyone else will hear exactly what we say. Yet despite this, it is certainly possible to challenge yourself to stop caring what they hear.
A couple of things have really helped me begin to unpack and overcome this issue.
First, taking prayer back to basics. What is prayer, at its core? It is talking to God, and God alone. When I am pouring my heart out to one of my friends, I don’t worry about what passers-by will think of what I say, or how beautifully I phrase my sentences. That doesn’t even cross my mind, and it would make for some really weird conversations if it did. I am too focused on the person I am speaking to. Why should it be any different with talking to our father in heaven?
Secondly, following what Jesus has to say on the matter (I know that’s obvious, sorry). Jesus says that we should find a secluded place when we pray, and we should be as simple and honest as possible. I don’t think that this means that we shouldn’t pray communally — we know that there can be so much power in that — but I think the point is that when we are on our own we are more likely to be honest and frank with God, because we are stripping away any barriers of pride or self-consciousness. Our God, who knows what we are going to say before we even think it, wants us to be real with him, or there is no point in talking to him at all.
So I am challenging myself to get rid of any sugar coating; to pray simply and honestly, in words picked out for God alone, no matter what situation I am in. I don’t want my prayers to be half-focussed on God, and half-focussed on my ego. Our God, who is never half-focussed on us, deserves infinitely more than that.
Alice is 19 and is currently the student intern on the Discipleship Year at Trinity Cheltenham. She is going on to study History and Classics at Durham University in October 2016 and is keen to take her love for Christ and all that she has learnt this year with her.
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