Ever been in church and had to listen to someone - the priest or minister, or some person of some sort, over-pray? I mean, they're praying, but it goes so long that you find your mind wandering, more than once, to who-knows- what? I sure have. I find I have to repetitively chastise my mind for wondering if the Steelers will start the Bus this week while meanwhile the prayer drones on. And I don't think I'm alone. I think suffering from Overprayer syndrome is a common malady.

You go to church enough times in enough places, you're bound to run into this. There's lots of different styles. There's the Biblical Knowledge Overprayer-er: the guy who's praying about maybe one or two coherent, actual issues, but there's so much scriptural rhetoric laced in that you can hardly tell what you're praying about in the first place. "Therefore, Father, as the Apostle taught us, 'we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands...' and 'if we have any encouragement from being united in Christ,' we ask that etc etc etc...". Half the time I wonder if this guy is just reading highlighted passages.

There's the ever-popular Current Events Update Overprayer-er: this guy can actually save you from having to buy the Sunday Times on your way home. You start out praying for the peace of the world but two seconds later its the war in Iraq and the unrest in the Middle East and the earthquakes in Pakistan and India and the continuing recovery from the Tsunami and the relief efforts in New Orleans and our leaders in Washington and our leaders in the city and the poor people in our midst and those still struggling with losses from 9-11 and everyone who's died from Avian Flu and the mad cows and the UN's referendum on the price of grain in...you get my point. These overprayers have a tendency to be quite depressing, if you really listen to what they're saying - too often the focus on what's wrong in the world, and not God's redemptive work and power to heal.

Then there's the Preachy Overprayer-er. Preachers are often prone to this, for obvious reasons, but really anyone with an agenda can get rolling in this fashion. This prayer is the one that can many times go political in a hurry, and for this reason I suspect would be dangerous, if not for the very problem I'm addressing here - most of the listeners get lost in the verbosity of it all. Where they're probably most dangerous is when they are yielded on matters internal to the church itself.

Perhaps one of the hardest for me to criticize is the Passionate Overprayer-er. This person means well, with all his or her heart, 100%, all the way. But MAN. These can go longer than any of the aforementioned, and many times involve snippets of any or all of them, as well. By its very nature, the Passionate Overprayer is one that often lacks any real structure, and therefore becomes verbose for the sake of just plain old praying to pray. Its easily identified by how far it strays from what a conversation with another person should look like. What do I mean? Well, imagine you're asking your earthly father for something:
"Dad, I think I need to get an oil change."

"Well, how many miles has it been since your last one?"

"Not sure, really - they didn't give me that sticker on the corner of the windshield."

"Can you guess, at least?"

"Maybe 3000 miles? I don't know, had to be at least 8 months ago."

Now this is how the Passionate Overprayer-er would ask his earthly father, if he asked the same way he prayed:

"O Father, in your wisdom, give us guidance over this oil change, Father."

"Well, how many miles has it been since your last one?"

"Only you, great and merciful Father, know the day and the hour, Father."

"Can you guess, at least?"

"Father, O merciful Father, we can only wonder and marvel..."

See what I mean? Talk to your dad like that and he'd smack you upside the head.

I'm sure there are plenty of other types of over-prayers, but I suppose I've already offended at least a few people with certain prayer preferences just plenty. Yeah, scripture has a lot to say on prayer, and I'm paraphrasing here, with some humor interspersed, to boot. "Pray without ceasing," I know, but I think that we often mis-interpret that phrase. When the disciples asked Christ to teach them how to pray, he used roughly 60 words, total (depending on your translation). Perhaps "pray without ceasing" refers more to being in a constant state of prayer?

Like pausing to say a quick "Thank you" when your elevator goes straight to the floor you work on without stopping, or when you remember to wash the dishes so that your roommate won't have to do them (again). Or starting the morning with a quick request for enough to get you through the day. Or ending the day with some thoughts for someone else, rather than yourself. These all can be prayers in the 2 to 20 word range that put you in a state of mind that doesn't have to fight the tendency to wander. I'm not saying the public prayer doesn't have its place, when done well, on occasion. Its just that prayer is a rather personal thing, and when done by one, on behalf of the many, without being reigned in - seems to often lose its value for the sake of quantity.


Martin LaBar said...

Good job!

Jeremy Pierce said...

I tend to think of praying without ceasing as simply praying regularly. You don't stop praying for someone's salvation simply because it's been ten years and the person you're praying for hasn't been saved. You don't stop praying for guidance from God simply because you've matured since you started praying for it. "Without ceasing" means "without stopping", and this seems to make as much sense of not stopping to pray as anything else.