This hasn’t happened just once. I’d say it happens about once a month. I’ll be out visiting someone in their home or the hospital, and as I wrap up a prayer, they begin speaking less than one second after I say, “Amen.”
“Amen.” “Pastor, I have a question…”
“Amen.” “I’ve always wondered…”
“Amen.” “There was this guy…”
“Amen.” “I just don’t understand…”
So, you really weren’t praying along with me, were you? You were somewhere else, having boarded a different train of thought, impatiently waiting for me to get to “amen.” Anyone who knows me knows I do not say long prayers. It’s not that I lost you in a vast sea of petitions. You had just fast-forwarded through whatever I would say, biding your time until I finally finished.
I’m not really upset by this. It just surprises me. You’d be surprised if I didn’t pray with you, and yet your mind was wandering.
Good listening means you aren’t formulating a response when the other person is talking. You’ve set that aside, so you can pay attention to what the other person is saying. This is very hard to do. Listening is hard. I guess it’s hard to focus when someone’s praying for you, too.
Here are a few tips for the next time your pastor comes to visit and prays with you
Keep your eyes closed (if you pray with closed eyes) for just a moment after “amen.” Savor the blessing of a God who listens to and responds to your prayers. Just like a fine wine, prayers have a finish worth enjoying.
Take a couple of breaths after “amen.” Let the petitions echo in the room and in your mind for a moment. Let the dust settle before you speak.
Add your own prayer after “amen.” Keep the conversation going. Ask and seek and knock.
Embrace a few seconds of silence. It’s a noisy world and quiet moments are at a premium. Make the most of them.
I find great comfort and inspiration in knowing that a moment of prayer can turn an ordinary home, hospital room, nursing home or park bench into the holy ground of God’s presence. I know he loves those moments, too.
You don’t have to be on Facebook very long before you’ll read of someone requesting prayer for themselves or someone they know. It’s often for healing, sometimes for reconciliation, and other times for comfort. Many friends will respond with the assurance of their prayers. Good stuff.
However I’ve noticed that when someone feels better or a situation improves, you’ll read the comment, “Prayer worked.” As a firm believer in prayer, I don’t want to take anything away from it’s power, but in such a situation, isn’t it God who did the work? Shouldn’t he get the credit rather than the prayers or the pray-ers?
What happens when someone doesn’t get better? Prayer didn’t work? Or there wasn’t enough prayer? Or enough pray-ers? Hmm. I don’t like to talk about that stuff.
Abram’s prayer didn’t work. God still destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah. David’s prayer didn’t work. His illegitimate son still died. Job’s prayer didn’t work. He never did get an answer from God. Elijah’s prayer didn’t work. God wouldn’t end his life. Jesus’ prayer didn’t work. He still had to drink from that “cup” of suffering.
But God was still at work in and through their lives. For better or worse, in sickness and in health, for richer or poorer, God faithfully hangs in there with us. Even if you don’t get what you ask for, God’s at work comforting, strengthening, redirecting and teaching you. The most important part of prayer is connecting with him, not getting what you want. Effective prayer is always about his will being done, not mine.
Just give him the thanks. The honor. And the glory.
As I was reading from the book of Daniel this morning, these words really caught my attention: “The moment you began praying, the command was given” (Daniel 9:23 NLT).
Prior to this, Daniel is praying for forgiveness, acknowledging his own sin, the sins of the nation and the sins of their ancestors. It is Gabriel who assures Daniel that an answer to his prayer was already underway. God didn’t wait until he prayed long enough or said the right things. God’s response was at the front end of his prayers.
Now I don’t want to take this too far, but I do find it fascinating that the most important part of a prayer may very well be the beginning. After all, the salutation doesn’t get as much attention as the body of a letter. The first words of a prayer, though, speak volumes.
It means you’ve been listening, for God always initiates our conversations with him.
It acknowledges who you are and who he is. He’s God. You’re not. He’s the Father. You’re the child. He’s the Almighty. You’re his creation. He loves you. You’re the beloved.
It is bold. Who are we to be speaking to God? Yet we approach his throne of grace with confidence.
It breaks the silence of my heart, my soul, my mind, and my world. I may not know exactly what to say, but now there’s a conversation. I may not even know what the next word will be, but that’s OK. If you’re at a loss for words, the Spirit will take it from there, right?
Jesus urged his disciples not to pray like those who were all about word count. That’s not what counts. What counts is the who. Who you are praying to. The one who hears even before we call out to him, according to Isaiah.
So, this is one of my newest favorite verses. In my mind it’s like God saying, “You had me at ‘Father.”