You’ve heard of Air Guitar, but have you heard of Air Prayer? They are alike in significant ways. WIKIPEDIA describes Air Guitar as –
… a form of dance and movement in which the performer pretends to play rock or heavy metal-style electric guitar, including riffs/solos/etc. Air guitar is generally used in the imaginary simulation of loud electric guitar music.
There is a lot of pretend and the imaginary in Air Prayer. Air Prayer pretends to be a serious approach to God and is the imaginary simulation of coming before Him.
Air Prayer is a professional hazard for the pastor.
One of the characteristics of Air Prayer is that it is formal and ceremonious. And in pointing this out I mean that it is required and official and something that has to be done. Routinely, prayer is structured into the very form of our public times together.
We all have formal times we pray – because we have to or feel obligated to – at meals/at service/before and after Bible studies, etc. There are times that, if we didn’t pray someone would say or think, “Hey, we’re supposed to pray before we eat, teach the Bible, begin the service, go street witnessing, etc.” Routinely, prayer is structured into the very form of our public times together. And this is a very good thing – and yet it poses a professional hazard. You are very acquainted with this professional hazard. Just examine your own experience.
We have all prayed and then 10 seconds later can’t remember what we prayed. We have all prayed and then 10 seconds into the prayer realize that we are just mouthing platitudes and really aren’t (if we’re honest) addressing ourselves to our holy God. The prayer is addressed to Him, but our hearts and minds are engaged with what’s next. We pray the same thing at the same time over and over again. Anyone who has been paying attention can, after a while, get up and repeat our prayers. (Caveat: we can pray the same thing over and again and, because of faith, we do connect with God and the people do experience the heartfeltness of it. Yet, I have to be honest with myself and realize that often this doesn’t happen). There is a difference between formal times of prayer and the prayers that are prayed during these formal times. Yet the prayers prayed at formal times can easily become formal prayers – this is the professional hazard.
I’m a great air pray-er. It’s easy for me to pray a formal prayer out of obligation and not from thoughtful consideration. I often find myself 10-15 seconds into a public prayer and realize I am just mouthing platitudes. When I preach, I will announce my text, read it, and then say, “Let’s pray.” One-tenth of a second later I am praying, “Father, bless this time. Help us to hear Your voice. We want to meet with You. We lift our hearts up to You. May we hear what the Spirit is saying to the church. In Jesus’ name, amen.” Do I mean what I pray? Sure. Am I thinking about what I pray? Not so much – it just rolls of my tongue without thinking. Mealtime prayers, beginning of service prayers, end of service prayers, Bible study prayers, baby dedication prayers, healing prayers, etc., have become so familiar that I can thoughtlessly and seamlessly spew them forth. I told you, I’m a good air pray-er. But I have come to the place where I despise not formal times of prayer, but formal prayers, froth and foam prayers, thoughtless prayers.
One of the greatest lessons of prayer I have ever learned, I learned in 45 seconds one afternoon. I was at some pastor’s event and Tony Holyde (pastoring CC Shoreline in Morro Bay at the time) was asked to pray. We all bowed our heads and for 15 seconds there was silence. I thought, “Maybe he’s just thinking of something to pray that will impress us pastors.” Another 15 seconds of silence rolled by. I cocked my head and squinted through one eye to see if he had heard that he was requested to pray and was getting ready. I couldn’t discern anything with my subtle squint. Another 15 seconds passed and finally Tony began to pray. It was a simple prayer. It was heartfelt. It was in the moment – no pre-cooked words. I connected with God through Tony’s prayer. I was edified. Tony wasn’t trying to impress us pastors, he was quieting his heart before God.
When you are asked to pray – 45 seconds is a long time to wait before you begin. People begin to wonder/to look around/to feel uncomfortable. A 45 second pause is, well … an inefficient use of time. Yet Tony’s 45 second pause helped me in my prayer life more than 10 books on prayer ever could. My greatest challenge in prayer is quieting my heart before God. When I don’t still my heart before God, I default to automatic mode and pray what routine and repetition have programmed into my mind. When I don’t quiet my heart and launch right into prayer, froth and foam come forth. When I still my heart, gather my thoughts, zero in on what is needed in the moment, my prayer becomes a thoughtful, meaningful approach to God. The words may be the same words I have prayed 100 times before, but the mood, the spirit, the Spirit is different – and the people can feel it. And I can sense that the people have experienced God in the prayer and not just heard the words of the prayer.
I could still hold my own in an Air Prayer competition, but what I learned in 45 seconds of silence has helped to revitalize and preserve my prayer life – both formal and otherwise.
Amen Professor. Not enough is said about public prayer. Good word.
It’s really encouraging to hear that I’m not the only one who struggles with this. I am so prone towards legalism, and putting on a mask to impress others. I so quickly forget the gospel, that all my righteousness is in Jesus, and return to my pride like a dog returns to it’s vomit. Thank you for posting this Tim.