I just read an article mentioning a Dordt College professor who was well known and loved for the way he opened each class with prayer. (The writer did not say who the professor was; I wonder if someone reading this knows.) He’d look at the students in the room with a big smile on his face, say “Let’s talk to God,” and then start praying a prayer like this:
Hi, God. What an awesome day you made today. The raindrops fed all the flowers, and the puddles are perfect for jumping in. Thanks for shady trees and yoyo strings. Thanks for giving us elbows so we could bend our arms in so many ways. How do you think of such cool things, Lord? Please watch over our friends who aren’t here today. The ones with runny noses, the ones who are feeling sad, and those who are far away. And, God, we’re sorry for hurting people’s feelings and not doing the stuff we’re supposed to do. Thanks for loving us even when we mess up. We love you, Lord. Amen.
What personal yet meaningful times of prayer for that college class! It turns out prayers do not have to be formal and loaded with thees and thous (though God certainly hears and answers those, too). Yes, knowing the person and work of the almighty God instills reverence within me, but reverence need not exclusively be expressed through formality. The God who created and rules the universe is the same God who wants to be friends with me.
Prayers do not need to be fancy. Just as I don’t always have to first rehearse and edit what I say to my loved ones (though that sometimes prevents me from blabbing something dumb!), God is happy when I stop what I’m doing, acknowledge his presence, and simply tell him about something great that’s happening or something that’s worrying me.
Prayers do not need to be perfect. God does not grade my prayers. All he asks is that they are heartfelt. And having an eye open to details and beauty around me doesn’t hurt either. Just as the Dordt professor thanked God for yoyos and elbows, I can thank God for everything from corn plants bursting through the soil and a friend’s last chemotherapy treatment to my favorite flavor of ice cream and for how I have opposable thumbs.
So please be careful with your comments when a person prays out loud. When you tell someone (a host at a meal, for example) they did a good job praying, you’re revealing that instead of praying with them in your heart, you were evaluating them. Or if you laugh when someone (a child, perhaps) prays for their sick cat, they may doubt the truth that God cares about every aspect of our lives, to say nothing about them becoming self-conscious and maybe refusing to pray aloud again. If you feel compelled to say something to the one who offered a prayer, a simple “Thank You” will suffice.